Monday, 4 March 2013

Catholic may already have black pope

An article I found on USA today.
Read below... Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson
is frequently mentioned amid all
the speculation about who might
succeed Pope Benedict XVI. If
picked, some would see him as
the first African and the first black pontiff in the nearly 2,000-
year history of the papacy. But in all that time has there
really never been a black pope?
Or an African pope? It depends
on what you mean by "black"
and by "African." Hmmmm. Continue reading... It can seem to the contemporary
mind that the papacy is a purely
European institution, and
predominantly an Italian one to
boot. In fact, the early popes
reflected the diversity of the early church — a community that
was born in the Middle East and
spread around the
Mediterranean basin, from
Greece to Rome and the Iberian
peninsula and with great success to North Africa.
"North Africa was the Bible Belt
of early Christianity," said
Christopher Bellitto, a church
historian at Kean University in
New Jersey. "Carthage was the buckle," he added, referring to
the city located in modern-day
Tunisia. So it should be no surprise that
three early popes hailed from
that region: the 14th pope,
Victor I (circa 189-198 A.D.); the
32nd pope, Miltiades (311-314
A.D.); and the 49th pope, Gelasius I (492-496 A.D.). According to the sixth-century
Liber Pontificalis, the earliest
known record of the popes,
Victor was from North Africa,
while Miltiades and Gelasius likely
were born in Rome to families of African origin. Interestingly, Victor was the first
pope to speak Latin because
Christians in Rome were still
using Greek in the liturgy. As one
historian has written, it was
"remarkable ... that Latin should have won recognition as the
language of African Christianity
from the outset, while the
Roman church was still using
Greek." But were these three African
popes "black" in the sense that
we would define race today? And
did it matter back then? The Rev. Cyprian Davis, a
Benedictine priest who is a
leading historian of African-
American Catholicism, notes that
by Pope Victor's time, the Roman
aristocracy had large holdings in North Africa. It's not clear,
however, whether these so-
called African popes came from
those families or from the rural,
somewhat darker-skinned
indigenous population known as the Berbers.
Davis said the best bet for what
we would consider a "black" pope
is probably Victor, but he added
that the church and the empire
of those early centuries were a mosaic of colors and ethnicities.
"It's important for us to look and
say that yes, the early papacy
was not white. No, it was much
more diverse than you might
think," Davis said. Moreover, race as we think of it
today did not have quite the
same meaning back then.
"When you say 'black pope,' you
have to think Roman Empire, not
African-American," as Bellitto put it. Some popes in those days —
along with many renowned saints
and martyrs and bishops like St.
Augustine of Hippo — probably
looked more like modern Arabs
than any pontiff of the last millennium. Still, if the cardinals elect
Turkson or another cardinal
from sub-Saharan Africa, any of
them would represent a historic
first for the church,
geographically and racially. Africa is one of the fastest growing
centers of global Catholicism.
"I don't want to say that we
blacks have arrived again, and
what was once, now we're back!"
said Davis with a soft laugh. But, he continued, "I'm sure black
Catholics like myself would think
it's a wonderful thing."

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