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With Pope Benedict XVI's bombshell announcement Monday that he plans to step down, all eyes are on his potential successors, including one that may become the first black pope: Cardinal Peter Turkson.
The Roman Catholic Cardinal from Ghana, the current president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is among the leading candidates to assume the title of pontiff as it is rumored the Vatican may look outside Europe for its next leader.
Turkson, 64, was born in Wassaw Nsuta in western Ghana on Oct. 11, 1948 to a Methodist mother and Catholic father. He entered the seminary as a child and moved to New York to study at St. Anthony-on-Hudson Seminary in Rensselaer before he was ordained as a priest in 1975.
In October 1992, Pope John Paul II named Turkson the Archbishop of Cape Coast, the former capital of Ghana. Turkson served as president of the Ghana Catholic Bishops' Conference from 1997 to 2005 and during that time, was appointed the first-ever cardinal from Ghana.
"We love him," Archbishop Gabriel Charles Palmer-Buckle, metropolitan archbishop of Accra, the current capital of Ghana, told the Guardian. "For Ghanaians he was our first cardinal, and to be made cardinal in his 50s was a big feather in our cap."
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Turkson the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a high-profile position that sent him around the world for mediation talks. The position put Turkson near tthe top of the list of potential papal successors.
Bookmaker Paddy Power has odds of Turkson becoming the pope at 3-1 — a prediction that is not entirely out of the blue for the cardinal, who acknowledged the possibility of a black pope in a press conference in 2009.
"Why not?" Turkson said, arguing that when you agree to become a priest, you must be open to the idea of becoming a Pope. "All of that is part of the package."
Turkson added that the time was especially ripe given the election of President Barack Obama.
"And now it is Obama of the United States," he said. "And if by divine providence — because the church belongs to God — if God would wish to see a black man also as Pope, thanks be to God
Rapper Common expressed his support for Turkson on Monday, telling TMZ.com that it would be "a beautiful thing" if a black pope was elected.
If elected, Turkson would also be the first non-European to serve since the Great Western Schism.
"It would be good if there were candidates from Africa or South America at the next conclave," Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Vatican department for Christian unity, told Zurich's Tagesanzeiger newspaper.
Turkson would not be the first pope to hail from Africa. Some scholars believe that Victor I, who served from 189 to 199, was the first black pope, the Telegraph reported. Information from the time, however, is not conclusive.
Though Turkson appears to be an early frontrunner for the papacy, his history with the Roman Catholic Church has not been free of controversy.
In October 2012, Turkson made headlines for screening a YouTube video, called "Muslim Demographics," about the growth of Islam in Europe at an international meeting of bishops.
The seven-minute clip featured several alarmist claims, including: "In just 39 years France will be an Islamic republic."
In 2009, Turkson stood by Pope Benedict XVI's views that condoms were not a viable answer to Africa's AIDS crisis, highlighting their varying quality.
"We're talking about a product of a factory, and there are different qualities," he said at a press conference. "There are condoms that arrive in Ghana which in the heat will burst during sex. And when that is the case, then it gives a false sense of security which rather facilitates the spread of HIV/AIDS."
Turkson, however, did not rule out the use of condoms in all circumstances. He argued that they could be helpful in the case of a married couple in which one person is infected.
Turkson is not the only potential papal candidate outside of Europe. Other possible successors include Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria and Cardinal Mark Ouellet of Canada.
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Rapper Common says a black Pope would be "a beautiful thing."