African Catholics see hope in choice of non-European pope

Catholics praised the selection of Pope Francis, saying that his roots in the Southern Hemisphere could mean more attention to issues of poverty and underdevelopment. 

Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
A Roman Catholic faithful prays as he attends a mass after the announcement of the election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the new pope, at the Holy Family Minor Basilica in Kenya's capital Nairobi Thursday. Bergoglio was elected in a surprise choice to be the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church on Wednesday, taking the name Francis and becoming the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years.

Catholics in Africa have greeted the election of the first Latin American pope with hope, saying his experience as a Christian leader in the Southern Hemisphere will help deal with the continent’s many challenges, including poverty, governance, and underdevelopment.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was announced as the new pope Wednesday, after being elected by a conclave of 115 cardinals that included 11 Africans. 

On Thursday, celebrations were continuing in Africa, where the ranks of Catholics – standing at about 170 million of the world's 1.2 billion adherents – are growing quickly. (For more on the Catholic Church in Africa, read about a CNN poll on whether "Africa is ready for an African pope.")

Many expressed confidence that Africa could be the next in line to produce a pope from a non-European country.

 “He is our pope. I am overjoyed,” says Peris Ng’aru, a university lecturer in Nairobi. “He could have come from any part of the world, but we identify with him since he is from the Southern Hemisphere.”

Jean Luc Nizeyimana, a young shopkeeper in Kigali, Rwanda, was pleasantly surprised at the election.

“We look forward to his reign and developments. I am not disappointed he is not from Africa, because for me race is not an issue here. I am more interested in his performance,” says Mr. Nizeyimana by phone.

The pope needs to help inspire good governance and the end of corruption, say many of the faithful here. Restoration of the church’s authenticity and credibility, and helping bring more peace to the world, are some other expectations.

Church doctrine, including the issue of celibacy, as well as church scandals around child sex abuse, have also gotten scrutiny.

“I think the church should rethink the question of celibacy. I believe this is the source of the sex scandals dogging the church,” says Nizeyimana.

“I want him to address issues of sexual abuse within the church and to start discussions about Catholic priests getting married,” says Nontokozo Mafu, a young bank teller in Cape Town, South Africa, in a phone interview.

Solomon Ndaba, an entrepreneur in Nairobi, has his own ideas about measures the church should encourage, proposing that “nuns can marry at 45 years while priest at 55 years. At these ages, people get lonely and need company." 

Njuguna Ng’ang’a, a Nairobi-dased Catholic Church trends analyst, thinks the pope will bring significant changes in the church, having hailed from Latin America. (For more on the pope's stand on social justice issues, read about "a prelate who has preached against 'huge inequities.')

Some young African Catholics, however, think a young person should have been elected, saying Pope Francis may be too old bring radical changes in the church.

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