Sharing a guest column written for Indiana-based Bloomington Herald-Times (H-T) daily newspaper by regular guest columnists A.B. Assensoh & Yvette Alex-Assensoh, both of whom spent part of their 1994 honeymoon and subsequent research visits to Europe at the Vatican and have -- since then -- watched Vatican history and politics with keen intellectual eyes. The Assensohs teach as well as direct Graduate Studies and Admissions in their respective Indiana University Departments.
The Herald-Times (H-T) story about the Pope's burial and its aftermath was titled "Crowds call for sainthood for John Paul II." The sub-title was "Princes, presidents and pilgrims watch as pope is laid to rest," (Saturday, April 9). The most powerful came together with the common people of the world to, sorrowfully, mourn Pope John Paul II's death and celebrate his life in Rome and around the world. Since his death, a poignant query has been about his imminent successor, axiomatically as the next inherent of the throne of St. Peter.
For some weeks now, there has been the mention of a possible choice of a new pope from Asian cardinals of Chinese or Indian origins to succeed Pope John Paul II. An interesting scenario, however, is also a strong feeling in Catholic circles that it is time for a cardinal to be chosen from the ranks of mainstream Third World cardinals, including African cardinals. Toward that end, cardinals from Sub-Saharan Africa are being strongly suggested. Of the African cardinals, the two that are being frequently mentioned to be of papal quality are from the West African nation of Nigeria: Francis Cardinal Arinze, aged 72 years, and Anthony Olubunmi Cardinal Okogie, Archbishop of Lagos, Nigeria, who is 68 years old.
It is barely two years ago on October 21, 2003 that Cardinal Okogie was elevated to the status (or rank) of a cardinal; also, he currently heads the important Catholic archdiocese of Lagos (the former Nigerian capital). Therefore, the African cardinal that many Catholics and Vatican watchers see as a likely and serious papal candidate is Cardinal Arinze, who came to the Vatican from the powerful position of the Archbishop of Onitsha, in the eastern part of Nigeria.
Who is Francis Cardinal Arinze?
Born on November 1, 1932 at Eziowelle in eastern Nigeria, Cardinal Arinze (baptized at 9 years old and given the Christian name, Francis then) was ordained a Catholic priest on November 23, 1958, about two years before his native Nigeria received its independence in 1960 from the British colonial leaders. Between July 6, 1965 and March 9, 1985, Cardinal Arinze held various high positions in the Catholic church of Nigeria and, later, in Rome: as Coadjutor Archbishop of Onitsha, Nigeria (1965); Titular Archbishop of Fissiana (1965) substantive Archbishop of Onitsha, Nigeria (June 26, 1967); and, at age 51 on April 8, 1984, Cardinal Arinze was brought to Rome by Pope John Paul II and appointed Pro-Prefect of Interreligious Dialogue of the Roman Curia; on March 9, 1985, he gave up the Archbishop position in his native Onitsha. On May 25, 1985, then Archbishop Arinze was elevated to Cardinal status, becoming Cardinal-Deacon of St. Giovanni della Pigna in Rome and on May 27, 1985, he was appointed President of Interreligious Dialogue of the Roman Curia.
Cardinal Arinze, on January 29, 1996 was appointed by the late Pope as Cardinal-Priest of St. Giovanni della Pigna. On October 1, 2002, at age 69, Cardinal Arinze was appointed Prefect of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments of the Roman Curia, a position that he held until April 2, 2005, when he resigned. Cardinal Arinze's importance and closeness to the late Pope, according to Vatican sources, should make him a viable candidate for the papacy. For example, at the Vatican on October 11, 2004, (as the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments) Pope John Paul II selected Cardinal Arinze to present his apostolic letter that was titled in Latin as Mane Nobiscum Domine. The pope's letter had an introduction, four chapters and a conclusion, and it was presented in what the Catholic church labeled in 2004 as an Eucharistic Year. Subsequently, Pope John Paul II entrusted the observance of the Year of the Eucharist to the pastoral attention of Catholic bishops throughout the world, especially -- as Cardinal Arinze, on behalf of the pope -- underscored inter alia from the letter: "The way in which we celebrate Mass must manifest our acute awareness of the real presence of Christ."
To encourage the rapid growth of the Catholic church in the Third World and, also, in view of the crucial high-level Catholic church positions held by Cardinal Arinze, it should not be surprising that (after the emergence of the white smoke, signaling the selection of a new pope) the next pope, succeeding Pope John Paul II (whose legacy was recently listed eloquently by an H-T letter writer as one of love, compassion, justice, truth, perseverance, commitment to principles and enduring faith) is a Cardinal from the Third World, especially one who is as imminently qualified as Nigeria's Francis Cardinal Arinze.
If Cardinal Arinze becomes the next pope he, reportedly, will be the fourth African to sit on the throne of St. Peter. Experts, quoting the Catholic Encyclopedia, have named his predecessors as Pope Victor (ca. AD 183-203); Pope Mechiades or Militiades (ca. AD 311-314) and Pope Gelasius (AD 492-496). However, given the mixed color of the skins of these three former "minority" popes, if selected, 73-year old Cardinal Arinze will become the first total "black" pope from sub-Saharan Africa! Numerous Roman Catholics from Africa are on their knees praying for this miracle to happen!!
(*We are grateful to USA/Africa Dialogue website for part of the information used in our column today).