arinze-cardinalWith the resignation of Catholic Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday, Nigeria’s Francis Cardinal Arinze, 80, has become one of the favourites to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. If elected, he would become the first African to be elected as Pope in 1500 years. Arinze was a leading contender when Benedict was elected in April 2005.

Cardinal Arinze, 80, from Nigeria is one of the favourites to succeed Pope Benedict. Born in Nigeria, 1932, the 80-year-old would be the first African in 1,500 years to sit on the throne of St Peter, if elected.

He was baptised on his ninth birthday after converting. He was educated at Urban University in Rome and earned a post-graduate qualification from London University.

Cardinal Arinze was ordained in 1958 and became the world’s youngest bishop, aged 32, in 1965. He was created cardinal in 1985

Ninety-four months after his election, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday stunned the world, announcing that he would quit his headship of the Catholic Church on February 28 due to his “incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

The German-born Pope, 85, hailed as a hero by conservative Roman Catholics and viewed with suspicion by liberals, told cardinals in Latin that his strength had deteriorated recently and that he would step down on February 28 and the Vatican expects a new Pope to be chosen by the end of March. He has spent about seven and a half years on the saddle having been elected on April 19, 2005 when he was 78 – 20 years older than John Paul II, his predecessor.

When he quits in 16 days time, Pope Benedict XVI will be the fifth Pope to resign in the history of the church after Pope Gregory XII in 1415 – 598 years ago; Pope Celestine V, who resigned in 1294; Pope Gregory VI, 1046, and Pope Benedict IX, 1045.

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