Anything is possible, with the Holy Spirit in charge. And a London paper takes a close look at one contender:
When Pope Benedict XVI kicks off his four-day visit to the UK with a greeting from the Queen at Holyrood House in Edinburgh on 16 September, he will be accompanied by a gaggle of cardinals known as “Princes of the Church”. And, if high-level leaks are correct, among them will be a handsome, modest and very intelligent man who is a potential contender to be the next pontiff.
If that were to happen Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson would be the first African pope for 1,500 years. He was born in 1948 in what was then known as the Gold Coast, a British colony in West Africa. As a boy he was, like his compatriot the former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, a subject of the Queen’s father, King George VI. Indeed, for a few years after the king’s death he was her subject, but in 1957 the Gold Coast attained independence and became Ghana.
His Eminence Cardinal Turkson, the fourth of 10 children, has wasted little time in hitting the highest reaches of the Roman Catholic Church. He is 122nd in seniority among the 179 cardinals, many of whom have retired and would never be regarded as papabili (papal material). In precedence, the Ghanaian stands just a few places behind the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Keith O’Brien, and the semi-retired former archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.
Although bookmakers have made Nigeria’s Cardinal Francis Arinze the favourite to succeed Pope Benedict – and thus become the first African pope since the death of Pope Gelasius in 496 – Arinze is now 77 and retired and he may well be too old by the time of any vacancy at the Vatican. Never seen as an ambitious cleric, Cardinal Turkson, when asked if a black man should become pope, replied with a laconic “Why not?”
Cardinal Turkson is proud that the church is strong in Africa, and recently chaired a successful synod for African bishops at the Vatican, another sign of his growing stature. But he recalls how the record has been besmirched by war and genocide. “The Rwandans,” he has said, “were supposed to be 80 per cent Catholic, but they forgot they were Catholic, and they forgot they were Christian.”
He shares Pope Benedict’s worries about the church in Europe. European missionaries first took the Catholic faith to Africa, and African Catholics see Europeans as their spiritual forebears. “It’s indispensable that we see Christianity come back to Europe,” he once told the Catholic News Service. “If Europe should become less Christian, it gives us a sense of being orphans, of having an experience of faith without parents.”
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