First Black Pope In 1,500 Years?

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His elevation to Pope--should he prevail--would come at a unique time when the Western development agencies are looking to once again focus on African development: Arinze is a big supporter of debt relief for the continent and human rights in Africa.

A Nigerian, Cardinal Francis Arinze, is a leading likely choice to become the new Pope.

While no one knows how the 132 cardinals who determine the next Pope will vote, Arinze is a strong contendor-- John Paul II himself favored him since Africa has the fastest growing population of Catholics anywhere in the world.

There have been three African Popes, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia: Victor (around AD 183-203), Mechiades or Militiades (possibly AD 311-314), and Gelasius (AD 492-496). Arinze would be the first one in the modern era. He would need two-thirds of the votes of the cardinals. John Paul II died April 2.

Arinze's has been a rapid and speedy rise, by all measures. He was the third of a family of seven children, and was born in 1932, in Eziowelle, Onitsha state, in Nigeria, to parents who followed Igbo faiths. He was trained at Bigard seminary, in Nigeria; Urban University, in Rome; and, at London University.

Arinze was ordained in 1958 and became the world's youngest bishop in 1965. He became a cardinal in 1985. He has numerous publications, including "Sacrifice In Ibo Religion, 1970," "Church in Dialogue, 1990," and "Religions for Peace, 2002."

Arinze is also favored because of his diplomatic skills. He has been the Vaticans leading Cardinal in reaching out to other faiths and the church values his knowledge of Islam.  Until 2002, for eight years, he headed the church's "Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue." He has also reached out to Jews and Buddhists.

Arinze is an intellectual who devours books on various topics. His elevation --should he prevail--would come at a unique time when the Western development agencies are looking to once again focus on African development: Arinze is a big supporter of debt relief for the continent and human rights in Africa.

A major topic Arinze speaks on is the nature of the family. In a 2003 interview, he told The Guardian, "In many parts of world, the family is under siege, opposed by an anti-life mentality as is seen in contraception, abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. It is scorned and banalised by pornography, desecrated by fornication and adultery, mocked by homosexuality, sabotaged by irregular unions, and cut in two by divorce." In this respect, Arinze would seem to follow in the footsteps of John Paul II in terms of adhering strictly to church doctrine. There was once a demonstration against him at Georgetown University--he was charged with comparing homosexuality with pornography, fornication and adultery.
Arinze loves sports, especially soccer and tennis.

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