Well-Known Member
Feb 3, 2001
New York
By Jeffrey Weiss

Cardinal Francis Arinze was the Vatican's point man for interreligious outreach for 18 years. Yet, he is famously reluctant to be interviewed. Partly, that's said to be tied to his impatience with reporters who badger him about his chances of ascending to the papacy. The 72-year-old Nigerian-born cardinal is on any short list of candidates to succeed John Paul II.

In 2002, after serving as the head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, he was named the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of Sacraments. That shifted his focus from what may be the Vatican's strongest outreach program to the most sacred internal workings of the Catholic Church. It also places him near the top of the Vatican hierarchy.

Read the entire article here:


Well-Known Member
Feb 3, 2001
New York
White Smoke for a Black Pope?

Whether or not Cardinal Arinze is elected to succeed John Paul II, his moment in the spotlight is serving as a reality check.

By Pamela Schaeffer

This article originally appeared on Beliefnet in October 2000.

If the election of a Polish pope came as a big surprise two decades ago, some say the next papal conclave could prompt an even more startling turn: white smoke for a Black pope.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, a highly-placed Vatican official from Nigeria, is one of the most often-named papabili: men who have the qualifications to hold the top office in the church. Although Arinze is quick to dismiss the idea - at least in public - observers say the increasing prominence of the church in Africa, combined with his interreligious credentials, makes him a strong contender. Since 1985, Arinze has headed the Vatican's office for interreligious affairs, traveling extensively around the world and reaching out to members of other faiths.

Whether or not he is elected to succeed John Paul II, Arinze's moment in the spotlight is serving as a reality check for western Catholics, who have been compelled to recognize that the population center of their church has shifted dramatically south. In the first few Christian centuries, North Africa produced notable Christian leaders. St. Augustine was from North Africa. So was Pope Gelasius I, who led the church from 492 to 496AD. He was the last pope from Africa, which declined as a major Christian center after the advance of Islam in the 7th century.

But during the past 20 years, the number of African Catholics has nearly doubled, from 50 million to more than 90 million. An estimated 13 million of those are in Nigeria. The Rev. Clarence Williams, director for Black Catholic ministries for the Archdiocese of Detroit, estimates there are about 200 million Black Catholics around the world, most of them living in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. "With two-thirds of the world's 1 billion Catholics living below the equator, the world's largest Christian denomination is no longer a European institution," he said. "Talk of a pope from Africa is very significant. Black Catholics are coming of age."

Arinze has been a strong proponent of efforts to develop a style of Christianity in Africa that reflects African culture rather than the culture of the historically dominant West. This push goes hand in hand with anti-colonial sentiment driving political change in Africa. Dominican Father Aniedi Okure, a Nigerian working on migration and refugee issues for U.S. Catholic bishops in Washington, said, "In Africa, the growth of the church is very impressive, but it is still struggling to stand on its own feet." The struggle is going on amid wars, refugee problems, and AIDS, Father Okure said. "Catholicism with an African character has not really blossomed because of these other issues the church has to contend with," he said.

Rev. Williams, of the Detroit archdiocese, said Cardinal Arinze's expertise in Islam, developed in his Vatican role, is highly valued on a continent where Islam is developing at a pace with Christianity. Nigeria's nascent democracy is threatened by instability, reflected in the country's soaring crime rate and recurrent civil conflicts. Optimists say that Arinze's prominence, combined with his emphasis on interreligious respect, could help keep the peace. "The next religious war on the African continent could be a religious war between Christians and Muslims," Williams said. "I think Cardinal Arinze is often mentioned as pope because he has the skills needed for reconciliation."

Arinze learned about coexistence with members of other faiths early in life. Although he comes from Onitsha, a predominantly Catholic city, nearly half of Nigeria's citizens are Muslim. Arinze arranged for Pope John Paul II to meet members of both faiths during the pope's visit to Nigeria in 1998. "If you look at Christian-Muslim relations around the world, it's a life-and-death matter," said Monsignor Raymond East, pastor of Nativity Catholic Church in Washington. Religious tolerance is going to be one of the most important messages for the future."

Arinze, 68, was first noted as a papal candidate in 1992 by the late Peter Hebblethwaite, former Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Since then, Arinze's name has appeared on virtually every list of possible successors to John Paul II. He has earned a reputation as a forceful and articulate speaker. He is often described as charming and media savvy; a "diplomat's diplomat." But he has also been called "a dictator in the African style," and an "unoriginal thinker," and he routinely declines to be interviewed. He is said to be uncompromising on doctrine, a conservative in the mode of John Paul II.

