“Perhaps we need a pope who can look beyond Europe and bring to the entire church a certain vitality that is seen on other continents.”
It may be time for a “youngish” pope, possibly from the developing world, said Andreas Dingstad, a spokesman for the Catholic diocese in the Norwegian capital of Oslo.
“The church is growing most in the south. So I think lots of people will be ready for a pope from Africa, Asia or South America. But who knows, it’s the early days still,” Dingstad said.
Some 176 million people in Africa are Catholic, roughly a third of all Christians across the continent, according to a December 2011 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Meanwhile, the number of Catholics in Europe, the traditional stronghold of the church, has dropped in recent years.
The African nation with the biggest Christian population, Nigeria, has some 20 million practicing Catholics. In Lagos, its largest city, trader Chukwuma Awaegwu put his feelings simply Monday: “If I had my way an African should be the next pope, or someone from Nigeria.”
“It’s true; they brought the religion to us, but we have come of age,” he said. “In America, now we have a black president. So let’s just feel the impact of a black pope.”
Latin American Catholics also expressed hope for a leader from their midst.
“It would be good for the church now to give the opportunity to a Latin American pope,” said office worker Veronica Torres as she left Mass at Inaquito Church in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito. She said that would give “new force to the papacy.”
In the end, however, “It doesn’t matter who it is: be it a Latino, European or Asian,” said Ferya Caicedo, a housewife from Pradera, Colombia. “This world is crazy, with lots of violence, lots of corruption. We are killing one another for crumbs and we need God’s messenger, whoever it may be, to get us out of this situation because we are lost.”
Many Catholics, however, praised Benedict for bravery and modesty in deciding to step aside.
The resignation was an act of deference to the greater good by a man “demonstrating his humanity,” said Father Luis Rivero, Archdiocesan director of campus ministry for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami.
“There are times that only we know that we have to let go. And sometimes people may see that as a failure, but it’s honorable when someone reaches their point they have to let go because they can’t do this effectively anymore.”