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West Africans Mourn Pope, Pray for Nigerian Replacement


West Africans are mourning the pope who visited their region many times, always promoting reconciliation and justice. In divided Ivory Coast, many are praying for his messages of peace, while in Nigeria, many Roman Catholics hope the new pope will be Nigerian.

At Saint Jean's church in the Ivory Coast commercial capital, thousands clapped and sang gospels, honoring the pope who visited their country three times, including once to consecrate the massive Our Lady of the Peace basilica in the capital, Yamoussoukro.

President Laurent Gbagbo, who was in South Africa for peace talks with rebels and opposition leaders, released a statement saying the pope's prayers for a return to peace in Ivory Coast had always been a comfort.

In the rebel-held north, churchgoers at the Korhogo cathedral sang in the local Senoufo language.

The Vatican's ambassador to Ivory Coast, Mario Roberto Casare, made the announcement of the pope's death in French.

He was also on hand to celebrate 100 years of Catholicism in the mainly animist and Islamic region.

One churchgoer, Angre Karamate, said the pope always strived to end conflicts.

He said, in times of despair, the pope gave hope.

In Nigeria's capital, Abuja, more than 5,000 crammed into the Our Lady Queen cathedral, including the first lady.

Nigeria has the largest Roman Catholic population in Africa of about 20 million.

President Olusegun Obasanjo said the pope had always fought on the side of justice against military dictatorships. During his 1998 visit to Nigeria, the pope intervened to have Mr. Obasanjo freed from jail.

One churchgoer expressed her gratitude for his help.

"He was the first pope to visit Africa," she said. "He really made himself outstanding from all the previous popes, and we pray that God is going to give us another pope who will become like him, or even better."

Another churchgoer in Abuja said he hoped that might be a Nigerian.

"I pray that God will give us somebody like him, that will replace him. Cardinal Arinze is the right candidate. By what I see, I think it's high time we get a pope from Africa, especially from here in Nigeria," he said.

Nigeria's Cardinal Francis Arinze, currently number four in the Vatican hierarchy, is the developing world's best known candidate to lead the Holy See. He was born in a mud-brick house to animist parents.

In recent decades, main population centers for Catholicism have moved southward, with more than 65 percent of the faithful now living in Latin America, southern Asia and Africa.

One-hundred-seventeen cardinals from around the world, including 11 from Africa, are to gather for a conclave at the Vatican before the end of the month to elect the new pope.