Could the next Pope come from Africa or Latin America? That is the buzz on the lips of many following the announcement today that Pope Benedict XVI plans to step down at the end of this month, becoming the 2nd pope in nearly 600 years to do so.
He has only held the position for under 8 years after getting elected to the top spot following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005. The College of Cardinals appointed Benedict in April 19, 2005 to the post at Supreme Pontiff, the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, and the Servant of the Servants of God, spiritual leader of 1 billion Catholics worldwide.
Most Popes have come from Italy and there has never been a non-Anglo Pope. As with last time there was a vote for a new Pope, this round there are a couple of African and Hispanic candidates that could land on the short list to replace Benedict.
The top contenders from Latin American nations include:
- Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio who is born of Italian parents and is the Archibishop of Buenos Aires, Aregentina. At 76, his advanced age may be a hiccup as the papacy got grief when they voted in a 78-year old into the job back in 2005. Bergoglio is “old school” conservative and traditional, and while he has spoken out in support of respect for individual rights of gay people, he reportedly said gay adoption would be discrimination against children and called Gay marriage the work of the devil.
- Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who is only 60 years old and was a former chemistry, physics and math teacher before going on to earn a psychology degree in college and then eventual PhD in Theology. His youthful age could help him be a strong contender.
In Africa, the top choices are:
- Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson , who is currently the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and is a former Archbishop of the Cape Coast of Ghana. He who holds a high-ranking role among African bishops in Rome and at age 64, is known to be among the more energetic and forward thinking among the 184 active Cardinals worldwide.
- Francis Arinze is 80 and is currently the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. His plus is that he has long worked in the Islamic world and could be seen as a bridge between that religion which has a strong hold in Africa. He is conservative and not progressive and liberal as Cardinal Turkson.
Hispanics are widely known for being Catholics with 70 percent of adult Hispanics being of Catholic faith. However, Africa has the fastest growing population of Catholics, second to Asia, which has the fastest growing Catholic population, according to Vatican statistics. During the twentieth century, Africa’s Catholic population grew from 1.9 million to 130 million — an increase of 6,700 percent.
Benedict himself may be interested in seeing his successor come from Africa, and he is quoted as saying that it would “send a splendid signal to the world” about the universality of the church.
Though action speak louder than words as he did not do anything in his tenure as Pope when he had the chance to increase the number of African cardinals eligible to vote in the College of Cardinals.
The time is now for a Pope that will adjust with the times, embrace reality of modern life and guide the church in a away that takes a different and more progressive stance on women’s reproductive control ability, and properly tackle AIDS crisis. The next Pope may be made to address gays and continue to deal with ongoing pedophilia investigations within the church, as Benedict has had to tackle during his 8 years.
Benedict was conservative and didn’t move the needle much to the center when it comes to addressing realities of 21st century modern life.
For example, Pope Benedict XVI was known for infamously going on a tour of Africa, a continent with 1.8 million AIDS cases and declaring fidelity and abstinence, not condoms, should be part of the discussion for curbing the out of control epidemic.
Whoever gets selected next, irrespective of what nation or continent he comes from, he would and should be younger and more in tune with issues involving the religion’s most fastest growing and loyal population.
Only 24 percent of Anglo-Saxon Catholic born Americans still practice their faith as adults while that number jumps to up 70 percent for Africans and Hispanics.