Asian cardinal ‘unlikely’ to become next pope

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MANILA, Feb. 12, 2013—As the announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation from papacy sank in the consciousness of Catholics worldwide, names of those who could possibly succeed the pope have began to crop up.

But some Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines said an Asian cardinal has a slim chance of becoming the next pontiff.

This, in reaction to a good number of social media enthusiasts in the country who believe the widely-popular Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Gokim Cardinal Tagle has good chances of succeeding his fellow theologian.

Fr. Romeo J. Intengan, SJ, a Doctor of Medicine who joined the Jesuits and later became its Philippine Province Superior, said an Asian, an African or a North American as Successor of Peter is not impossible “but quite unlikely.”

He said Catholic Christians in Asia are a minority except in the Philippines and Timor Leste.

“Cardinal Tagle is very junior in the hierarchy and has just been appointed to the Archdiocese of Manila in 2012,” Intengan said, adding that Tagle, should he be elected would probably be reigning too long “which some electors might find disquieting.”

An African may come from a minority and in some countries where Catholics are a majority or with a strong plurality, either the local Church is too small or difficult social problems might affect the potential Pope.

Intengan said an American pope would make the Church vulnerable to prejudices of many Muslims and other groups who dislike or suspect the First World, especially the United States, and it may make the Vatican an “American tool.”  He added there’s no outstanding Canadian member of the hierarchy who may fit the Shoes of the Fisherman.

A non-European pope is unlikely, according to Intengan, because Europeans are likely to dominate the choices as European cardinals are familiar with each other and the Roman Curia.

But for some Latin Americans who have respectable prospects with large local churches and partly European culture, Roman experience and contacts, it is a bit less unlikely than before.

For his part, San Fernando de Pampanga Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David said the coming conclave is “all up to the Holy Spirit” and the “discernment of the present group of cardinals.”

Asked if he has personal choices who he considers front-runners, the auxiliary bishops said “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Fr. Gerry Orbos, one of the most visible SVD missionaries in the Philippines said, he sees a big chance for anybody from North or South America and even an Asian to become Pope as “majority of the Catholic population are in these places today.”

Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin M. Bagaforo said there’s a slim chance for a non-European to become the next Successor of Peter, although “it is possible.”

Asked of his preference, Bishop Bagaforo said he goes for the Archbishop of New York, His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said there’s a good chance for Asia and Africa though the trend is non-Italian.

“We’ve had a Polish national and a German (though both were Europeans) recently,” he said.  He added the Churches in Africa and Asia have become progressive as there are good “materials” referred to as “papabile.”

Pasig Bishop Mylo Hubert C. Vergara said while he has nobody in mind, he simply said “Anybody from the College of Cardinals could be the next pope as the Holy Spirit would guide them all.

Phl Officials praise pope’s decision

Meanwhile, Philippine government officials joined world leaders in praising the Pope’s humility for his decision to step down and wished him good health.

In a statement released earlier today, Vice President Jejomar Binay recalled having had an audience with the pontiff thrice and “never saw any outward sign that he was in frail health.”

He said Filipinos have in their hearts a special place for the Holy Father “who offered us his prayers and succor during the calamities that afflicted thousands of Filipinos.”

He added it was Pope Benedict XVI who “lifted our spirits with the elevation of Cardinal Luis Tagle and the canonization of San Pedro Calungsod.”  He called on the Filipino people to continuously pray for the Holy Father’s health.

Meanwhile, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III’s spokesman Secretary Edwin Lacierda said all peoples and nations of goodwill are filled with “great regret” on the news of Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement from the Petrine Ministry at the end of February.

Lacierda said this was the first time in several centuries that the papacy will be vacated by means of resignation.

“It is a momentous time for the Catholic Church and all those with whom that Church has interacted,” he further said.

He added at the very moment when the Pope has announced the physical challenges he faces make it difficult to continue bearing the burdens of his office, “we join the Catholic world and all whose lives he has touched, in prayer and sympathy.”

He also wished Pope Benedict XVI would “find respite from his physical challenges, and peace and contentment in the seclusion of his retirement.”

Lacierda described the decision as historic and “in keeping with humility and pastoral approach” as the core of his service as Pope.

“We pause in human sympathy with Pope Benedict XVI in his acknowledgment of the great physical burden of his office,” he added.

He also recalled Pope Benedict XVI’s prayers and comforting words of encouragement in times of calamity and challenge, including the recent canonization of the country’s second saint, San Pedro Calungsod.  (Melo M. Acuna/CBCPNews)

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