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Ghana's hope for pope dashed, but Catholics keep faith


Ghanaians' hopes that one of their own would become the first black pope have gone up in white smoke, but Roman Catholics kept the faith on Thursday and wished the best for the new man at the head of the Vatican.

Wednesday's vote making Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina the first pope from Latin America came after speculation over whether a Ghanaian would be chosen.

Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, the 64-year-old head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was considered a favourite from a continent with a rapidly growing Catholic population.

Turkson has earned respect as a peacemaker at home, but faced criticism abroad over a controversial video on Muslim immigration in Europe that he showed at a synod last year.

Parishioners and church officials in Cape Coast, where Turkson was archbishop from 1992 to 2009, held out hope that he would have another opportunity in the future.

They also urged the new pope, who has taken the name Francis, not to neglect Africa, home to some 15 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

The current archbishop of Cape Coast, Matthias Kobena Nketsiah, said he hopes Pope Francis will use his background in Latin America to address poverty worldwide.

"I would want him to speak to Africa as we would speak to Latin America because we have a lot in common," said Nketsiah, who succeeded Turkson as archbishop.

Nketsiah said he spoke to Turkson right before voting began in the conclave.

"I said we're praying for him," Nketsiah said.

"A lot of eyes were on him, and I know he was quite popular in Britain, and elsewhere too. His time will come, I'm sure."

After Pope Benedict XVI announced he would resign at the end of February, bookmakers gave good odds to Turkson.

Many speculated that in electing the new pope, the church would pivot away from Europe, where the Catholic population has been declining, to Africa.

Turkson and South African Wilfrid Napier were seen as the continent's leading candidates.

Though he was considered a conservative, in line with the church's teachings against homosexuality and condom use, his chances may have decreased last year after he screened the immigration movie at a synod that was considered anti-Muslim.

Talk of Turkson's candidacy excited Ghana's Catholics.

There are about three million Catholics in the country of 24 million considered one of the most stable and democratic in West Africa.

"I would say the Argentinian cardinal has been in it for long and he's well-known," said Joseph Ernest Arthur, administrator of St. Frances de Sales Cathedral in this seaside city.

"And I think we do accept that's the reason why maybe Cardinal Turkson did not make it."

Parishioners in Cape Coast gathered at St. Frances on Wednesday evening for prayers as the church bells rang out to announce the new Pope.

"It's not a human election or anything. It's something from God," said Helen Hizel, a parishioner.

"God chose the one to be a Pope but we all wish (Turkson) could be a pope, but it didn't happen like that."

Parishioners also held out hope that Turkson could be a candidate in the next conclave.

"Nobody (knew) that Benedict would resign but unfortunately it has (come) just like that," said parishioner Francis Awuku Ampiah.

"So as a matter of fact nobody knows tomorrow. We still believe that Cardinal Turkson one day will become a Pope."