Benedict's resignation renews calls for an African pope
Posted Tuesday, February 12 2013 at 07:57
Pope Benedict XVI's resignation has sparked calls for his successor to come from Africa, home to the world's fastest-growing population and the front line of key issues facing the Roman Catholic Church.
Around 15 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics live in Africa and the percentage has expanded significantly in recent years in comparison to other parts of the world.
Much of the Catholic Church's recent growth has come in the developing world, with the most rapid expansions in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Names such as Ghana's Peter Turkson and Nigerian John Onaiyekan have been mentioned as potential papal material, as has Francis Arinze, also from Nigeria and considered a possibility when Benedict was elected, but who is now 80.
Some analysts see the issue as one of justice since Africa has contributed to the Catholic Church to such a large degree, as well as a reflection of a changing world.
"I think that, with the black community's representation in the larger Catholic community, it is legitimate that we have a black pope," said Rene Legre Hokou, head of the Ivory Coast League of Human Rights.
"An African pope could give more vitality to the Catholic Church in the black world. It would demonstrate the universal character of the religion."
A number of African Catholic Church members had a mixed view however, saying they would like to see a fellow African elected pope, but wanted the most qualified person, no matter where he is from.
Pat Utomi, a prominent Catholic in Nigeria who is an economist and former presidential candidate, said he would take pride in seeing an African elected, "but we must take that away."
"I think what matters is the right person with the vision for the moment," Utomi said.
At the same time, he said Africa in several ways was representative of major challenges facing the Church, particularly its relationship with an evangelical movement with explosive growth on the continent as well as with Islam.
"I think in some ways a John Paul II was a response to the Soviet Union," Utomi said. "In some ways the challenge of the Church must be to reach an accommodation ... an understanding with Islam and the Pentecostal movement."
Africans have flocked to evangelical religions, with many seeing them as more relevant to their daily lives, posing a challenge to the Catholic Church.
Also in countries like Nigeria, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south, religious and ethnic tensions have led to violence.
Onaiyekan, nominated as a cardinal in October and also the archbishop of the Nigerian capital Abuja, has made efforts to foster unity between Christians and Muslims in his country.