SAO PAULO — The archbishop of one of the world’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese and a man thought to be a leading Latin American contender to succeed Pope Benedict XVI said Wednesday that neither geographic origin nor age should matter much in determining the next pontiff.
Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, 63, shrugged off questions about whether this might be the moment for a Latin American pope, and whether he might be the man to take the role.
“It would be very pretentious for a cardinal to say, ‘I am prepared,'” Scherer said. “No one is going to say ‘I am a candidate.'”
Scherer, who leads the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo, one of the world’s largest with an estimated 6 million members, met with scores of reporters inside the Se Cathedral before celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass.
He seemed momentarily taken aback by the dozens of cameras, microphones and questions he faced, though he spoke at all times in an easy manner and began to enjoy parrying journalists’ inquiries with a smile and denial that place of birth will play a role when he and more than 100 other Cardinals convene next month at the Vatican to decide upon a new pope.
The church has said that reinvigorating Catholic youth, continuing its growth in Africa and stemming the losses of the faithful in Latin America, where 40 percent of the world’s Catholics live, are top priorities. Many have said that a younger pontiff from the developing world would be a natural fit.
But Scherer batted down those lines of thought.
“The reflections that will be made at the conclave will not be about whether the pope comes from one place or another place, whether he has this origin or that origin, but whether he has the condition, is the most prepared to lead the church in this moment of its history.”
Church leaders from other developing-region nations disagree.
Rev. Juan Angel Lopez, spokesman for the Catholic Church of Honduras, put it bluntly following Benedict’s resignation on Monday, saying that “it’s time for there to be a Latin American pope, because Latin America has the greatest number of Christians.”
Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson is one of Africa’s best hopes for gaining the papacy, and he said this week that the time was right for a pontiff from the developing world, adding that he’s available for the job “if it’s the will of God.”
In an interview with The Associated Press inside his Vatican offices, Turkson said the “young churches” of Africa and Asia have now become solid enough that they have produced “mature clergymen and prelates that are capable of exercising leadership also of this world institution.”
Aside from Scherer, other leading Latin American possibilities include Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, 69, head of the Vatican’s office for Eastern rite churches, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, 65, who has earned praise as head of the Vatican’s office for religious congregations.
Thamyris Nagall, a 23-year-old attending the Ash Wednesday Mass in Sao Paulo, said it’s time for a pope from Latin America.
“It would be great for Brazil — we’re quickly losing Catholics worshippers,” she said, referring to recent steep drops in the number of Brazilians who adhere to the religion, despite still having more Catholics than any other nation. “If not a Brazilian or other Latin American, then it should be an African. The Church needs to end the European domination of the papacy.”
Visiting German student Bastian Roder, 20, agreed.
“It’s time for a change, we need something new,” he said, standing on the steps of the Se Cathedral, the sign of the cross on his forehead in ash. “It’s time to have someone from a different culture, someone with new ideas.”