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An African pope would make the jaded western world sit up and take notice

The dancing in the streets would last for months

By on Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Cardinal Peter Turkson (PA)

Cardinal Peter Turkson (PA)

The concept of an African pope has been with us for a long time. When Paul VI died, I was still a teenager, but a pretty keen watcher of the events surrounding the elections of his successors, John Paul I and John Paul II. Back then, in 1978, the media had the idea that Cardinal Gantin would be the first African pope. The cardinal, from Benin, was widely respected, had been made a bishop before the age of 40, and later achieved great things. He was certainly not a frivolous candidate for the papacy.

In the closing years of John Paul II’s papacy, when the talk of succession was endless, the African candidate was the Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze. Funnily enough, even now there are people talking of him, even though he is 80 years old and thus not eligible to vote. His age rules him out, but, once more, he is a considerable man, very much respected. I have actually met the cardinal, just once, some 20 years ago, when a student in Rome: he is humble and charismatic. His area of expertise – dialogue with other religions, in particular Islam – remains very important.

Last time round there was also mention of the Cardinal Archbishop of Durban, Wilfrid Napier. He is still young enough at 71 to be a viable candidate this time round, but his name has been eclipsed by that of Peter Turkson. Cardinal Turkson is 64, which is exactly the right age to be elected (Paul VI was 65). Funnily, enough, I met him too, once, a long time ago, in the Gregorian University, where I bumped into him – I can now reveal – in a corridor. He wasn’t a cardinal then, but an affable and approachable bishop. Turkson, I would hazard a guess, is this conclave’s favoured African candidate, but quite prescinding from his nationality, he is a very impressive candidate tout court. He is an intellectual, a communicator, and has energy and charm.

Last conclave, some cardinal whose name I do not remember said that he hoped they would choose someone whose election would lead to dancing in the streets of their home country. Well, I lived in Africa and worked there for four years, and I have seen the faith, the dedication and the enthusiasm of African Catholics. They love the liturgy and they love the social mission of the Church; orthodoxy and orthopraxis are much in evidence. If Turkson were elected, there would be dancing in the streets in his native Ghana, and all over Africa. And it would go on for months. The tired and jaded western world would perhaps sit up and take notice.

The concept of an African pope is one that appeals to the newspapers; but it is a concept that should perhaps appeal to us Catholics as well.

  • Kevin

    “western world would perhaps sit up and take notice”

    Only because white people have been conditioned to be pro-black, and then only if the black in question is not a practising Christian. (I assume, for example, no white person would be moonwalking at the thought of an Egyptian pope.)

    I would be happy if the word took notice of a Pope who simply organised practical, financially-astute resistance to political anti-Catholicism.

  • parepidemos

    Your shameful comment smacks of racism and bigotry.

  • Jon

    Two things: (1) there isn’t an Egyptian cardinal so it’s unlikely that an Egyptian would be chosen as Bishop of Rome.  And if there were an Egyptian cardinal and he was chosen to be Bishop of Rome, this is one white person who would have no difficulty with that decision.
    (2) There IS an Egyptian pope already; His Holiness Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church. 

    OK, 2 other things: I notice that in your concept of a good Bishop of Rome the words “pastoral”, “spiritual” and “holy” don’t appear. That speaks volumes! The last thing: Parepidemos is right about your comment being bigotted and racist!

  • Parasum

    1. Turkson’s “prospects” are going to evaporate, if this tosh about how wonderful a black Pope would be goes on much longer. Who but a lunatic would want the position ? 

    2. Tokenism about electing X because X is black or yellow or green with orange spots shouldn’t be a consideration.

    3. Stuff and nonsense about colour has no place in the Church, because “all are one in Christ” – if that is true of Christians of Jewish & Gentile origin, it has to apply with equal force to distinctions of colour.  Neither African nor European nor Latino nor [insert as relevant] is better than the other.  The Papacy must not be prostituted by being treated as a prize for being of race X, or Y or Z.  