Jonathan Kwitny, author of a 1997 biography of the pope (Man of the Century: The Life and Times of Pope John Paul II), reported in his book that Arinze enthusiastically greeted John Paul's election in 1978 with these words: "Now we will have order in the church." Like the pope, Arinze is strongly opposed to contraception, abortion, married priests, and female priests. Williams, however, thinks Arinze's conservatism might reflect the style of his boss, more than it reflects his personal beliefs. "When I hear reports that he is conservative, I think it means that he is reflecting the current administration in the church," Williams said. "He's really never had a chance to be himself in his job."

Born into Nigeria's proud Ibo tribe, Arinze became a Christian at age 9. He was baptized by his mentor and teacher, the Rev. Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, an Irish missionary who later became Nigeria's first candidate for sainthood. Tansi opened Arinze's parish in Onitsha in 1939; Arinze became his Mass server, followed his encouragement to become a priest, and attended his funeral in England in 1964. "He inspired many," Arinze has said, "and we still remember what he preached 50 years ago." At Tansi's beatification ceremony in Nigeria in 1998, Arinze said, "To Europeans and Africans, Father Tansi shows how different races can live in harmony and solidarity in recognition of God as our common father."

The young Arinze's decision disappointed his parents, practitioners of the traditional animist religion of the area. But they had made the decision to send him to Catholic schools and accepted his decision to convert. Later, in 1958, after their son was ordained a priest, they too became Catholics. Ordained at 26, Arinze studied in London and Rome, and attended the Second Vatican Council before returning to Nigeria in 1965. The same year, Arinze was appointed auxiliary bishop of Onitsha, a move that made him the church's youngest bishop at 32. Three years later, he was made an archbishop - and the first African to head his diocese. Previously, that post had been held by Irish missionary priests.

In 1979, Arinze was elected president of the National Bishops Conference in Nigeria. A short time later, the pope invited him to Rome to oversee the Vatican's Secretariat for Non-Christians, signaling John Paul's desire to bring the African church more into the mainstream. As head of the secretariat, later renamed the "Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue," Arinze has traveled extensively. He has visited the United States many times, most recently last month for the United Nations summit of world religious leaders.

Often described as a confidant of the pope, Arinze is one of five cardinals chosen to help the pope coordinate millennial-year events - another factor contributing to his place in the limelight. In a commencement address at Wake Forest University last year, where his nephew, Niki Arinze, plays forward on the basketball team, Arinze said, "Collaboration between followers of the various religions is necessary for theological and sociological reasons. Theologically, all people come from the same God. "There is no Catholic hurricane or Baptist drought. There is no Jewish inflation or Muslim unemployment. There is no Buddhist drug addiction or Hindu AIDS. Indeed, these problems don't respect religious frontiers."

In a talk in Philadelphia on that same trip, Arinze praised America for its tradition of respect for others and for initiative. "These values are very precious and should be shared with humanity," he said. Americans "must become ambassadors of freedom to other parts of the world where religious freedom is not always an easy commodity to find."

Even as he reaches out to other religions, though, Arinze insists on a strict doctrinal line. "All are redeemed by Jesus Christ," he said at Wake Forest - a message that does not always play well with leaders of other faiths. Nor is it strongly held by all contemporary Christian theologians. The Vatican, in fact, has been clamping down recently on Catholic theologians thought to waver on that point.

Of course, all the talk about a Black pope doesn't mean that Arinze actually has a good chance to become pope. Some Black Catholic leaders say they are enjoying the speculation but aren't holding out a lot of hope. For one thing, they note, cardinals in the limelight before the papal conclave are rarely the ones elected. "You know what they say," Okure said. "He who goes into the conclave a pope comes out a cardinal."

Despite the widespread speculation about Arinze, or perhaps another cardinal from the developing world, most observers of the papacy say the more likely successor will be another European, even an Italian. After all, the Italians had held the papacy for nearly 500 years before the Polish John Paul II was elected, and a return to that tradition would hardly be a surprise.

But the talk is exciting to Black Catholics - not just in the world, but in the United States, said East, of the Nativity Church in Washington. "We grew up in a situation where there was no leadership in the church that looked like us." Today, there are 15 cardinals from Africa. For American Black Catholics, that translates into a stronger feeling of belonging.

"We have finally come to realize that we are people of primarily West African descent," East said. "Our roots are West African roots. Our hearts are connected to the Motherland, and our stories are connected."

