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Monday 22 September 2014

Pope celebrates last public Mass

Published 13/02/2013 | 02:01

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Bishop Guido Marini, right, and an unidentified master of ceremonies adjust Pope Benedict XVI's robe during the Ash Wednesday Mass (AP)
The pope arriving for his weekly Vatican audience (AP)

The bid to be the next pope has begun in a political campaign like no other, with no declared candidates or front-runners and a strict taboo against openly gunning for the job.

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But the manoeuvring is already well under way, with one African contender declaring it was time for a pope from the developing world - and he was free if God wanted him.

A day after Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world and announced he would retire on February 28, Berlin's archbishop urged mercy for the victor, given the terrible weight of the office and Mexico City's Cardinal Norberto Rivera asked for prayers so the best man might win.

The mysterious process takes place behind closed doors at the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, where the "princes" of the Roman Catholic church, the 117 or so cardinals under the age of 80, vote in next month's conclave. Once sequestered, they cast secret ballots until they reach a two-thirds majority and elect a new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, sending up smoke signals from the chapel's chimney to tell the world if they have failed (black) or succeeded (white).

In the run-up to the conclave, cardinals engage in a delicate dance, speaking in general terms about the qualities of a future pope and the particular issues facing the church. It is rare for anyone to name names, much less tout himself as a candidate. If asked, most cardinals routinely invoke the refrain: "He who goes into a conclave a pope comes out a cardinal."

But such genteel public platitudes belie the very real factions within the College of Cardinals that determine the outcome of the vote. They have different visions of what the church needs, critical issues and different allegiances - geographical, sentimental and theological.

This time around, it seems geography is very much front and centre, at least in the public debate that was in full swing on Tuesday, the first day of the conclave campaign. One of Africa's brightest hopes to be the next pope, Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson, said the time was right for a pontiff from the developing world, and that he was available for the job "if it's the will of God".

In an interview inside his Vatican offices, Cardinal Turkson said the "young churches" of Africa and Asia had now become solid enough to have produced "mature clergymen and prelates that are capable of exercising leadership also of this world institution". Catholics in the developing world did not need a pope from their region to thrive, he said, but the cardinal, who heads the Vatican's justice and peace office, said a pope from the global south would "go a long way to strengthen them in their resolve".

Whether Cardinal Turkson would have a shot at the papacy, though, is an open question. Last year he screened an alarmist video at a meeting of the world's bishops, warning of the inroads Islam was making in Europe and the world. He apologised, but the gaffe may have cost him a chance at the papacy.

For his part, Venezuelan cardinal Jorge Urosa said he hoped the next pope comes from Latin America, home to 40% of the world's Catholics. Meanwhile Berlin's archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, said he did not care "whether he is African or Asian or Latin American or European".

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