Following the announcement that Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28th due to health issues, the question is who will take his place.
The Nigerian Cardinal, Francis Arinze, is said by many to be the favourite. And why is that?
First of all, Arinze replaced Joseph Ratzinger as Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni, when the German Cardinal succeeded Pope John Paul II.
Second, Cardinal Arinze is an African. For the first time in the history of the Vatican, a black African has the real opportunity to take the highest place in the Catholic Church. Having this in consideration, the existing sense that the Vatican favours white skinned individuals to take its highest office, may fade away.
Third, the Catholic Church has been loosing followers across the Western youth. Since evangelical religions, such as Christianity and Islam, compete in the market place for a larger share of it, i.e, seek to gather an increasing number of supporters by converting and spreading their word, Africa seems to be the solution.
As a matter of fact, Africa has an estimated 150 million Catholics, and 19 million of them are in Nigeria, namely in the South-East – Igbo people make up 70 per cent of those 19 million. Moreover, Christians in Africa are know to be of the most growing, ferverent and dedicated kind. Therefore, if Cardinal Arinze is indeed anointed Cardinal, there is an enourmous potential for the Vatican to see its following base increasing exponentially across not only Nigeria, but also across a substantial part of sub-Saharan Africa.
Vatican’s interests aside, there is one more factor in play. The Sahel region has become very unstable in recent months. Militant groups have expanded their operations from Mauritania to Somalia, despite suffering major losses by sovereign military forces.
This is also the case with Nigeria. Boko Haram and other militant groups such as Ansaru, have been active for a few years causing widespread instability in Northern Nigeria. In the same way, the Sudanese Islamic/military regime of Khartoum developed and executed a policy that targeted the “Islamization” and “Arabization” of all of Sudan. However, such policy was undermined and ultimately destroyed by the Christian’s South social and armed resistance and, finally, secession.
Can it be that proclaiming a Nigerian Black-African have as one of its main goals to strenghten Christian ties in Southern and Central Nigeria, thus creating a kind of buffer zone and, at the same time, fomenting an united front against the Northern Nigerian Islamic character in politics, and active militancy?
All in all, it seems that the Vatican has not lost its political and strategic thinking. It might be that the Vatican will once again become a important political player, and decisive card, not in Europe, but in Africa.