Will there be white smoke for a Black pope?

On Monday, Feb. 11, Pope Benedict XVI, 85, shocked the world when he announced his resignation due to health issues, becoming the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to resign from his position. Although his resignation will not be effective until Feb. 28, speculations are already being made as to who will be his replacement. Two of the candidates, Cardinal Francis Arinze and Cardinal Peter Turkson, stand out considering they are Black and of African descent.

Turkson, 63, is from Wassaw Nsuta, Ghana. According to the Vatican website, he was ordained for the Diocese of Cape Coast in 1975 and holds a doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute. In 1992, he was appointed archbishop of Cape Coast. From 1997 to 2005, he was president of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Recently, he was nominated president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In response to aspiring to become the next pope, Turkson stated, “I’m not sure whether anyone does aspire to become a pope … any ordained bishop can be chosen as a pope. Leadership also requires that people know about the church.”

Arinze, 80, is an Igbo Nigerian cardinal for the Roman Catholic Church who succeeded Benedict as cardinal bishop of Velletri-Segni. In addition, he served as prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. According to the Vatican’s website, Arinze was ordained into priesthood at the age of 26 after teaching and studying theology and philosophy for almost 11 years. He then continued teaching as a professor of liturgy, logic and basic philosophy at Bigard Memorial Seminary in Enugu, Nigeria. On Oct. 24, 1999, he received a gold medallion from the International Council of Christians and Jews for his “outstanding achievements in inter-faith relations.” He also acted as one of the principal advisors to Pope John Paul II.

Although Arinze has not commented on his aspirations to become a pope yet, he did make a statement about Benedict’s resignation. Said Arinze, “The pope is a servant. Indeed, one of his titles is ‘servant of the servants of God.’ So his act yesterday was like saying, ‘I am a servant. I think another servant should come on.’”

Shortly after Benedict’s resignation, 121 cardinals will begin to gather daily to vote for a new pope. According to recent polling, Turkson is the current favorite among the cardinals.