Rundu — Cardinals Francis Arinze (80) of Nigeria and Peter Turkson (64) of Ghana are in the frame to become the first African pope in 15 centuries after Pope Benedict XVI tendered his shock resignation last week.
With the pope set to vacate his office on February 28, debate within the Catholic Church has once more been rekindled as to whether the church will look beyond European when it chooses its next pope.
Eighteen of the 120 cardinals who will elect the next pope are Africans. Turkson currently heads the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, while Arinze heads the Roman Catholic Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni.
Secretary General of the Namibian Catholic Bishops' Conference, Dr Thomas Manninezhath, told New Era during an exclusive interview that he hopes an African cardinal can succeed the outgoing pope.
"It is my hope that an African can succeed our current pope, but we need to remember that things work differently in the church because this is not like a political election. Any Catholic member who is baptized can become a pope, but it has become a tradition however that only cardinals are eligible," he said.
Manninezhath lauded Pope Benedict XVI for defending Christian values during his tenure and for continuing to promote Christian values like his predecessor Pope John Paul II.
Manninezhath is also concerned about the many social evils taking place in Namibia, and suggested that if all Namibians live like Christians, "Namibia will be a paradise."
"People are only Christians for the sake of the name, but they do not lead the life Christians should be living. We should also remember that being baptized does not make you a Christian, you need to live like one," he said.
Pope Benedict XVI is the first pope to resign in more than 600 years, citing his health as the key factor in his decision to retire. Africa is currently home to 15 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. South America is said to be the continent with the most Catholics, estimated to be around 400 million.
Speaking to New Era last Wednesday, Roman Catholic Vicariate of Rundu, Bishop Joseph Shikongo said the Catholic community is in need of a European pope, because of a significant decline in the number of followers on that continent.
"If you go to Europe, you will see that the churches there are empty. My personal opinion is that a European should be elected to address this problem," said the bishop. Asked whether someone of African descent would not be able to bring Europeans back to the church, the bishop remained steadfast in his opinion that the elected pope must be from Europe to lure more followers.
"This is similar to politics, if a person from the opposition party gives input people are not likely to listen to it, but when someone from the ruling party gives their input then everyone will agree," he explained.
Arinze was a strong contender to replace Pope John Paul II in 2005, and his name has been thrown into the deep end once more.
Pope Benedict XVI's successor will become the 266th pope since the inception of the Catholic Church.