Cardinal Arinze supports religious plurality
By Erin Pirotek
In 1932, a boy was born in Onitsha, Nigeria, to a family that observed traditional African animist beliefs.
Today he is a Catholic cardinal, the president of the Vatican Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue and considered by some as the probable successor of Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Francis Arinze will give a public lecture, "Message of the Gospel to a Religiously Pluralistic World at the Threshold of the Third Millennium," at 8 p.m., tonight, in the McKenna Hall Auditorium.
Arinze was baptized Catholic at the age of 9 — to the disappointment of his parents — and entered the seminary at 13. He was ordained in 1958 and in 1965 became the bishop of Onitsha. At 32 he was the youngest bishop in the Catholic Church.
He had a significant role in the mobilization of Nigerian clergy, religious and laity that aided evangelization following Nigeria's civil war in the late 1960s.
When Pope John Paul II called him to Rome as a cardinal in April 1984, 65.5 percent of those living in the Onitsha Archdiocese were Catholic, compared to the Nigerian national average of 11.2 percent, reported Our Sunday Visitor.
Arinze, who recently was awarded the 1999 Interfaith Gold Medallion by the International Council of Christians and Jews, is dedicated to promoting cooperation between different religious groups.
"Religious plurality is a fact. Many problems and challenges do not respect religious frontiers. 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," Arinze said, in the 1999 commencement address at Wake Forest University.
Because of the fragile health of the pope, possible successors have been an increasingly popular topic of discussion. Arinze and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the archbishop of Milan, Italy, top the list of favorites.
"[Arinze] would certainly be a symbol of the universality of the church," said theology professor Lawrence Cunningham, noting that he is from Africa and has extensive experience with the non-Christian world. The last African pope was Gelasius I, who served from 492 to 496 A.D.
Arinze's qualifications also include his Vatican experience and close relationship to the pope.
"The guessing game is always a lot of fun, but it's not always a sure thing." cautioned Cunningham.
Excellent qualifications and the public's approval by no means guarantee selection. Several popes this century — John XXIII, John Paul I and John Paul II — can be considered surprising choices.
Arinze's visit to Notre Dame is at the invitation of professor John Cavadini, chairman of the department of theology. Arinze will meet with Notre Dame president Father Edward Malloy as well as with faculty, students and Holy Cross community members. Arinze will also celebrate Mass in South Bend and Fort Wayne, as well as meet Bishop John D'Arcy of the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
All News Stories for Tuesday, November 2, 1999