Papal contender Peter Turkson of Ghana has NYC ties — and a 1970s misunderstanding with the law
As Pope Benedict XVI waved his final goodbye from the terrace of Castel Gandalfo in Rome, the attention quickly shifted to the College of Cardinals who will choose the next Pontiff.
There are some frontrunners and contenders that are already being talked about. Marc Oullet of Canada, the Italian power players with a home field advantage, and New York’s own Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who has shunned every idea regarding him being the next Pope.
“I have a better chance of taking A-Rod’s spot on third base,” jokes Dolan.
However, Dolan is not the only Cardinal with a New York connection. Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana is leading the pack right now with betters playing his odds. Turkson calls New York a second home of sorts and has formed some lasting friendships.
“He is my idol,” says his friend Dr. Joe Marotta, an Orthopedic surgeon who works in Troy, New York.
Marotta also runs a non-profit group, Medicus Christi, which performs surgeries for people in Ghana and around the world. It is Marotta’s work in Ghana that led him to meet Cardinal Turkson. The two formed a friendship and Turkson was so impressed with Medicus Christi he introduced Marotta to Pope Benedict XVI.
“I got so nervous and tongue tied,” said Marotta, recalling the account.
Turkson’s ties to New York began when he studied at St. Anthony’s seminary in Rensellear, New York during the early 1970s. While he was a young Seminarian, Turkson realized he needed a car to get around New York. So, he got a job to pay for the car but found himself in some trouble. We’ll let Marotta explain this one.
“One job he had was cleaning a bank and he was there after hours,’ recalls Marotta. Somebody saw him after the bank was closed and thought he was trying to rob the bank. So, the person called the police and he had to explain that he was there cleaning the bank and then called his supervisor to help get him out of trouble.”
That run in with the law didn’t stop Turkson from coming back to New York, even as he climbed the ranks through the church. To this day, he comes back about once a year and says mass at a local parish.
The question now – is Turkson the right man for the job?
Marotta says absolutely.
“He has the background and the training and personality to bring a breath of freash air into the church. The church desperately needs that kind of enthusiasm to make it relevant in todays society.”
Turkson is also big on technology. He loves twitter, his iphone and ipad. He even loves to drive himself around Rome. But, in New York, he relies on his buddy Marotta.
“I was driving once and he was lounging in the passenger seat jet legged,” says Marotta. Turkson fell asleep and as we were driving I realized, this man might be the next Pope. I got nervous and slowed way down.”
Marotta says if Turkson becomes Pope, he knows their relationship and friendship will change, and says he will certainly miss the yearly visits.
For now, it’s a waiting game.