Origin of next Pope 'irrelevant'
The head of one of the world's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese and thought to be a leading Latin American contender to succeed Pope Benedict XVI said neither nationality nor age should matter in picking the next pontiff.
Brazil's Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, 63, shrugged off questions about whether this might be the moment for a Latin American Pope and whether he might be the man to take the role.
"It would be very pretentious for a cardinal to say: 'I am prepared'," he said. "No-one is going to say: 'I am a candidate'."
Cardinal Scherer, who leads the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo, one of the world's largest with an estimated six million members, met scores of reporters inside the Se Cathedral yesterday before celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass.
He seemed momentarily taken aback by the dozens of cameras, microphones and questions he faced, though he spoke in an easy manner and began to enjoy parrying journalists' inquiries with a smile and denial that place of birth would play a role when he and more than 100 other cardinals convene next month at the Vatican to decide upon a new pope.
The church has said that reinvigorating Catholic youth, continuing its growth in Africa and stemming the losses of the faithful in Latin America, where 40% of the world's Catholics live, are top priorities.
Many have said that a younger pontiff from the developing world would be a natural fit.
But Cardinal Scherer batted down those lines of thought.
"The reflections that will be made at the conclave will not be about whether the Pope comes from one place or another place, whether he has this origin or that origin, but whether he has the condition, is the most prepared to lead the church in this moment of its history," he said.
But church leaders from other developing-region nations disagree.
The Rev Juan Angel Lopez, spokesman for the Catholic Church of Honduras, put it bluntly following Benedict's resignation on Monday, saying "it's time for there to be a Latin American pope because Latin America has the greatest number of Christians".
Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson is one of Africa's best hopes for gaining the papacy and said this week that the time was right for a pontiff from the developing world, adding that he was available for the job "if it's the will of God".
In an interview inside his Vatican offices, Cardinal Turkson said the "young churches" of Africa and Asia had now become solid enough that they had produced "mature clergymen and prelates that are capable of exercising leadership also of this world institution".
Aside from Cardinal Scherer, other leading Latin American possibilities include Argentine cardinal Leonardo Sandri, 69, head of the Vatican's office for Eastern rite churches, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and Brazilian cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, 65, who has earned praise as head of the Vatican's office for religious congregations.
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