    4. There is no logical connection between the two propositions:

    a) There has not yet been an African Pope


    b) There should be an African Pope

    To think in that way, ignores what the Papacy is meant to be for. To see it as nothing more than the Top Job in the Church, at which a member of every group should be allowed to have a go, is unconscionable. To find the secular media expressing such daft ideas is almost to be expected – they know no better, even if they should. But for Catholics to think that way is alarming; for they ought to know better.

    The fallacy seems to based on an assumption that it would be unjust not to have a black Pope. If that is being assumed, the assumption is an error. Christianity is not founded on justice – it is founded on the (far from just) grace of God. (Which is why the case for ordaining women cannot appeal to justice – equality is sublimely irrelevant; and equality is not equity. But grace is wholly equitable – more so than justice. Because justice is not a consideration, all that matters is that the right person (in God’s eyes) – not that the “right person” exists – should be chosen. As with women’s ordination, so here: what “the world” (inside the Church or out of it) may expect or want, is irrelevant. Whom does God want for His Church ? 

  • awkwardcustomer

    Could you please explain why Kevin’s comment ‘smacks of racism and bigotry?

  • scary goat

     I couldn’t care less what colour or nationality the Pope is… long as he’s a good one.

  • Charles Martel

    “An African pope would make the jaded western world sit up and take notice”…yes, for a few days he would be ‘cool’, and then people will move on to the next hot item of news. No, let’s hope pray for the best man, and not worry about what he looks like or where he’s from.

  • andrew young

    I thoroughly enjoy readiing these blogs first thing in the morning before going to work; not at least for the utter nonsense they contain and the levels of banality that just get better and better as the blog progresses. Please do keep it up, I need a good chuckle before braving a long day at the office.

  • Emma07

    come on guys- please don’t quarrel over semantics.  We are all Catholics and I hazard, all still reeling about the resignation of Pope Benedict.  We need the right person, that is chosen less by politics and more by the movings of the Holy Spirit.  If Cardinal Turkson is that man then great.  God will choose the right person to lead his Church on earth of that I’m sure.

    Having said that, I do feel that the Holy Spirit is blessing other areas of the world other than Europe at the moment and we here are under the cosh a bit for many reasons.  It may be that a Pope from a non European country is the right person to unite South and North and bring a different way of seeing God.

  • CathedralMan

    In a previous article, Father, you lamented the unceasing nonsense we will have to endure in the run up to the conclave. The above article just contributes to the tosh. Just because you have briefly met two of the possible candidates, it does not make you an expert.

    Give it a rest.

  • TuAutem

     Proposition a) is false to begin with: Victor I was African, elected in 189.  There was an African pope before there was ever a German one.

  • Popewatch

    You seem so afraid of the prospect that you did not check your facts. St. Gelasius I., is assumed to have been the third (and up to now last) African on the Chair of St. Peter.

    A similar thing happend to Jon elsewhere on this page: There will presumably be an Egyptian Cardinal in the conclave: Antonios Naguib, aged 77, is the Patriarch emeritus of the Coptic Catholic Church.

    Be calm all of you: If there is an African Pope coming, I promise you he will be Catholic  :-) 

  • Kevin

    James Delingpole has just posted a blog entry with the predictable conservative conclusion that a black pope would put the Left on the back foot.

    Absolutely not.

    If Barack Obama had been a Republican I expect he would have got the Clarence Thomas treatment.

  • Sylvia

    I have read that someone, apparently with a lot of insight in the Vatican, just labelled cardinal Turkson as “liberal” and “left  wing”. If this is so, I couldn’t be more cautious, especially after two great popes who have themselves experienced, first hand, the terrors of the nazi regime and then the communist terror in so many countries all over the world. Both blessed John Paul II and pope Benedict have always condemned “liberal theology”and rightly so.
    I will pray that the next pope will be one who will be able to carry the burden of his office with utmost dignity, humility and love- just as blessed John Paul and pope Benedict XVI has already demonstrated so clearly - and that he will also have the physical strength, needed in today’s fast world, including numerous trips all over the world.


