The recent death of Pope John Paul II as spiritual head of Roman Catholic Christians around the world is prompting interest on who will be his successor. Decisions involving the election of the next Pope are made by 117 Cardinals who are eligible to vote.
Pope John Paul II, of Polish descent, was the first non-Latin Pope in five hundred years. Speculation on whether the next Pope chosen will be from among the populations of the world where Catholicism is high is beginning to rise.
Catholicism is popular in the Third World, particularly Latin America and Africa. The election of an African pope would not be a first. There have been three African popes in church history:
Pope Victor I (189-199) was the first to celebrate mass in Latin, the language of the people. Victor also sought to establish a universal day to celebrate Easter.
Pope Miltiades (311-314) was Pope when the Emperor Constantine became ruler of the Roman Empire. Constantine ended the persecution of Christians.
Pope Gelasius I (492-496) stated that the church was the superior of the two powers, the church and the state. Cyprian Davis, author of The History of Black Catholics in the United States, writes, “Pope Gelasius I also played a role in the elaboration of the Roman liturgy during a period of increased splendor in the liturgical ceremonies. While they are not known in detail, the reforms that Gelasius introduced one of the oldest collections of prayers and texts for the Mass, bears his name.”(Davis: 14)
A look at a list of current Roman Catholic Cardinals from Africa reveals that some are no longer eligible for consideration. No Cardinal over the age of 80 may be elected Pope. Another African Cardinal who was in the line of succession was Hyacinthe Cardinal Thiandoum of Senegal. However he died May 18, 2004.
|CARDINAL||PLACE OF ORIGIN||DATE OF BIRTH|
Alexandre do Nascimento
Wilfrid Fox Napier
Anthony Olubumni Okogie
Christian Wiyshan Tumi
Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson
Gabriel Zubeir Wako
|March 2, 1926
November 1, 1932
December 3, 1930
March 1, 1925
May 8, 1922
March 8, 1941
June 16, 1936
August 5, 1944
October 15, 1930
October 11, 1948
December 15, 1926
February 27, 1941
Of the 117 Cardinals choosing the next Pope, 58 are from Europe. Most of the hope for an African pope is currently centered on Francis Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria, 73.
The possibility that a Pope will be elected from within the eligible Latin American Cardinals is also under scrutiny. Latin America has one of the largest populations of Roman Catholics.
The world is mourning the passing of Pope John Paul II but is also keeping its eyes and ears open for any hint of who will be his successor and whether that person will be from a Black African country.
Sources: The Vatican website, Catholic Fact Book, Cyprian Davis, The History of Black Catholics in the United States.
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