Among the cardinals who could succeed Pope Benedict XVI are two prominent Africans - both from West Africa and both seen as strong contenders.
Africa is one of the few parts of the world where Catholicism is on the rise, and some think it is time for a non-European and possibly black African pope. But for many African Catholics, the new pope's race is far less important than competence and conviction in leading the Church.
Even in 2005 when Pope Benedict was elected, Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria was seen as a possible successor to John Paul II. Arinze, now 80, is again considered a strong candidate as is 64-year-old Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana.
The latest Vatican statistics show that between 2009 and 2010 on most continents the number of Catholics dropped - increasing only in southeast Asia and in Africa. The number of seminarians has also dropped in Europe and the Americas, but has risen in Asia and Africa.
The pope's resignation triggered anew the question of whether it is time for a non-European pope - notably a black African, after centuries of European popes, mostly Italian. But Catholics in Senegal and Ghana say they see the leader's race as largely irrelevant.
"For us in the Catholic Church it does not play any role at all and it should not play any role at all," said Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle, archbishop of Accra, the capital of Ghana. "The word Catholic means that all cultures, all races, all peoples are united in one body so it shouldn't play a role whether the person is black, white, or yellow."
Cardinal Théodore Adrien Sarr, archbishop of Dakar, will be among the cardinals to elect the next pope. Speaking to reporters on Monday he said it's not the pontiff's ethnicity that counts but his strength and conviction to lead the Church.
He said he has his doubts that the moment has come for a black African pope.
SOURCE: Nancy Palus
Voice of America
Voice of America