After Monday’s shocking announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would step down at the end of February, feelings of surprise quickly turned to speculation as the world began to wonder who would be his successor. While many names have been suggested, Cardinal Peter Turkson seems to be a front-runner.
Cardinal Turkson, 64, was born in Wassaw Nsuta in western Ghana to a Methodist mother and Catholic father. As a child, he entered the seminary and later moved to New York to study at St. Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in Rensselaer. Cardinal Turkson was ordained as a priest in 1975.
As a Roman Catholic Cardinal from Ghana, Cardinal Turkson is currently president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and among the leading candidates to assume the title of pontiff. While rumors swirl as the Vatican looks outside of Europe to replace Pope Benedict XVI, the question also remains as to how the first black Pope, particularly Cardinal Turkson, may affect the Catholic church as a whole.
Within Africa, members of the Catholic religion and clergy are rapidly growing. There are around 176 million Catholics in Africa according to a study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in December 2011. While the numbers within the Catholic Church continue to rise in Africa, the number of Catholics in Europe has decreased in the last several years.
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Although appointing the first black Pope would certainly be a milestone for the religion, Cardinal Turkson is not without controversy. The Cardinal caused an uproar at the Vatican last October by screening a YouTube video that makes some shocking predictions about the massive growth of Islam in Europe. The seven-minute video, titled "Muslim Demographics," was the talk of an international gathering of bishops after Cardinal Turkson screened it during a free discussion period. Among the claims made in it: "In just 39 years France will be an Islamic republic."
Days after the viewing of “Muslim Demographics,” a Vatican spokesperson made an attempt to put distance between Cardinal Turkson and the holy see.
"This video does not express the view of the synod or the Vatican. Turkson has said he is sorry if the video was wrongly interpreted since he did not intend it to be anti-Muslim, merely a comment on the nihilism in western society," said Father Federico Lombardi.
While the Vatican took a politically correct stance, Vatican radio called the video "fear mongering" and added, "Why one of the curial cardinals chose to show this piece of anti-Islamic propaganda is quite unclear." Cardinal Turkson has gone on record over the years, stating that a theological dialogue with Muslims is impossible.
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In the midst of this controversy, Cardinal Turkson remained firm to his intentions. “The point was to highlight the demographic situation as a result of the anti-life tendency and culture in the Western world,” he stated publically. “For me to attack Islam would be to attack my own family,” said the cardinal, a native of Ghana. “My paternal uncle was a Muslim and he took care of me when I was a boy, and when he grew old I took care of him until he died.”