Pope Benedict XVI has shocked the world with his announcement of his resignation, becoming the first Pope in over 600 years to resign. Now many analysts are predicting that a black African could ascend to the highest post in the Roman Catholic faith. While there have been three popes who were born in Africa it is believed that all three had predominately Middle Eastern and European ancestry.
Two of the leading candidates for the the highest office in the Catholic Church are both of African and black ancestry. Popes are elected through the College of Cardinals and each Cardinal is given a vote and say in who the next Pope should be. Upon the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI the College of Cardinals will have to convene and vote in a new Pope.
The leading candidate at the moment appears to be Cardinal Francis Arinze from Nigeria. Mr. Arinze was ordained in 1958 and gained fame for being the youngest priest in the world to ascended to the position of Bishop at the age of 32. Arinze was made a Cardinal in 1985 and has so far enjoyed an illustrious career. Arinze gained further fame for his work as Arch Bishop during the Nigeria-Biafra War in which he oversaw relief efforts and aided tens of thousands of refugees.
The conflict and Arinze's work during the war also demonstrated his ability to work with diverse communities and also Muslims. As a result, Pope John Paul II later appointed Arinze head the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue which assists the Church in its relations with other religions. Arinze continued to move up the Church's hierarchy and in 2002 he was nominated as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. This is considered one of the highest posts in the Church. When Pope John Paul II died in 2005 Cardinal Arinze was considered a front-runner before losing out to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who then became Pope Benedict XVI.
Although Cardinal Arinze appears to be among the front-runners for election to the papacy, given Pope Benedict XVI's resignation due to old age, it is possible that some will view him as too old. At 80 years old, many may question how many more years Arinze has left and the task and upheaval caused from having to elect so many Popes in such a short time might be viewed as too tumultuous. Still Cardinal Arinze is among the most respected and steady Cardinals in the world and may be able to over come questions concerning his age.
Even if Cardinal Arinze ultimately misses out on the Papacy due to his age, another front-runner, Peter Turkson, could become the first black Pope. Age will be no issue for Cardinal Turkson who, at 64 years old, is one of the younger Cardinals in the world. Turkson ascended to Cardinalate in 2003 when Pope John Paul II elevated him to the position. Currently, Turkson is serving as the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace which promotes justice, human rights, and peace according to Catholic principles.
While Turkson's career may not be as distinguished as Cardinal Arinze's, he is renowned for his energy and ability to engage people. With the Catholic Church's influence declining in light of scandals and declining Catholic membership other Cardinals may feel that a more youthful and energetic individual, such as Turkson, is exactly what is needed to revitalize the Church. As an action-oriented individual, Turkson is viewed by many to possess the skills needed to carry the Church forward, especially in the wake of the scandals that have plagued the it in recent years.
Both of these candidates are considered to be among the front runners for the Papacy. It is believed that either would be the first Black Pope though individuals born in Africa have been elevated to the Church's highest office before. Such a move would help the Church and its relations to minority groups around the world though most analysts believe that the elevation of either Arinze or Turkson would be based on merit, not political motivations. Both have enjoyed highly successful careers and many believe they possess the skills needed to lead the Church forward.