Is the Catholic Church ready for a black pope? That is the question many inside and outside the world's largest Christian organization are asking following the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI this week.
Pictured: Pope Benedict greets Catholic worshipers in Africa.
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The German pontiff, formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he was elected in 2005, is the first leader of the Catholic Church in 600 years to retire before death. Most of his predecessors, who trace their official lineage back nearly 2,000 years to Saint Peter, the first pope, have died while still in the top job.
At age 85 and citing failing health, the outgoing pope has triggered a wave of speculation on who will be his successor. That will be decided next month when the church's cardinals from various parts of the world convene in Rome to elect the new pontiff.
Not only should the next leader of the Catholic Church be black, but also the mere fact that the above question is posed in the way that it is - is the church ready for a black pope? - betrays a deep unspoken racism, not just in the church hierarchy but in the European-American centric world that it reflects. Of course the Catholic Church should have a black leader. What on earth, or heaven, is the deliberation about?
First of all when we say "black" we mean all people who are non-white; those from Africa, Asia and the Americas, that is, outside the Euro-North American realm.
The election of a black pope is a simple matter of justice. Most of the Catholic Church's one billion membership stems from outside the traditional power base of Europe and its white North American colonial extension. While the church's numbers have been dwindling particularly in Europe over recent decades, it is growing steadily elsewhere in the world.
Nearly half of the church's worldwide followers now come from Latin America. With a population of nearly 200 million, Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world.
The church is growing rapidly in Asia too, with major population centres in the Philippines, China and India.
However, it is Africa where the Catholic Church is seeing its most spectacular growth. Over the past century, the numbers of Catholics on the continent have grown from some two million in 1900 to a present day figure of 180 million.
By the year 2025, the African church is projected to rise to 230 million, when one in six Catholics worldwide will be African.
In the space of one hundred years, the balance of demographic power in the Catholic Church, in terms of its ordinary membership, has swung diametrically. Whereas before, three-quarters of the church's followers resided in Europe and North America, today more than 70 per cent of the world's Catholics are living in Africa, Asia and Central, South America.
SOURCE: Finian Cunningham