Millions scream it's time for an African orLatino as Pope
Special commentary for USAfrica TheNewspaper, Houston, CLASSmagazine
USAfricaonline.comand TheBlack Business Journal
By Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson
April 4, 2005: The instant Pope John Paul II knocked at death'sdoor, South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu screamed loudlythat the next pope should be an African or Latin American. There arecompelling, and troubling reasons, that Tutu made that public demand.Recently, hundreds of worshippers gathered in the hills above MexicoCity for a day of prayer, baptism, spiritual renewal, and soulcleansing. They werenot Catholic. They were evangelical Christians, and they are growingin numbers and popularity, and challenging the age-old supremacy ofMexican Catholicism. The situation is reversed in Nigeria, Brazil,the Philippines, and dozens of other countries in Asia, Latin Americaand Africa.
Two thirds of the world's one billion Catholics live in developingnations. There are nearly one hundred million Catholics in Africa,and an estimated 200 million black Catholics worldwide. The number ofCatholics in the nonwhite world has soared in the past decade. Thegrowing acceptance or rejection of Catholicism by millions in Asia,Africa, and Latin America, and among African-Americans presents atowering dilemma for the 117 cardinals that will begin their hushhush conclave two to three weeks after the death of Pope John Paul IIto elect a papal successor. That dilemma is should the next pope benon-European, and reformist?
The past couple of decades the Catholic Church has been wracked byideological, theological and philosophical battles over abortion, gaymarriage, women in the priesthood, and celibacy. It has seen a hugefree-fall in the number of priests and nuns, has shelled out millionsto settle priest child sex scandals, and will spend even moremillions on future settlements. As grave as these problems are, theypale in relation to the titanic struggles that confront the Catholichierarchy in trying to adapt and adjust to the profound cultural andracial shifts in the make-up of its global flock. John Paul IIrecognized that the single biggest challenge facing the church washow to be a church that was relevant to the potential millions ofCatholics that can be gained or lost to Islam and the evangelicals,and other faiths in non-white countries. The church could not standpat on entrenched dogma, and past practices. It would have to changethose practices, its approach to nonwhite Catholics, and eventuallythe ethnic face of the man at the top.
The names of well-connected, and respected African and LatinAmerican cardinals have been frequently bandied about as having theright stuff to head the church. That doesn't mean that CatholicChurch leaders will take the bold step of naming one of them to thetop spot. There has never been a Latin American pope, and the lastAfrican pope was 15 centuries back. But the top non-Europeancontenders bring the unique assets that the church desperately needsto staunch its hemorrhaging.
These men can bridge the Muslim and Christian divide, makebattling poverty, the inter-ethnic and religious violence, and thedamaging economic side effects of rampaging globalization bigpriorities, and place strong emphasis on social and economic reformsin poor countries. They have written and spoken extensively on theseproblems, and these are the problems that can make or break thechurch in the next decade in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
A leadingcontender for the top job, Nigerian born Cardinal Francis Arinze,in a speech at Wake Forest University a few years ago, acknowledgedthat the church can't duck these issues, "There is no Catholichurricane or Baptist drought. There is no Jewish inflation or Muslimunemployment. There is no Buddhist drug addiction or Hindu AIDS.These problems don't respect religious frontiers."
The political jockeying to fill the papal vestments of John PaulII will be fierce. It took two days, and eight ballots to put JohnPaul in the papal chair in 1978. The European cardinals hold thedominant papal cards in the balloting with 58 papal electors. LatinAmerica has 21 papal electors, and Africa has 11. Italy has the mostpapal votes of any single country and for five centuries before JohnPaul's near thirty-year reign, the pope was Italian. If they sochoose, they can bring mountainous pressure to put an Italian back inthe papal top spot.
A Black or Latin American pope, though, would send the strongmessage to Latin America and Africa's practicing Catholics andprospective converts that the Catholic Church is committed to makingthem not only church members but shot callers in making the policy ofthe Catholic Church
The prospect of the next pope being from Africa or Latin Americaexcites millions of non-white, non-European Catholics. There's noguarantee that that will happen, and a great likelihood that itwon't, given the dominance and conservatism of the Italian andEuropean cardinals in the papal voting. Even if it doesn't happenthis go around, the problem of making the Catholic Church even morediverse, inclusive and relevant to Africans and Latin Americans willstill be there no matter who assumes the top papal spot.
Dr. Hutchinson, contributing editor and columnist forUSAfricaonline.com, is a political analyst and social issuescommentator, and the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (MiddlePassage Press).
As Pope John Paul continueshis life's journey, WILL CARDINAL ARINZEBE THE FIRST AFRICAN ELECTED POPE IN RECENTHISTORY?
As the facilitator ofinter-religious dialogue, Arinze has seen and interacted withdiffering religionistswho, to varying degrees, embody zealotry and reason, lucidity ofthought and rock-ribbed dogmatisms. By being a major voice for RomanCatholicism in Africa, he has enriched the goals of the Vatican towin more souls to that unique section of the Christian community.
In deftly respecting andshowing sensitivity to the cultural contexts for religiousevangelization and work in different regions of the world, Arinze (aNigerian, like me, from the south eastern Igbo ethnic group as is theliterary giant Prof. Chinua Achebe) seems a fitting bridge for acommon, shared theology of humankind. Our brother, The Cardinal, isneither extreme in words nor brash in personal conduct, he alsostands as a role model who should be emulated by many, especially inthe community of his natural origin, the Nigerian community. Amongother qualities, he shows scholarship and a rare balance of reasonand theology. May your pastrorallineage endure.
By Chido Nwangwu,Founder and Publisher, USAfricaonline.com, CLASS magazine, Houstonand The Black Business Journal and recipient of Journalism Excellenceaward (1999). Special to USAfricaonline.com
CLICKon Arinze's picture or here for full report of this essay firstwritten online on April 7,1999, updated on April 25, 2002 and April1, 2005
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Obasanjo: Let me say this to you, when you put the question of 10,000 -- 10,000 people dying in Nigeria, of course, for a population of over 120 million people...." But USAfricaonline.com Founder and recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997), Chido Nwangwu, who appeared on the same program as as a CNN International analyst (Africa) pointed out that "when (President Obasanjo) answered that in a country of 100 million that 10,000 people are said to have died, as if that was a small number, that in itself reflects a disconnect with the concerns of Nigerians. The second one is that when the risk is civil disagreement, the police are required to intervene in the country. And the deployment of the armed forces of Nigeria requires at least some consultation, however modest, with the parliament." Nwangwu, former member of the editorial board of Nigeria's Daily Times continued that "the third factor that is equally important to underscore is that the armed forces of Nigeria moved in for a punitive action rather than just containing a civil disagreement." He noted in USAfricaonline.com backgrounder "it was revealing and interesting interesting discussing Nigeria's issues with its leader - under the current circumstances of an increasingly out-of-schedule elections and the gathering storm of an impeachment process by a majority of the members of the National Assembly, predominantly by Obasanjo's party members." See rush transcript of the CNN International news program.
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