Looking For The African Wojtyla: Four Scenarios For The First Black Pope

Benedict XVI himself said Africa deserves to be considered for the papacy.

Robert Sarah's profile is "one of the most ideal for the papacy"
Robert Sarah's profile is "one of the most ideal for the papacy"
Giacomo Galeazzi

VATICAN CITY - Ghana's Peter Turkson, Guinea's Robert Sarah, South Africa's Wilfred Napier, and the Congolese Monsengwo Pasinya: Africa finally offers four names of real possibilities to fill the shoes of St. Peter.

However, in the conclave, Africa's strength can be measured more by the quality of eligible candidates then the quantity of voters (only 11 compared to the 60 coming from Europe and 33 from the Americas).

"Sarah’s profile is one of the most ideal for the papacy: he combines both pastoral experience in his own country and at the international Curia," says Father Bernardo Cervellera, director of AsiaNews, the agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.

Sarah was a bishop in Africa, prisoner of war and he is now in his second Vatican posting as President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. He has stepped into the role long filled by French Cardinal Roger Etchegeray as "the man of the impossible papal missions" in the diplomatic and humanitarian field: from Lebanon to Southeast Asia. He has also gained U.S. President Barack Obama’s personal esteem.

In other words, he is a "black Wojtyla" (Pope John Paul II's birthname was Karol Wojtyla) who can combine foreign and curial affairs, and also has an open ear the White House, just as the spiritual father of the Solidarity movement did in 1978. Sarah could be the "outsider" who the cardinals turn to if the frontrunners lose momentum in the early voting.

Two years ago he captivated everyone's attention at the Rimini Meeting in northern Italy, run by the influential lay group Communion and Liberation, thanks to his communication skills and charisma. Still, there may be some in the old guard of the Church hierarchy hesitant to turn to the "young" Church of the so-called dark continent: some fear the cardinals will divide off by ethnicity and operate without true clarity.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, destined to be Benedict XVI, didn’t think the same way in 2004 when he told a German television: "We are ready for a black pope." During his travels in Africa, he described it as "the spiritual lung of the world." Therefore, the hypothesis is plausible.

There are some historians who say the election of a black pope would not truly be unprecedented. Some say Gelasius I, Pope from 492 to 496, was from North Africa and had "skin as dark as coal," though most seem to agree that he was "romanus natus."

Prophecies and realities

Today, those pulling for the first black pope span the globe. There are some African-Americans looking forward to a non-European pope, but neither New York's Timothy Dolan nor Boston's Sean O'Malley. In the Bronx, a group of Ghanian Catholics prays for the conclave to elect Turkson, their compatriot. "It would be very meaningful", says Ursulu Essifie of the Church of St. Margaret Mary in Mont Hope, visited by the cardinal in 2005: "He knows how to be among the people."

Massimo Introvigne, who is the (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) OSCE representative against discrimination of Christians around the world, says the current situation in the Church "plays in favor" of a black pope because "if Catholicism is growing, it is thanks to the African continent where Christians are more numerous than Muslims."

The “Prophecy of the Popes” lists 112 short phrases in Latin, which are supposed to describe all the popes from Celestine II (elected in 1143), until a Pope who has yet to come, described in the prophecy as "Peter, the Roman," and whose pontificate will end with the destruction of Rome in the Last Judgment.

Pursuant to this list, the last pope will arrive after the one called "de gloria olivae", which is Benedict XVI according to the chronology. But, a lost prophecy says that between Benedict XVI and the last pope, there should be a penultimate pope: a "caput nigrum", which means a pope with dark skin. At the Holy Synod for Africa, Turkson said: "There is no reason why the Church shouldn’t have a black pope one day. After all, we have other notable examples (Kofi Annan, Barack Obama), and when a priest is ordained, this also includes the possibility that he could become a bishop or pope in the future. "

The white smoke carries space for any possibility, even an unexpected name, even an African. Back in 1978, no one could have predicted the arrival of John Paul II, a pope who came from "far away." Now after Eastern Europe, the distant surprise could come up from the South.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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