Saturday, October 24, 2009

Out of Africa

Ending the better part of a year's worth of speculation, the Pope finally went public with the Vatican's worst-kept secret this morning, naming Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Ordained archbishop of Cape Coast -- the West African country's oldest local church -- in 1992 and made a cardinal eleven years later, the rise of the 61 year-old returns an African dicastery-head to the ranks of the Roman Curia, which had gone without a top-tier presence from the continent since last December, breaking a nearly four-decade practice. Reportedly reluctant to leave home and accept the Vatican's social-justice portfolio, the move likewise brings to Rome the church's lone non-retired cardinal with an advanced degree in Scriptural studies.

As the monthlong Synod for Africa closes tomorrow, Turkson has attracted significant attention as the gathering's lead spokesman, alongside the growing chorus that's tapped him as the continent's foremost papabile of the moment.

When asked at his first Synod press briefing whether the future will bring an African Pope, Turkson made global headlines by answering, "Why not?" While the sound-byte won the heart of the press corps -- many of whom he dined with earlier this week -- an answer on the perennial hot-button of condoms and HIV/AIDS garnered enough confusion and attention that the Vatican released a transcript of the cardinal's response.

At the helm of the Iustitia et Pax, Turkson succeeds Cardinal Renato Martino nearly two years after the veteran diplomat reached the retirement age of 75. Before his appointment to head the council in October 2002, Martino had served sixteen years as the Vatican's man at the UN headquarters in New York.