The Next Pope?

Article excerpt

If God answers the constant prayers of the people of Onitsha, Nigeria, the city will soon be known as the town that gave the Roman Catholic Church its first black pope. It was here that Francis Arinze presided as archbishop for 18 years, before he arrived at the Vatican in 1985 and became Nigeria's first cardinal. And it is where, every year, Arinze returns to worship in the Holy Trinity Cathedral. "No one wants to talk about his chances--to do so could work against him," says Father Martin Omikumls, the cathedral's pastor. "But everyone is praying that it be God's will."

At 69, Arinze is the right age for a pope. In ceremonial appearances he flashes a winning smile and displays a self-deprecating sense of humor. Since his name first appeared on journalistic lists of papabali four years ago, Arinze has avoided reporters as a matter of policy--a sure sign that he is taking the talk of his candidacy serious-ly. But his experience at the Vatican has been limited to a single post: as president of the Pontifical Council for In-terreligious Dialogue, he has been the pope's contact man with Muslims, principally, but also with Hindus and Buddhists. His early pastoral letters, as well as his more recent pronouncements, show Arinze to be old-fashioned in his theology, and reluctant to venture much beyond quotations from John Paul II. …