Vatican City — One of the developing world's leading candidates for the pope's successor has declared the Catholic Church ready to have its first non-European Pope - and said that he will gladly take on the role "if it is the will of God".
Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said he believed the churches of Africa and Asia had grown in strength to the extent they had produced "mature clergymen and prelates that are capable of exercising leadership also of this world institution."
"I think in a way the church is always and has forever been ready for a non-European pope," the 64-year-old, a favourite of Benedict XVI, told the Associated Press. He did not think the prospect was "too far away", he added.
Asked about speculation that he could himself emerge from next month's conclave as Benedict's successor, he said: "I've always answered 'if it's the will of God.'"
However, although Turkson is an early favourite of the bookmakers in a very open field of candidates, there are question marks over his credentials, which some Vatican observers say could hold him back. He was forced to apologize last year after screening a YouTube video at a meeting of bishops which made alarmist predictions about the rise of Islam in Europe. It claimed, among other things, that France would be an Islamic republic within 39 years.