Cardinal Francis Arinze is an African who for a time was considered to be a possible successor to Pope John Paul II. Born to a family of Nigeria's Ibo tribe, Francis Arinze became a Christian at the age of nine. Ordained in 1958, he had a lightning-fast rise in the hierarchy of the church and became the world's youngest bishop in 1965, at the age of 32. With a reputation as a well-liked diplomat and expert on inter-faith relations, Arinze was called to the Vatican in 1984 and elevated to cardinal in 1985. From 1984 to 2002 he headed the Vatican's Secretariat for Non-Christians (since 1985 called the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue). In 2002 he became Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Arinze is considered conservative, but his skills and relations with other faiths, especially Islam, and his desire to meld African culture with Catholic traditions has earned support from progressives. In 2005 he was named Cardinal-Bishop of Velletri-Segni -- the same post held by Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI.
Although his name is Francis, he is no relation to Pope Francis I, who was elected in 2013 to succeed Benedict XVI… Other cardinals who were thought of as leading contenders to succeed John Paul II included Italy’s Angelo Scola and Dionigi Tettamanzi. Germany’s Joseph Ratzinger was elected on 19 April 2005 and took the name Pope Benedict XVI.