Chester priest studied under possible papal candidate

CHESTER – The Rev. Eric Baffoe Antwi acknowledges that he would be excited to see the next pope come from Africa, especially his home country of Ghana. But that excitement gets tempered by a desire to see God’s will done.

Antwi, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Chester and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in New Cumberland, wouldn’t be surprised if Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana is elected to succeed the retiring Pope Benedict XVI. The prominent African cardinal is on many a short list of possible successors to Benedict.

“I wasn’t surprised when his name came up because any (cardinal) can be elected,” Antwi said. “But if he’s not elected, I would not be disappointed. … It is ultimately through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that a pope is chosen.”

Antwi, 42, who has lived in Hancock County since 2008, knows Turkson from his days studying for the priesthood in Ghana. He believes Turkson would make a good pope because he remembers him as a good bishop, pastor and teacher.

“He is a very affable person – anyone can approach him at any time. He will welcome you with a smile,” he said. “He is able to relate to people at all levels.”

Antwi, who grew up Catholic in the Ashanti region of Ghana, first met Turkson while attending St. Paul’s Catholic Seminary in Accra, the capital and largest city of Ghana.

“He came as a visiting Old Testament scholar,” he said.

Antwi saw Turkson again while attending St. Peter’s Catholic Seminary in Cape Coast, where he taught Hebrew.

“The major seminary was in his diocese, so he would visit the seminary a lot. I had a lot of meetings with him,” he said.

Turkson was appointed archbishop of Cape Coast in 1992 by Pope John Paul II, who elevated him to the cardinalate in 2003. He currently serves in Rome as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a position to which he was appointed in 2009 by Benedict.

Antwi remembers Turkson as a busy man, immersed in Scripture study, who still had time for pastoral duties.

“He is an excellent pastor,” he said. “He’s a scholar, and he loves to open your mind to the world of knowledge.”

Whether teaching or preaching, Turkson brought new insights to his hearers.

“You always picked up something new,” Antwi said. “We were always excited when he visited because he enjoys what he does and puts himself fully into what he does.”

Antwi last saw Turkson in September, when the Ghanian cardinal came to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh to speak at a Vatican II symposium. Antwi is pursuing doctoral studies in systematic theology at Duquesne, where he is finishing a dissertation titled “Creation in the Image of God: Human Uniqueness from Akan Anthropology to the Renewal of Christian Anthropology.”

Antwi belongs to the Akan, the largest ethnic group in Ghana. Eventually, upon completion of his studies, Antwi plans to return to Ghana to serve a growing Catholic Church. The West African nation is 69 percent Christian and 16 percent Muslim. About 15 percent of the Christians in Ghana are Roman Catholic.

“The Catholic Church (in Ghana) is really growing,” he said. “The church is traditional, but it embraces all the people.” Antwi said young people especially are being attracted to the church – some of them to pursue the priesthood and other religious vocations.

Antwi said he felt called to the priesthood as a youngster and entered the minor seminary at age 16. After seminary studies touched by Turkson’s influence, Antwi came to the United States in 2005 to complete his studies.

He returned to Ghana in 2009 and was happy with what he saw.

“More of the young people are coming into the church and taking leadership roles,” he said.

Asked what difference an African pope would make, Antwi said, “The only difference might be the color. The pope has a tradition to uphold. It doesn’t matter where he comes from. … Whoever is chosen as pope will continue the good work that the church wants to preserve.”

Referring to an often-cited quote from Turkson, Antwi said, “If God would wish to see a black man also as pope, thanks be to God.”

(Huba can be contacted at