- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004

Could 2004 be the year the world’s Catholics will be led by a Nigerian? That is the question on many believers’ lips as concern grows that ailing Pope John Paul II will not survive the year.

One likely successor is Cardinal Francis Arinze, 71, an Ibo from Nigeria and prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship. He is tough, energetic, knows how to handle youth, and most importantly perhaps, is an expert on Islam.

Already, the most powerful traditionalist voice for another branch of Christianity, the Anglicans, is that of Archbishop Peter Akinola, primate of the Anglican province of Nigeria, which has 17 million to 18 million faithful.

His see, Abuja, may well become the Canterbury of the 21st century, as current Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is seen as merely waffling on the crisis in the U.S. Episcopal Church.

Ten of the 11 African primates want to cut ties with the American offshoot of Anglicanism, or at least the diocese of the church’s first openly homosexual bishop, V. Gene Robinson.

Most Asians and Latin Americans feel the same way. And Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, Australia, has mused aloud about the possibility of shifting allegiance from Canterbury to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

Archbishop Akinola has made clear that he will not let America’s wealth persuade him to make doctrinal concessions to what he considers Western heresies. In other words, there is likely to be a split in world Anglicanism.

Nigeria also is one of the places where the conflict between radical Islam and Christianity is being played out.

But no one can predict who will take John Paul’s place in the event of his death. Given the Roman Catholic Church’s 2,000-year history, it is very likely that after the Polish pope’s 25-year reign, it once again will be an Italian’s turn.

It could be that Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna, Austria, will be the successor; or Cardinal Phillippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon and a man of great personal holiness; or maybe even the aging Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, the German prefect of the Pontifical Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, who might bring theological order back into the Catholic Church.

Or it could be anybody. Suffice it to say that the biggest religion story of the year presumably will come from Rome, and some things can be considered a given about the new man to lead the Catholic Church:

• He will be a disciplinarian, which John Paul is not and which accounts for considerable theological chaos in the church.

• He will have John Paul’s affinity for the young.

• He will, like the current pope, be able to garner the respect of representatives of other faiths, especially Islam.

• He will share John Paul’s commitment to ecumenism, without which it would be hard to accomplish what is considered the most important task: to continue John Paul’s strategy of re-evangelizing Europe and thus strengthen the Christian church against the potential onslaught of Islamic radicalism.

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