Vatican City, February 22 - Is the Roman Catholic Church ready for a black pope? This is a question that is being asked by many pending the opening of the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI following his shock resignation with effect from the end of February due to diminishing physical and mental strength. The outgoing pope has long considered Africa a ''spiritual lung'' for the world and during a visit to Benin in 2011 he lauded the absence on the continent of ''the faith fatigue that is so prevalent here ... of the fatigue with Christianity such as we are experiencing in Europe today''. Those doubtful of Africa's readiness to deliver the next pope point to its representatives' lack of experience in the religious governance of the church and unfamiliarity with a western mentality. However supporters argue that Africans have long been involved in the day-to-day running of the Church both at Vatican level and in their own dioceses, and that the young churches on the continent - whose religious frequently fill the void created by the crisis of vocations in the West - have something important to contribute at this difficult time. The 11 African cardinals eligible to vote in the upcoming conclave would seem to support this claim. They include the Ghanaian Peter Turkson, 65, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; the Guinean Robert Sarah, 68, President of Cor Unum, the Vatican's main oversight agency for charitable activities; Tanzanian Polycarp Pengo, 69, Archbishop of Dar-es-Salaam; Nigeria's John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, 68, Archbishop of Abuja; Wilfrid Napier, 72, Archbishop of Durban in South Africa; and the Sudanese Gabriel Zubeir Wako, 71, Archbishop of Khartoum. These and other African cardinals represent not just the cry of the poor and the martyrdom of numerous Christians in inter-religious conflict, but also the vitality of a young faith and a ''religious sense of life'' that Pope Benedict XVI says the world so sorely needs.