Could Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria be the next pope?

4:11 PM, Mar 1, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: Could Nigerian cardinal be next pope? - PHOTOS
Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. (Getty Images News)

VATICAN CITY (CNN) - The resignation and final farewell of Pope Benedict XVI leaves unanswered questions about the future leader of the Catholic Church. Several church leaders from nations around the world are being called likely successors. One of those possible pontiffs comes from Nigeria.

Benedict's decision to resign due to failing health came as a surprise to the more than 1.1 billion Catholics around the world.

The Vatican says it hopes to elect a new pope by Easter and the question on everyone's mind is, "where will he come from?" The growth of the Catholic Church has slowed in Europe and the United States but beyond western shores, Catholicism is expanding.

That has many speculating that the next pope may hail from South America, Asia or even Africa, where there are over 185 million Catholics. Two of the frontrunners are Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana and Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria.

When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, Cardinal Arinze was seen as "papabile," the one most likely to succeed the pope. But Arinze is now 80, two years older than Benedict was at the time of his election. By contrast, Cardinal Turkson is a spry 64 years of age.

Benedict XVI traveled to Africa twice: in 2009 and 2011.

Before his first visit, Benedict was criticized for upholding the church's strict doctrine against condom usage. Comments that were seen as tone-deaf when it came to addressing some of the problems plaguing Africa like the AIDS epidemic. He later softened that tone in saying that condoms could be morally acceptable in some cases to prevent disease.

In Nigeria, home to more than 25 million Catholics, many are hoping the new pope will address some of the problems facing Africa's most populous country; problems they say are not uniquely Nigerian.

"I pray that this pope, I wish, in my heart that Christians and Muslims should come together. Millions have been killed as a result of religion," said Nnaemeka Anaele, a Nigerian Catholic. "It touches my mind, I feel for it. I pray that the pope, as head of the church should focus more it especially in Africa."

Father Jean-Paul Ale says that there is only one way to end violence between Christians and Muslims.

"The way forward is dialogue. When you realize that when you kill a brother you are not killing a religion, what you are killing is the human body," Ale said.

Although many parishioners in this particular say that it would be wonderful if the next pope were to come from Africa, members of the clergy say that that decision rests with a higher authority.

"We don't make such speculations, we don't go by them. We rest in the arms of the will of God. We submit ourselves to God's will," Reverend Father Louis Odudu, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria. "(Cardinal) Arinze, yes, he has worked, he has done so much, a whole lot. But we are not going to vote because it's an African. We will allow the will of God in everything."

Many are saying that when the Vatican convenes the papal conclave, the white smoke that burns when the church's leader is elected may be for a black pontiff.


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