Catholics In Ghana, Mexico React To Pope's Resignation

The Catholic church continues to grow in Africa, and analysts say that there is a good chance the next pope will be from Africa. In Mexico, Catholicism remains the predominant religion though the percentage is falling.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's turn now to the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, in the face of which many Catholics around the world are grappling with what to think about that announcement. How they feel about this is important to the Vatican, particularly in Latin America, home of the largest concentration of Catholics in the world; and in Africa, where the community is growing fastest.

Let's go now to those two continents to hear from NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She's in the capital of Ghana, Accra; and NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Welcome to you both.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So first, how is the news sitting with the Catholics that you have spoken to? And Ofeibea, let's start with you.

QUIST-ARCTON: I think many Ghanaians and many Africans, from what I've been able to read and listen to, are pretty sympathetic. They feel that it's a pragmatic decision by an elderly man. And if he feels that he's not up to the job, in spirit and physically, then he's done a courageous thing to say I'm bowing out, let somebody else who is in better position take over.

But then, there are also those who feel that they have been slightly abandoned, that a pope, once you're chosen as a pope, you should be there for life.

MONTAGNE: And Carrie, there in Latin America?

KAHN: When I went down to the National Cathedral in Mexico City's historic district to talk with lay Catholics, I found most people were not too unhappy about the announcement. They said if it was his time to go, they should. But then I found this one woman who was very upset and had a similar reaction to what Ofeibea said. She said she felt abandoned by the pope and she felt like he had left them all alone and it was very unfortunate that he was leaving at this time.

MONTAGNE: Ofeibea, the Catholic Church, for decades, has looked to Africa to be, in some sense, a future for the Catholic Church, a fertile place for growth. How have some of the big issues between the church and its flock, how have they played out there in Africa?

QUIST-ARCTON: Renee, I have to say on the issue of homosexuality, gays in Africa and elsewhere, Africa is a very conservative society, so many here still consider the subject taboo and in that way they agree with the Catholic Church, which still outlaws being gay. When you talk to the clergy in Africa - whether Catholics should use condoms; HIV/AIDS, and so on - they seem generally to follow the Vatican.

And when the pope came to Africa back in 2009, he, again, repeated that condoms are not for Catholics, although he seems to have softened that stance. But when you talk to Africans generally, I think probably, as in elsewhere in the world, although they want to follow their church, they are pragmatic and practical. If it means that using condoms is going to save lives, Africans say so be it.

MONTAGNE: And Carrie, in Latin America the church has been trying to stop a long, slow decline. What impact has he made in improving the relationship between the Vatican and Latin American Catholics?

KAHN: So people, you know, he was the head of the Catholic Church - he is the head of the Catholic Church and he is the pope, but you know, a lot of people compared him to Pope John Paul. There just was no way to stop the comparison. And Pope John Paul here was such a popular pope in Mexico. He came here five times. He went to 12 of Mexico's 31 states. They have exhibits to him, statues everywhere. Pope Benedict only came here once and that was just last year and he came as an elderly man.

So they're just not as enamored with him as they were with John Paul.

MONTAGNE: There have been names of some influential cardinals from Africa and Latin America floated. And Ofeibea, there's a Ghanaian being mentioned.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, who actually heads the peace and justice division at the Vatican. And I know Cardinal Turkson personally. He used to play in a band when he was a seminarian. He's youngish, 64, and he's the sort of new pope that many Africans would like. He is very open, very approachable, seen as young, seen as open, and might be a reformer.

Many Africans are saying, you know, the developing world is where the church is growing hugely, so it is time for a change - not just an Italian, not just a European, somebody from Latin America or Africa who understands the cultural differences as well.

KAHN: And here in Latin America, Brazil is the largest Catholic country, with 125 million Catholics, so two cardinals have been mentioned, one who actually heads the Vatican department for religious congregations, and then there's the archbishop of Sao Paulo. There's an Argentinean cardinal who actually has Italian parents, and that could bode well for him. One expert told me that Latin Americans only have a small number of votes in the College of Cardinals and they have their own divisions, so they'll not necessarily vote in a consistent bloc.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn joining us from Mexico City and Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Accra, Ghana.

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