A new papal surprise?
12 Feb 2013
Lunga Biyela and Sapa-AP
WHO will be the next pope? Will he be from Africa, Asia or Latin America, and could he even be a South African from KwaZulu-Natal?
This was the speculation after Pope Benedict XVI’s shock announcement yesterday that he would resign at month-end because of ill health — the first pope to step down in this way in 600 years.
While South Africa’s Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, who is based in Durban, is not among the front-runners, history has shown that in previous conclaves to elect a pope, the outcome can surprise the faithful.
This was the case with Poland’s John Paul II and when Germany’s Pope Benedict XVI was elected as his successor.
Yesterday, Napier downplayed his chances.
Asked by The Witness to comment on the speculation he was being tipped, albeit as an outsider, he said: “You’ve just said it. It’s just that; it’s speculation. One has to look at the whole field.
“There are about 117 cardinals from around the world who could be the next pope. What people do is look at a cardinal from Africa, one from Asia, one from Europe, Latin America.
“When the cardinals get together, it depends on how they see the needs of the church, and who the most equipped person to meet those needs is.”
Due to the number of younger cardinals that were present at the 2005 Papal Conclave, Napier said, he would be surprised if the new pope was as old as Pope Benedict was — 78 — when he was elected.
Napier said he wasn’t sure whether the procedure following a pope’s resignation was the same as that after a death, but he was “awaiting details” of when the next conclave would be held.
“In 2005, it began nine days after Pope John Paul’s death.”
Napier said he too was surprised by the Pope’s announcement.
“I was especially taken by surprise by the timing of it. Lent begins later this month, and Ash Wednesday is just two days away. It is rather surprising. I also would have hoped he would have been in Rio for World Youth Day as he had attended it in Madrid, Sydney and Cologne.
“Perhaps what he is telling us is that the church needs to improve itself by concentrating on prayer and improving its following of Jesus Christ,” said Napier.
The Pope was leaving behind a legacy “as an agent of reconciliation within and outside of the church”.
The African front-runners for the next pope are Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Nigeria’s Francis Arinze.
With Latin America boasting the highest number of practising Catholics in the world, there are several contenders.
Progressives favour Honduran Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, head of Caritas Internationalis, but he is considered by the church’s more traditional members to lean too far left, and is unlikely to win the two-thirds majority needed.