In a little more than 2 weeks, the college of cardinals will set about electing the next pope. Like most objects of fascination, this event will be the focus of much speculation, and as usual, many people will be placing their bets on who the choice of the college will be.
Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria has been mentioned over the last few years as a leading candidate to succeed John Paul II.
The standard refrain from vatican and church officials is that the selection process is not your typical political horse trading exercise subject to back room dealing. That' s a company line that is obviously belied by the history of these conclaves over the centuries, and the very fact that ideology and geographic considerations have played major roles in the elevations of many popes.
In Africa, the Catholic Church is now experiencing its greatests growth, and more importantly, its greatest challenge for the allegiances of millions of people. That would suggest that an African pope might signal a seismic reformation in the church and the expansion of its foundation beyond its historical base in Western Europe.
I would love to see Arinze get the nod, but his odds in my opinion are very low.