Lagos — WITH the resignation of Catholic Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday, Nigeria's Francis Cardinal Arinze, 80, has become one of the favourites to lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. If elected, he would become the first African to be elected as Pope in 1500 years. Arinze was a leading contender when Benedict was elected in April 2005.
Ninety-four months after his election, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday stunned the world, announcing that he would quit his headship of the Catholic Church on February 28 due to his "incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
The German-born Pope, 85, hailed as a hero by conservative Roman Catholics and viewed with suspicion by liberals, told cardinals in Latin that his strength had deteriorated recently and that he would step down on February 28 and the Vatican expects a new Pope to be chosen by the end of March. He has spent about seven and a half years on the saddle having been elected on April 19, 2005 when he was 78 - 20 years older than John Paul II, his predecessor.
When he quits in 16 days time, Pope Benedict XVI will be the fifth Pope to resign in the history of the church after Pope Gregory XII in 1415 - 598 years ago; Pope Celestine V, who resigned in 1294; Pope Gregory VI, 1046, and Pope Benedict IX, 1045.
Pope Benedict's historic speech
In a three-paragraph, 351-word emotion-laden historic speech, Pope Benedict XVI, who asked for pardon for his defects and thanked the church for her support during his reign, said he would devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
The speech read:
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, 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. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.
"However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
"Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the HolyChurch to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."
Following the Pope's decision, a list of papal contenders led by Nigeria's Francis Cardinal Arinze, has emerged. Although there is no obvious front-runner - as was the case when Pope Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.
To elect his successor are120 cardinals under age 80, who are eligible to vote in a conclave. Europe still has the most with 62 in the College of Cardinals followed by Latin America (21), North America (14), Africa (11), Asia (11) and Ocean one.
Cardinal Francis Arinze
Cardinal Arinze, 80, from Nigeria is one of the favourites to succeed Pope Benedict. Born in Nigeria, 1932, the 80-year-old would be the first African in 1,500 years to sit on the throne of St Peter, if elected.
He was baptised on his ninth birthday after converting. He was educated at Urban University in Rome and earned a post-graduate qualification from London University.
Cardinal Arinze was ordained in 1958 and became the world's youngest bishop, aged 32, in 1965. He was created cardinal in 1985.
Cardinal Peter Turkson
Considerably younger than his rivals, the Ghanaian is the current President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Born to a Methodist mother and a Catholic father in 1948, he became a priest in 1975.
The 64-year-old speaks Fante, English, French, Italian, German, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and Greek.
Head of the Vatican justice and peace bureau, he is spokesman for the Church's social conscience and backs world financial reform.He was named Cardinal in 2003.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet
The 68-year-old was born in Canada in 1944. He became the archbishop of Quebec in 2002 and was created cardinal in 2003.
He once said becoming Pope "would be a nightmare."
He is currently head of the Vatican office that oversees the appointment of the world's bishops.
The Italian Cardinal was born in 1941. He studied philosophy at the Catholic University of Milan and was ordained to the priesthood in 1970.
The 71-year-old was created cardinal in 2003. He worked with Pope Benedict XVI on the theological journal 'Communio' and is a long-time ally of the Pope.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan
The 62 year-old, from the USA, became the voice of U.S. Catholicism after being named archbishop of New York in 2009. His humour and dynamism have impressed the Vatican, where both are often missing. But cardinals are wary of a "superpower pope" and his back-slapping style may be too American for some.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi
The Italian has been Vatican culture minister since 2007 and represents the Church to the worlds of art, science, culture and even to atheists. This profile could hurt the 70-year-old if cardinals decide they need an experienced pastor rather than another professor as Pope.
Cardian Odilo Pedro Scherer
The Brazilian, 63, ranks as Latin America's strongest candidate. Archbishop of Sao Paolo, largest diocese in the largest Catholic country, he is conservative in his country but would rank as a moderate elsewhere.
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn
Cardinal Schoenborn is a former student of Pope Benedict with a pastoral touch the pontiff lacks. The Austrian Cardinal, 67, has ranked as papal material since editing the Church catechism in the 1990s.
Cardinal Angelo Scola
The 71-year-old is archbishop of Milan, a springboard to the papacy, and is many Italians' bet to win. An expert on bioethics, he also knows Islam as head of a foundation to promote Muslim-Christian understanding. His dense oratory could put off cardinals seeking a charismatic communicator.
Cardinal Luis Tagle
The only Asian candidate in the running, Cardinal Tagle, 55, has a charisma often compared to that of the late Pope John Paul.
The Filipino is also close to Pope Benedict after working with him at the International Theological Commission. While he has many fans, he only became a cardinal in 2012 and conclaves are wary of young candidates.
Can the Pope resign?
Pope Benedict XVI 's shock resignation has raised questions on whether or not the leader of the Catholic Church could resign from office.
No Pope has resigned in modern times, and the last one to leave the post was Pope Gregory XII (1415) and before him Pope Celestine V (1294).
Under Canon Law of the Catholic Church, the only conditions for the Pope resigning if the resignation is done freely and is properly published.
The Pope's spokesperson Federico Lombardi said yesterday that Benedict's resignation was "in full compliance with church law", and that he was not resigning due to any "difficulties in the papacy."
But Pope Benedict's decision to step down was seen as unusual given that most incumbents die in office.
Pope's resignation surprising - Vatican Spokesman
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Pope had not decided to resign because of "difficulties in the papacy" and the move had been a surprise, indicating that even his inner circle was unaware that he was about to quit.
The Pope does not fear schism in the Church after his resignation, the spokesman said.
The Pope's leadership of 1.2 billion Catholics has been beset by child sexual abuse crises that tarnished the Church, one address in which he upset Muslims and a scandal over the leaking of his private papers by his personal butler.
Lombardi said the pope did not fear a possible "schism" but several popes in the past, including Benedict's predecessor John Paul, refrained from stepping down precisely because of the confusion and division that could be caused by having an "ex-pope" and a reigning pope living at the same time.
A new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics could be elected as soon as Palm Sunday, on March 24 and be ready to take over by Easter a week later, he said.
I'm surprised too - George Ratzinger, Pope's 89-yr brother
The pope's elder brother George Ratzinger, a frail 89-year-old priest who shares the pope's passion for music, told reporters in the Bavarian town of Regensburg where he once conducted the cathedral choir that he had been "very surprised" to learn of his brother's resignation.
"He alone can evaluate his physical and emotional strength," said Ratzinger..