Bookmakers are out again and bets are being taken. With Benedict XVI’s surprising announcement of his retirement, are we finally going to see a Pope come from black Africa, seeing that there are apparently qualified candidates in the College of Cardinals? Recently while in Europe, a friend from Spain asked me if as a black African I am ever bothered relating to Jesus who is a ‘white man’? I thought the question a silly one but seeing as his interest appeared sincere, I replied that I had never really paid attention to the color of Jesus’ skin until his question because the fact is that Jesus is indeed a ‘white man’ being as he was born in Palestine. It had not crossed my mind as a factor in my relation with him, not before then, and not after. It was simply an irrelevant question.
Consider the headlines in some leading Nigerian newspapers the day following Pope Benedict’s shocker: “Nigeria’s Arinze favored as Pope Benedict XVI resigns” (Vanguard), “Pope resigns, Turkson, others in race as successor” (The Guardian), and so on. There are two types of Africans, the first proposes that it is time for an African Pope; the second says that he cares less who the Pope is and that whoever he is will be the Vicar of Christ for him. From my observations, in the first category are generally to be found non-Catholics and journalists in search of catchy headlines, while in the second category are true and ardent Catholics. So the point is that the average African is not dying to have a black African Pope.
Among the African cardinals being touted are Ghana’s Turkson and Nigeria’s Arinze. As credentials the first is credited with having a lot of concern for the environment, while the second has a good track record of fostering Christian-Muslim interreligious dialogue. Never mind that Cardinal Arinze is already 80 years old. Does this mean that Cardinal Turkson’s 65 years is an advantage? Some consider him too young but remember that John Paul II was elected at 58. What about the 68 year old Guinean president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Cardinal Robert Sarah?
Once, Cardinal Turkson was asked if he thought an African could be Pope, he replied “why not?” That is true, but I’d rather end my musings on another note, which is to ask, “Who cares?”