Two black African cardinals emerged as frontrunners for the papacy yesterday after the shock resignation of Benedict XVI.
He became the first leader of the Roman Catholic church to step down in 600 years and the first to abdicate through ill-health.
Amid feverish speculation about the succession, two of the favourites were Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson, 64, and Cardinal Francis Arinze from eastern Nigeria.
Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson (left), of Ghana, is the bookies' favourite for the job of pope while Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze (right) is seen as an outside contender for the job
Italian-Argentine Leonardo Sandri could be the first non-European leader of the Roman Catholic church
The election of a black pope would reflect the growing strength of the Catholic church in the developing world. But it could be controversial in parts of Eastern Europe where racism remains a problem.
Two other contenders, Cardinal Odilo Scherer, Archbishop of San Paolo, and the French-Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, would also be a break with the tradition of electing only European popes.
A new cardinal has to be chosen after Pope Benedict XVI (pictured) stood down
Many believe the next pope should come from the developing world – particularly Latin America, where Catholicism is the dominant religion, or Africa, where the number of followers is growing.
Forty-two per cent of the world’s 1.2billion-strong Catholic population – the largest single block – live in Latin America compared to 25 per cent in its European heartland.
After the long reign of a Polish pope – John Paul II – and a German pope, the Italian Catholic church will put a lot of pressure on cardinals to support an Italian for the papacy.
Among its favourites are Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, and Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa.
Benedict’s resignation shocked churchgoers and left the senior ranks of the church in turmoil.
Revealing his decision to a gathering of cardinals on Sunday, he said his ‘strength of mind and body’ had failed in the last few months.
The Vatican denied that any single medical complaint was responsible but speculation centred on 85-year-old Benedict’s arthritis problems.
He needs a moving platform to take him to the altar in St Peter’s, and it is difficult for him to kneel and pray.
Yesterday it emerged that the Pope made his decision to quit last April following a tour of Mexico and Cuba.
The resignation, to take effect on the last day of this month, means a conclave of senior cardinals will meet in Rome to choose a successor by the end of March.
He sprung his surprise at a meeting to canonise three new saints.
Some cardinals didn’t understand what Benedict had told them and others looked stunned. ‘All the cardinals remained shocked and were looking at each other,’ said Monsignor Oscar Sanchez, who was in the room at the time.
Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio (left), 77, and Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodrigues Maradiaga (right), 70, have both been tipped as potential future popes
Italians Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (right), 78, and Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco (right), 70, are potential candidates for the position which, until John Paul II, was always held by a man from Italy
After the news was announced to the wider world Benedict said in a statement: ‘I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry (the papacy). Odilo Scherer, 63,…