Thursday, October 22, 2009

Letter #39, from Rome, Next Pope?

insidethevatican - Oct 22, 2009

A Chance Meeting

An ordinary Wednesday in Rome

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome


Midnight Oil

The Pope's light was burning late tonight.

In fact, in all the years of his pontificate, since the spring of 2005 after his election, his custom has been to keep his light on until about 11 pm. Then the window goes dark. Sometimes it is a little before 11, sometimes a little after.

But this evening, it was still burning at 11:15, at 11:30, at 11:45, and at 12 midnight. I don't know if it was on any longer, because midnight was when I glanced up at the Apostolic Palace for the last time before calling it a day myself and heading back here to write. The light was still on as I turned and walked away.

Is the Pope working late?

Or did someone forget to turn off the light?

I don't know -- I only know that the light stayed on much longer than usual.


The Next Pope?

This evening I was invited to dine, along with a dozen other journalists, with Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, 61, the Archbishop of Cape Coast in Ghana, in West Africa.

Turkson is not just any cardinal.

He is the youngest African cardinal.

And, as the "Relator," or General Secretary, of the Synod on Africa currently taking place in Rome, he is unquestionably one of the "top" African cardinals (as he is often termed in the press).

Indeed, some have gone so far as to speculate that Turkson may become... the first African Pope. (See:

At an October 5 press conference to open the Synod, Turkson was asked whether he thought the time was right for a black Pope, particularly following the election of President Barack Obama.

Turkson replied: "Why not?"

He argued that every man who agrees to be ordained a priest has to be willing to be a Pope.

He noted that, with Obama and the previous U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, there have been several blacks in positions of global leadership.

He said, "If God would wish to see a black man also as Pope, thanks be to God."

And his words put him in the headlines around the world.


"He is my brother"

It was a beautiful, warm October evening as I walked up the cobblestones, past the Synod Hall, for our 7:30 pm dinner appointment inside the Vatican.

Next to me was my friend, Jesus Colina, the founder of the Zenit news agency. About nine other journalists were walking with us.

We reached a Vatican security checkpoint inside Vatican City (there are several of these). The guards checked our names on a list they had received the day before, and we were free to continue toward Casa Santa Marta, but we stood for a moment, waiting for two more journalists who were late.

An African prelate walked by, dressed very simply. From his clothes, he could have been an ordinary monsignor. But something about his greying hair and the shape of his head...

Jesus nudged me as the man walked by.

"I think that's him," he said to me.


"Cardinal Turkson..."


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