Latin American or African Pope Possible, Reveals Top Benedict XVI Aide

A top Roman Catholic Cardinal has revealed that the successor of Pope Benedict XVI could possibly come from Latin America or Africa, which would be the first time in over a millennium that a non-European man has been chosen to take St. Peter's seat.

"The challenges of the Church in the world are very different on different continents: in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America. The question is 'where will the challenges be greater, on which continent, should it be a pope for, above all, Latin America, for Africa," Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch told Reuters. Koch, 62, has been a close aide of Pope Benedict XVI, and will be one of the 117 cardinals this March who will vote in secret for a new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

"I can imagine taking a step towards a black pope, an African pope or a Latin American pope. I can imagine this," Koch added of the various options available to the Church. The Cardinal added that he always knew Benedict, 85, would step down when he felt he could no longer lead the Church to the best of his abilities, and hinted that future popes might be inclined to the same.

The pope shocked the world last week when he announced that he would be retiring at the end of February, making him the first to do so in 600 years.

"The Church calls on all its members to renew themselves... which constitutes a fight, a spiritual battle, because the evil spirit wants us to deviate from the road towards God," Benedict said on Sunday from his balcony in his last public address as pope, addressing a crowd of more than 100,000 people gathered at St Peter's Square at the Vatican.

As for the leading candidates for the pope's seat, Brazilian archbishop Odilo Scherer and Argentine archbishop Leonardo Sandri would likely be at the top of choices from Latin America, Reuters noted. Peter Turkson from Ghana, head of the Vatican's justice and peace department, where the church is growing, has been talked about as the prime African candidate. Luis Antonio Tagle of the Roman Catholic Church in Philippines, the largest Catholic country in Asia, is also believed to be in contention.

"I think each pope has to have four qualities: First of all, deep faith, then, sound doctrine, charisma and a capacity to govern," Koch added in the interview. The cardinal acknowledged that the Church have an especially important decision in front of them, and will have to select a new leader wisely.

"It is clear that this is a situation that is totally new. The cardinals must choose the new pope with the presence of the living pope. We still don't know what effect it will have. It makes a great difference if the pope is dead or alive," Koch continued. He affirmed that the election process is very secret, and the cardinals will not know where the other votes are going.

"We now see that behind the ministry (of any pope) there is a human person ... these are decisions of individual conscience. John Paul decided not to come down from the cross, as he put it, and retained the ministry to his death," Koch reflected.

"John Paul reflected long and hard on that and came to his decision. Benedict is another person and he came to another decision and I think we have to accept this decision of conscience and not think about all the consequences that it could bring about."

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