White Smoke for a Black Pope?

Whether or not Cardinal Arinze is elected to succeed John Paul II, his moment in the spotlight is serving as a reality check.

This article originally appeared on Beliefnet in October 2000.

If the election of a Polish pope came as a big surprise two decades ago, some say the next papal conclave could prompt an even more startling turn: white smoke for a black pope.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, a highly placed Vatican official from Nigeria, is one of the most often-named papabili: men who have the qualifications to hold the top office in the church. Although Arinze is quick to dismiss the idea, at least in public, observers say the increasing prominence of the church in Africa, combined with his interreligious credentials, make him a strong contender. Since 1985, Arinze has headed the Vatican's office for interreligious affairs, traveling extensively around the world and reaching out to members of other faiths.

Complete coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II and the process of choosing his sucessor

Who Are the Other Contenders?

Whether or not he is elected to succeed John Paul II, Arinze's moment in the spotlight is serving as a reality check for western Catholics, who have been compelled to recognize that the population center of their church has shifted dramatically south.


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