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Who is Cardinal Robert Sarah?

Who he is: Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea is currently the President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum (the Vatican’s charitable arm) and a strong candidate for pope in the upcoming March 2013 papal conclave. He would be the first African pope in history.

His origins: Cardinal Sarah was born June 15, 1945 in French Guinea. After studying in a seminary in the Ivory Coast, Sarah returned to Guinea after it achieved independence in 1958. He soon left for Paris, then Senegal, then Rome to complete his studies. He received his ordination in 1969.

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His career track: In 1979, Sarah was named Archbishop of Conakry, the capital city of Guinea. John Paul II appointed him secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 2001. Then, less than a decade later, Sarah was chosen to lead “Cor Unum,” which organizes the Catholic church’s relief effort. That same year, 2010, Benedict XVI made Sarah a cardinal.

His beliefs: Cardinal Sarah is a conservative in theological matters, but progressive on issues like social justice and economic equality. He’s also an outspoken critic of authoritarian regimes.

Why he might be pope: Many experts believe the next pope will be non-European. Cardinal Robert Sarah bridges the Vatican to Africa, where the Catholic population is exploding. Yet, he’s also a Vatican insider with a strong record of governance.

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