"IF God would wish to see a black man also as pope, thanks be to God". These were the words uttered to journalists three years ago in Rome by Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, a Ghanaian Cardinal of the Catholic Church.
For eight years that I studied in Rome, also working part time at Vatican Radio, I met and interviewed various leaders of the Catholic Church, and I must say, one of the prelates that really impressed me was Cardinal Turkson.
Pope Benedict XVI retirement shocked and amused many, but the next Pope could as well cause the same surprise, because an African Cardinal could be elected Pope, thus creating new history in the Catholic Church.
The 'papabile' is none other than Cardinal Turkson. The retired Pope has singled out reasons for his retirement, one of them being poor health that can give him enough strength to lead the church at this era of globalization that has witnessed milliards of changes. Cardinal Turkson holds all qualities that could elevate him to the Chair of Saint Peter.
This Catholic Church Prince born on October 11, 1948 is the current president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, one of the biggest offices at the Vatican. He was appointed to this office by Pope Benedict XVI on October 24, 2009. Cardinal Turkson is four years younger than Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, who was born on August 5, 1944. He had previously served as Archbishop of Cape Coast.
He was elevated to the cardinalate by Pope John Paul II in 2003. Turkson was born in Wassaw Nsuta in Western Ghana to a Methodist mother and a Catholic father. In 2002 I worked in Ghana for six months, and I had the opportunity to attend meetings in Accra that were addressed by Cardinal Turkson.
He was very good at addressing issues related to evangelization, Inculturation, Justice and Peace and how to use the mass media effectively in spreading the gospel. He studied at St. Teresa's Seminary in the village of Amisano and Pedu before attending St. Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in Rensselaer, New York, where he obtained a Bachelor's degree in theology.
He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop John Amissah on July 20, 1975. Turkson was a professor at St. Teresa's Minor Seminary from 1975 to 1976, whence he entered the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, earning a licentiate in Sacred Scripture in 1980. He returned to St. Teresa's for a year, 1980-81, and became vice-rector at St. Peter's Seminary in 1981.
He also did pastoral work in a parish annexed to the seminary. In 1987, he returned to the Pontifical Biblical Institute to do a doctorate in Sacred Scripture. On October 6, 1992, Turkson was appointed Archbishop of Cape Coast by Pope John Paul II. He received his episcopal consecration on March 27, 1993 from Archbishop Dominic Kodwo Andoh, with Archbishops Peter Poreku Dery and Peter Kwasi Sarpong serving as co-consecrators.
He served as President of the Ghana Catholic Bishops' Conference from 1997 to 2005, and as Chancellor of the Catholic University College of Ghana since 2003. John Paul II created him Cardinal-Priest of S. Liborio in his last consistory of October 21, 2003. Turkson is the first Ghanaian cardinal, and was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2005 papal conclave, which selected Pope Benedict XVI.
He was once described as "one of Africa's most energetic church leaders" by a UK Catholic magazine. Immediately following the announcement of the impending resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, at least two bookmakers, Paddy Power and Ladbrokes, made Turkson the favourite to be appointed as the new pope.
On October 24, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Turkson President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Within the Roman Curia, Turkson is also a member of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and, since March 4, 2010, the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.
On June 12, 2012 Cardinal Turkson was appointed a member of the Congregation for Catholic Education. On October 16, 2010 Pope Benedict appointed him as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. These memberships are for five years and are renewable. Being resident in Rome, he is invited to attend not only the plenary meetings of those departments, which in principle are held every year, but also the ordinary meetings.
On March 30, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI announced at his weekly general audience that he was sending Cardinal Turkson as a Vatican mediator to contribute to a possible diplomatic, non-military solution to the potentially explosive civil conflict in Ivory Coast, which could turn into an even bloodier civil war if not contained.
There Laurent Gbagbo had refused, in spite of international condemnation and local protests and resistance, to step aside and hand over power to Alassane Ouattara, the certified winner of the presidential election. In October 2011 Cardinal Turkson called for the establishment of a "global public authority" and a "central world bank" to rule over financial institutions that have become outdated and often ineffective in dealing fairly with crises.
The document 'Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of a Global Public Authority' was very specific, calling for taxation measures on financial transactions. It noted: "The economic and financial crisis which the world is going through calls everyone, individuals and peoples, to examine in depth the principles and the cultural and moral values at the basis of social coexistence," it said.
The document condemned what it called "the idolatry of the market" as well as a "neo-liberal thinking" that it said looked exclusively at technical solutions to economic problems. "In fact, the crisis has revealed behaviours like selfishness, collective greed and hoarding of goods on a great scale," it said, adding that world economics needed an "ethic of solidarity" among rich and poor nations. An accomplished polyglot, Turkson is able to speak English, Fante, French, Italian, German, and Hebrew, in addition to understanding Latin and Greek.
The Catholic Church chronicler, Rocco Palmo, called Turkson the lone Scripture scholar in the Pope's "Senate" and believes that his status as a potential "papabile" has been elevated due to his appointment as spokesman for Second Synod for Africa in 2009. In 2009, he reaffirmed the Catholic social teaching on contraception, in regards to statements made by Pope Benedict XVI that condoms were not a solution to Africa's AIDS crisis and were taken out of context by the media.
In response to the global economic crisis that started in 2008, Cardinal Turkson together with Bishop Mario Toso elaborated a proposal to reform the international financial system by creating a Global Public Authority and a Global Bank that consider the interest of all developing countries. The document of 40 pages was officially presented in October 2011 and criticizes the actual structure of International Monetary Fund and other institutions.
This is the man who may succeed Pope Benedict XVI and the world must not be shocked if he ascends to that office. Basically, the point is not that the Pope has resigned, but what will happen in the Church and to the Church after him. What kind of Pope does the Church need in these troubled times of our days with all the problems we know. For instance, problems of ecology, human and arms trafficking, wearing down of morality (ethics) at all levels even in the Church (steal provided you are not caught, tell lies provided you can convince them otherwise), consumerism, corruption, etc.
The list seems endless. Can we humans run our own affairs without at least some kind of faith in a loving God? Malaria and AIDs keep decimating millions; cancer seems to be on the increase. Humans seem not to be able to live together in the same boat we call our world. They tend to mismanage common world resources and reap wantonly what God, we believe, grants through socalled nature, etc. All these can be addressed, if a right candidate for the papacy is chosen. Could that be Cardinal Turkson? We should wait and see.