(Pamela Schaeffer is managing editor of National Catholic Reporter.)


Well-Known Member
Feb 3, 2001
New York
African Cardinal Tipped to Succeed the Pope...


LAGOS - Cardinal Francis Arinze, the fourth-ranking cardinal in the Vatican and the African with the best chance of succeeding Pope John Paul II, began his stellar church career as a child of poor pagan parents in a mud-brick bungalow in the forests of southern Nigeria.

As the current pope clings to life in a Roman hospital, Cardinal Francis Arinze, the 72-year-old Prefect of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is seen by many as a credible candidate to become the first African to rule the Holy See since the death of Gelasius I in 496 AD, and if the college of cardinals sitting in the Sistine Chapel does decide that the Holy Spirit has chosen Arinze to lead the Church, the tiny Nigerian farming village of Eziowelle might well become a place of pilgrimage for the world's hundreds of millions of Catholics.

Pilgrims would be best advised to come in the early months of the year, however, as when the rains return at the end of April the track is all but impassible, explained the village priest Father Philip Chinedu Nwafor as he drove his battered old Mercedes Benz into town earlier this year. "The state government has promised to repair the road," he said, as school children and villagers called out "Father" as he passed along the bumpy track the way to the building at the heart of Eziowelle's 6,000-strong community; the Saint Edward Roman Catholic Church.

It might be a while before the road is repaired - Anambra State is in such crisis that lawmakers meet among the ruins of a state assembly building burned down last year by political thugs - but Eziowelle has something else to be proud of as the world begins to wonder about the papal succession. "His name will work magic for us. We cannot say when this will be, but we are hopeful that Arinze's name will soon begin to bring the good things of life to the village," declared 68-year-old Celestina Emecheta, who was born four years after Eziowelle's most famous son.

The house where he was born is still standing; a somewhat ramshackle bungalow of mud-brick and rusting corrugated iron, painted in faded chocolate brown and framed on one side by a mango and a pawpaw tree. A newer, concrete family home stands close by, but Arinze's fame has not brought riches to his relatives. The grave of the cardinal's mother is marked by a simple heap of dark red laterite soil. "He does not want an elaborate grave for his parents and this grave as it is is an ample demonstration of his simplicity and humility, qualities for which he is known," said Father Philip as he showed a reporter around the village.

Once a year, in August, Cardinal Arinze leaves the marble halls of the Vatican and returns to Eziowelle to stay in the parsonage and celebrate mass in the humble surroundings of Saint Edward's church. It was here, as an eight-year-old child of parents who worshipped the traditional deities of the Igbo people, that Arinze first heard the teaching of the church from the Reverend Cyprian Micahel Iwene Tansi, a missionary who became his mentor and was in 1998 beatified by Pope John Paul II.

Since those days the village has become a devout and energetic Catholic community, proud to have sent a cardinal, nine priests, 14 reverend sisters and one reverend brother to do the work of the church. Now, perhaps, Eziowelle could become the first village in sub-Saharan Africa to send a Pope to the Vatican. Many feel Arinze would be the perfect candidate.

He was ordained a priest in November 1958, and eight years later became Africa's youngest bishop, leading the Catholics of the market city of Onitsha, a trading center on the lowest downstream crossing of the mighty Niger River. He became an archbishop in 1967 and stayed in Nigeria through its brutal civil war, in which Arinze's Igbo people faced the Nigeria federal army in a losing battle, which saw around a million people die of disease and starvation.

In 1985, the pope summoned him to Rome to work in the Curia - the church's governing body - and he won a reputation as an able diplomat and a staunch defender of the conservative values championed by the present pontiff. He became an expert on Islam and led the Vatican's interfaith dialogue, a job which some feel could be his key qualification.

John Paul II's reign will be remembered for his role in facing down Communism and championing the cause of Eastern Europe. The next 20 years will may see the church seeking way a way to live alongside an increasingly restive Muslim world.

Whether this record will be enough to land him the top job remains to be seen, but in Eziowelle his neighbors have faith that the Holy Spirit will make the right choice. "God put Arinze there as number four in the Catholic hierarchy. We are glad at this. We are happy and will accept whatever God has planned for him," said Chief Igwe Michael Okonkwo-Etusi, the traditional ruler of the village.


Feb 26, 2005
It would be absolutely amazing if he is elected. But I don't think white Catholics could tolerate worshipping a black holy-man. They have enough problems realizing Christ was not a white!
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