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Ratzinger backs call for African Pope

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on Tuesday added his weight to support for the candidacy for the papacy of the Nigerian prelate Francis Arinze.

He said: "I personally feel that this would be a good sign for Christendom in its entirety."

The Guardian comments that Cardinal Ratzinger's remarks, in an interview with the German daily Die Welt, were "highly unusual", "implying as it does that the reigning pontiff's days are numbered".

Asked if the next pope might come from Latin America or Africa, Ratzinger ignored Latin America completely.

"In the west, for all that people deny being racist, there are ever greater reservations with regard to the Third World," he said. "Yet in Africa, for example, we have truly great figures, at whom one can only marvel. They are fully of the stature needed for the job."

Though there are several highly regarded African prelates, the only one with the experience considered necessary for the job is Cardinal Arinze, 69, the president of the pontifical council for inter-religious dialogue.

As the Roman Catholic church's "minister" for relations with other faiths, and in particular Islam, he has been at the leading edge of many of its most adventurous recent initiatives. In January, he secured Iran's participation in the "prayers for world peace" organised by the Pope in Assisi.

An outsider who is some times mentioned is Cardinal Christian Tumi, 71, of Cameroon. A respected member of Vatican bodies dealing with evangelisation and Catholic education, and a member of the pontifical council for culture, the archbishop of Douala is nevertheless considered to be insufficiently well-known in Rome to be among the favourites.

Vaticanologists attribute a greater chance of election to Latin Americans. "One of the major problems of the Catholic church today is to change its image from Europe-centric to global. Given that the majority of Catholics now live outside Europe, it is highly likely that the next Pope will come from another continent.

"It probably won't be from Africa though, but rather from Latin America," said Jacek Palasinski, a Polish Vaticanologist.

The Guardian (London)

4 Apr 2002