The rebranding of Anambra State as being undertaken by Governor Willie Obiano has arguably the best vista in the personage of Francis Cardinal Arinze. Mr. C. Don Adinuba, Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, recently had a rewarding meeting with Cardinal Arinze in Nkwelle-Ezunaka, Anambra State, and he did not mince words in stressing that the cardinal’s high ranking amongst Anambra’s, nay Nigeria’s greatest gifts to the world.
Religious leaders all over the world do not come any more charismatic than our very own Francis Cardinal Arinze. In virtually all the continents of the world, Cardinal Arinze’s name became a household noun based on his groundbreaking work as President of Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican from 1985 to 2002. He thereafter served as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
It’s now a fulcrum of his storied life that he narrowly missed becoming the Pope after the death of Pope John-Paul II in 2005. Pope Benedict XVI who succeeded Pope John-Paul II appointed Arinze the Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni.
The ever feisty Cardinal Arinze, a native of Eziowelle town in Anambra State, is still full of life in his well-deserved retirement after his esteemed work at the Vatican. The values that Cardinal Arinze has espoused all through his years of service ought to stand his native state of Anambra in good state now that he is very much around.
Towards his last years in the Vatican, the Cardinal Arinze essence could be gleaned from his carriage at the presentation in the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) Lagos of the book on him, Cardinal Francis Arinze: The Church Pathfinder of Dialogue and Communion written by Monsignor Dennis Isizoh.
Cardinal Arinze, being his usual humorous self, told the book presenters that he had no need for the money being donated because “the Pope gives me enough money for spaghetti!” He then capped his speech with the witticism that he did not want to sound like a speaker of whom the audience said: “He has finished but has not stopped!”
The guest speaker at the occasion, His Grace Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, delivered an impassioned expose on Christians/Muslims relations in Nigeria, given that Cardinal Arinze had played the pivotal role of getting late Pope John Paul II into a mosque as a part of worldwide religious dialogue.
Cardinal Arinze has literally moved mountains in striving to bring unity of purpose amongst the world’s religions made up of Christianity (33%), Islam (21%), Hinduism (14%), Buddhism (6%), Chinese traditional (6%), African traditional (6%), Sikhism (0.36%), Judaism (0.22%), and the Atheists (16%).
Dr ABC Orjiakor, who spoke on behalf of the Committee of Friends that put up the function, described Cardinal Arinze as “a profound prelate and apostle of the Christian faith, an ambassador of global peace, the world’s youngest Bishop in 1965, the first African Cardinal to head a Vatican Department, the people’s reverend, an accomplished clergy, a good shepherd…”
Professor Mike Kwanashie in his insightful review of Cardinal Francis Arinze: The Church Pathfinder of Dialogue and Communion pointed out the great irony that Nigeria is blessed with a man respected as one of the holiest of religious leaders all over the world even as the country wallows in sin and corruption.
A man of his words, Cardinal Arinze said: “There is no dogma that the organ or harmonium can be used in church, but not the drum.”
On a personal note, I have known Arinze since my childhood days after the Biafra War at the compound of Christ the King College (CKC), Onitsha where he then lived in the Principal’s house and I lived with my uncle JO Aginam in the tutors’ quarters. The Archbishop’s house at Holy Trinity Cathedral had been destroyed during the war, and Arinze had to make do with living in the CKC quarters. As children, we always walked about with Arinze during his evening strolls and he always told us funny stories laden with morality. It’s a major highlight of my days as an altar boy that I served as a torchbearer when the then Archbishop Arinze inaugurated Christ the King Parish, Onitsha.
Commissioner C. Don Adinuba, himself a devout Catholic, sees Cardinal Arinze as the living embodiment of the Anambra ideal as “Light of the Nation”.
It is indeed remarkable that Arinze was baptized on his ninth birthday on November 1, 1941, by the then Reverend Father Michael Iwene Tansi who would later be beatified by Pope John-Paul II in 1998. Both the saint-to-be and the onetime “papabile” (Pope-contender) happen to be icons of Anambra State.