While the Twitterverse seems to be awash in jokes regarding Pope Benedict XVI's resignation -- with a new hashtag #popejoke being retweeted and the newest phrase "ex-Benedict anyone?" steadily making its rounds on social media -- the surprise resignation of the 85-year-old pontiff is actually a very serious matter because it could usher in some significant changes for the Catholic Church. By stepping down from the papacy, a candidate from Latin America, Asia or Africa could be elected as pope. The familiar (read: European) face of the papacy may one day become all but a distant memory.
Although there are several would-be candidates from North America and Europe (including Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet), there are also potential candidates from Africa, such as Peter Turkson of Ghana, and, given that Latin America represents 42 percent of the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, there also seems to be a significant contingent of Latin Americans who could represent the Church.
Several Archbishops have talked openly about the "universal" nature of the Church, such as Archbishop Gerhard Mueller who told the Dusseldorf's Rheinische Post, and as reported by Tom Heneghan of the Globe and Mail, that "The universal Church teaches that Christianity isn't centred on Europe." In this same report, Tom Heneghan cites the comments of Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch who stated that the Church's future was not in Europe.
This last statement is not surprising given that an ever increasing number of North Americans and Europeans are no longer people of faith. Interestingly enough, the populations in Latin America, Africa and Asia that once received multitudes of missionaries on their soil, are now themselves acting as missionaries to the West in a case of reverse religious migration and proselytization.
Many are hopeful that when the papal conclave, or meeting of the College of Cardinals, is gathered to elect the new pope, that a pope of a "different hue" or background is selected. It remains to be seen though whether all those who adhere to the Catholic faith, in whichever part of the world, will be as steadfastly loyal to someone who is not of European descent. I'm cautiously optimistic that this would be the case and that a faith connection would override any racist or prejudiced inclinations, especially if the "one Church" is, as Catholics claim, for everyone. If the Church is truly for everyone, then anyone, European or not, is more than worthy of leading the faithful.