Now that the United States has elected its first African-American president, Archbishop Wilton Gregory and others have wondered aloud whether we might some day see an African pope. I find future-pope speculation distasteful — like wondering aloud whom Mom might marry should Dad ever get around to kicking off. But I’m grateful to the London Times‘ Richard Owen for noting that
three early Popes came from North Africa, at a time when it formed part of the Roman Empire: Pope Victor, who reigned from 189-198; Pope Melchiades, or Militiades (311-314); and Pope Gelasius (492-496). All three are saints.
Pope Victor was born in Africa and served as pontiff during the reign of the Emperors Commodus and Septimus Severus (who was also an African), persuading them to release persecuted Christians, including a future pope, Calistus I.
Pope Militiades was the first Pope to benefit from greater tolerance of Christianity under the Emperor Maxentius, regaining confiscated holy properties. He was given the first official papal residence, later to become the Lateran Palace. Pope Gelasius, born in Rome to African parents, revised the rules for the clergy, permitting the use of wine at the Holy Communion.
He covered the issue in greater detail three years ago, in Africans Led Church During Roman Empire.