Monday, 11 Feb 2013 12:34 PM

By Lisa Barron
popeWith the shocking announcement that Pope Benedict XVI will be stepping down at the end of the month, all eyes are now on the men who are being considered to replace him and become the 266th Pope.
Many within the Roman Catholic Church believe the time has come for a non-European to ascend to the papacy. Here is a look at some of the front-runners:

Peter Turkson (Ghana, age 64)
 is the one of the top African candidates. Head of the Vatican justice and peace bureau, he is spokesman for the Church’s social conscience and backs world financial reform. He studied and taught abroad in New York and Rome before being ordained to the priesthood in 1975 and appointed Archbishop of Cape Coast – the former colonial capital of Ghana and a key diocese – in 1992.

Turkson’s popularity in West Africa has been boosted by his regular TV appearances, particularly a weekly broadcast on state television channel Ghana TV called “Catholic Digest.” He has maintained strong ties with his native country in addition to his duties in the Vatican.

He sparked an outcry last year, however, when he screened a YouTube film at an international meeting of bishops featuring alarmist predictions at the rise of Islam in Europe. The clip, “Muslim Demographics,” features claims such as: “In just 39 years France will be an Islamic republic.”

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Still, colleagues in Ghana confirmed that Turkson would be unlikely to take the church in a radical direction on contentious issues such as abortion and contraception. In the past, he has not ruled out the use of condoms but has advocated abstinence and fidelity.

Francis Arinze (Nigeria, age 80) is also a strong African contender. He is Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, having served as prefect from 2002 to 2008. He is the current Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni, succeeding Joseph Ratzinger in 2005.

Arinze became the youngest Roman Catholic bishop in the world when he was ordained to the episcopate in 1965 at the age of 32. He was one of the principal advisers to Pope John Paul II, and was considered a top candidate before the 2005 papal conclave that elected Benedict XVI.

He made his name during the Nigeria-Biafra war when, as Archbishop of Onitsha, he organized the distribution of food and medical supplies to the poor in a region torn apart by the conflict. He was made a cardinal in 1985 and is known for his tolerance of elements of traditional worship in the Catholic Mass.

Arinze’s age, however, could be a drawback.

In addition, there is a large and growing Catholic population in Latin America to consider. The region already represents 42 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion-strong Catholics, the largest single block in the Church, compared to 25 percent in Europe.

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