The Catholic Church was hit on Monday by shock, disbelief and even sadness with the sudden and unexpected announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he will resign his Papacy on February 28, 2013 after just five years as head of the 1.2 global worshipers. This unfortunate announcement was preceded immediately by speculation on who will be the next Pope. Within hours, the Paddy Power Bookmakers in the UK made Cardinal Peter Kwadjo Appiah Turkson, the current president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican from Ghana the favourite to succeed Pope Benedict XVI. Others described his potential election as next Pope as the first African Pope. In this brief article, I want to assess the impact of the prediction on Cardinal Turkson for the soon to be vacant Papacy.
As a Catholic of Ghanaian origin, I was excited and even euphoric by the talk of a Cardinal from Ghana becoming the next Pope. However, having lived in the UK for over two decades, I have become accustomed to some of the operations and machinations of the institutions to be sceptical enough to be wary of such predictions by Bookmakers and the media. In fact, I was worried to see the Cardinal being interviewed by UK media houses and the interview broadcast and televised as the favourite to be the next Pope. Though I do not believe in conspiracy theories, my experiences are such that, sometimes the media will use such tactics to reduce the chances the favourite if s/he is not their choice. So this could be a trap, a ploy to impede the election of Cardinal Turkson, a kind of “Mind the Gap”.
Again, it is wrongly reported that should Cardinal Turkson be chosen as the next Pope at Conclave expected to be in March, he will become the first African Pope. The records show that this far from the truth. In as far back as my secondary school days at St Augustine’s College in Cape Coast in the 70s, the late Father Mensah (I understand he later became Headmaster) who taught us Religious Education made us understand that there had been three Popes from North Africa. According to the website of National Black Catholic Congress, the three Popes of North Africa origin were: Pope Victor who was the 13th Pope and the first Pope to speak Latin and who changed the official language of the Vatican from Greek to Latin. The second was Pope Miltiades, the 32nd Pope and the third was Pope Gelasius, the 49th Pope.
It is therefore not accurate that if elected a Pope Turkson will be the first African Pope. However, he would be the fourth but the first Black African Pope, south of the Sahara, similar to His Excellency Kofi Annan, the first Black African south of the Sahara to be chosen as United Nations Secretary General but the second African do to hold the position after Boutros Boutros Ghali, also of North Africa origin (from Egypt
The other factor that gives me worry about the predictions is Paddy Power Bookmakers. Do people remember that the same group placed 16-1 odds in November 2008 on the possibility of Obama not completing his first term (suggesting an assassination)? Again, English Premier League followers could remember that Paddy Power Bookmakers predicted by 3-1 odds that Stoke City would be eliminated at the end of the 2008/09 season but the club finished middle of the table. I suspect Paddy Power Bookmakers may be doing so for global publicity. One must be careful with by predictions Paddy Powers. The choice of a Pope is not as simply as the origin or ethnicity of the Cardinal and unlike other international appointments where voting could be by bloc of continents or other groupings such as the Commonwealth or the European Union, Conclave does not operate any such system. The Cardinals are guided by the needs of the Catholic Church particularly, contemporary challenges facing Catholicism, the Holy Spirit and the ability and status of the Cardinal within the totality of the eligible Cardinals who converge at Conclave to elect one amongst themselves. I do hope that Paddy Power’s predictions and the UK media’s obsession with Cardinal Turkson have not caused him any damage that could work against him.
Ghanaians have the right to be excited but should be cautious because other Cardinals have been suggested by other reliable quarters as favorites. For example, Cardinal Angelo Scola, the current Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna and Cardinal Marc Ouellet who is French Canadian and the Head of the Vatican Department for the Appointment of Bishops are all considered as potentials and stand good chances of being elected though I do not doubt that Cardinal Turkson also stands a very good chance.
As a Ghanaian, my prayers are for the Cardinals to be bold at Conclave and complete Ghana’s “Trinity” by electing Cardinal Turkson as the 266th Pope. We already have the “Father” and the “Son” and awaiting our Holy Spirit (Ghost). Ghana became the first Black African nation south of the Sahara to gain independence in 1957. That was the ‘God the Father’. Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian and first Black African south of the Sahara to become the Secretary General of the United Nations and that was Ghana’s ‘God the ‘Son’. Cardinal Turkson also a Ghanaian becoming the first Black African south of the Sahara to be elected Pope will be Ghana’s ‘God the Holy Spirit’ and that should complete Ghana’s ‘Trinity’ on the global stage.
In fact, the Cardinals should be more than bold when they go to Conclave and follow the Unites States by choosing the first Black Pope as the US elected the first Black President in 2008. I am sure the Holy Spirit will direct them to do so. I am cautiously optimistic and hope that all Catholics around the world and Ghanaians will remember the Cardinals and especially, Cardinal Turkson in their prayers for God’s guidance.