  • licjjs

    I would have been quite indifferent about the ethnic origins of the new Pope but alarm bells have been ringing since the omnipresence of Cardinal Turkson in the media.  I say quite bluntly that in his attitude and in some reported remarks it looks to me very like touting in the manner of politicians.  I, for one, will not welcome the election of Cardinal Turkson for this reason.

  • Kevin

    I think you seriously need to examine your conscience over that comment, which smacks of defamation.

  • ConofChi

    If we do have a “black Pope” will ‘they’ stop burning him in Lewes?

  • Kevin

    “the words “pastoral”, “spiritual” and “holy” don’t appear”

    Are you suggesting that there are candidates who do not pass that test as a given?

    P.S.: Your last comment also necessitates self-examination as stated above.

  • licjjs

    I remember I read somewhere (sorry I do not have a clue where) quite some time ago that the present Pope said that an Italian should be Pope because he is first and foremost Bishop of Rome.

  • scotspete

    peter cardinal  turkson   is  the   ONE?  my   spiritual  instinks  from  ourlady  is  telling  me,  who  will  revive  our  cathoilic   faith  and  church , he  shines  with  wisdom   and  courage   of jesus  himself, and  with  he  experiences  of  living  through  suffering  africa , need  i say  any more? my  wife and  i were  at  fr  gruners   fatima   rome  converence  in 2011  , were  we  met many  invited  priests  from  all  over  africa , it is  possible  his close  friends  were  there  also ?  i sent  him  my message of support , with  my daily  rosary  , my  local  prayer groups  doing the same …..praise the lord  jesus  and mother mary of medugorje 
    founder  member  of
    mobile  97896877404 or  home  01475803529

  • Gregory Nearing

    I know they should not vote on the basis of skin colour alone because that would be racist. But it would be funny to see leftists feeling betrayed that Africans are for conservative social values because remember everyone, “they” (the left) are the only ones who loose sleep when children in Africa are starving. While us evil Catholics don’t care at all apparently. 

  • Ntdg

    if you need it explaining…

  • awkwardcustomer

    I do need it explaining. 

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    “As long as the Successor of Saint Peter leads the Roman Catholic Church
    in the fight against relativism, militant atheism, liberal cafeteria
    ‘catholics’, the culture of death and continue to……”

    THE 12 APOSTLES did not even want to distribute bread…. and get lost thus in doing foolish things. So 72 were appointed…Even these 72 JESUS THE LORD hijacked  to promote them as APOSTLES.

    AND…… you want the the representative of CHRIST THE LORD on earth to be occupied with such foolish things as above. WELL, the problem with those who worship and serve the institution instead of CHRIST THE LORD!

    THE CHURCH as an institution is of human creation. It went against the mind and interest of the LORD.



  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    would be happy if the word took notice of a Pope who simply organised
    practical, financially-astute resistance to political anti-Catholicism.”


    would JESUS THE LORD approve of it, if his representative ON EARTH WASTED HIS TIME ON SUCH WORLDLY THINGS?

  • mikey.


  • Br James

    If Turkson were to be elected how could any Catholic respect a man who has supported African anti-gays laws such as whipping and the death penalty. Impossible !

  • W Oddie

    I agree: unfortunately, Cardinal Turkson (for all his personal attractiveness) won’t do: a pope needs clarity and comprehensibility in several languages: In English at least, Cardinal Turkson is incoherent ( have  now seen two TV interviews); and incidentally a true  papabile wouldn’t at this stage be making himself quite so accessible to the media

  • W Oddie

    Me, too: see above

  • Isaiah Horbert

    I think it’s a good idea. At least for the shock and then… whatever. It’s important to have people of different races in positions of power traditionally held by Europeans. An Asian Pope would also be nice. I hope the next Pope is “exotic” lol