By Francis Okoye
Pope Francis has described Francis Cardinal Arinze as God’s gift to humanity, during the celebration of the golden jubilee of his consecration to the Episcopacy (50 years as a Bishop) at the Basilica square of the most Holy Trinity on Saturday 28 Nov, 2015.
Pope Francis, represented by the papal Nuncio to Nigeria at the occasion, Archbishop Augustine Kassuja, extolled the virtues of His Eminence, Francis Cardinal Arinze, who has served the Church in various capacities, from the Archbishop of Onitsha to the president of the pontifical council for inter-religious Dialogue and the prefect of the congregation of the Divine worship and the Discipline of the sacrament. He was also board member of 11 congregations, pontifical councils and post synod councils in his time at the Vatican.
He is the second African to work in the Vatican. After the pope (who is the head of the state), Cardinal Arinze was, from 1st October 2002 till 9th December 2008, the third in rank among all the cardinal – members of the papal cabinet. He is the first African to attain this level in the Vatican state, and in the grading of cardinals in the world, six of them at a time are named by the Pope as the Cardinal – Bishops – each with a title of the key diocese around Rome, the title is for life. Cardinal Arinze belongs to this exclusive and prestigious group of six in the world today.
Over 40 Bishops and Archbishops from all over Nigeria, about 476 priests from around the world, religious men and women, former Head of State General Yakubu Gowon, former second Republic vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, the Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano and his wife, as wellas the lay faithful in their tens of thousands from within and outside the Archdiocese were present for the con-celebrated pontifical High mass presided over by the celebrant.
In a homily given at the mass, the Apostolic Nuncio to central Africa, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo said that Cardinal Arize was a combination of fidelity, heroism, determination, endurance, faith and joyful service to the Lord.
He extolled his remarkable achievement in propagating the gospel, not only in Nigeria but across the globe.
He revealed that when in 2005, the whole world acclaimed the Cardinal as a worthy papabilia, it was not by chance, it showed that his capacity was recognized. If on that occasion he was not chosen as a pope,surely it was not because of his incapacity but because our continent was not yet ripe for such an election.
At the reception, president catholic Bishops conference of Nigeria, this Grace, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama described Cardinal Arinze as a man full of energy, courage and capacity to work for God.
In a welcome Address, the Archbishop of Onitsha, His Grace most Reverend Valerian Okeke welcome all who came from far and Vatican father still alive.
The Cardinal was Eulogized with names befitting his achievements such as ozi uzo (the leader), Obubelu chukwu uzo (one who puts God first), Ugo eji Ejemba (The pride of the Nation).
Speaking about Cardinal Arinze, Gen Gowon said that he had been very consistent in the service to God and humanity and urged him to continue being consistent in the service of God and humanity ,adding that the Cardinal is a good shepherd ,a true man of God, and his elder bother by two years.
The Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano was not left out, as he thanked God that such a great occasion was happening during his time as Governor. He assured all who were present that Anambra State is the safest State in Nigeria and by the grace of God will continue to be so in the years ahead. He prayed for the celebrant to have a good health, long life, while also thanking God for the gift of such a great patriarch of the faith.
Cardinal Francis Arinze was born in 1932 in Eziowelle, Idemili North Local Government Area Onitsha Archdiocese. He was privileged to be baptized by Francis Michael Tansi on 1st November 1941; he also heard his first confession and gave him his first Holy Communion on 7th June 1942. He was confirmed by Bishop Charles Henry-CSSP later Archbishop on 27th June 1943 and served mass for his spiritual mentor, Fr Michael Iwene Tansi in 1945.
He was ordained priest during a ceremony at the church of the pontifical Urban University in Rome on 23rd Nov 1958 ,on August 29th 1965, he was ordained coadjutor Archbishop of Onitsha Archdiocese and became the substantive Archbishop two years later. He was created a Cardinal on 25th May 1985.
He was made Bishop few months to the civil war, and together with the Irish priests, saved a lot of people from starving to death during the civil war by contacting the Vatican and sources in Germany, which brought in relief ie essential medicine, foods etc throughout the war, so much so that the protestant Agencies also joined in and catholic and protestants formed what they called ‘joint church Aid’ bringing medicine food items and clothes into what was then Biafra.
After the war, he built the Archdiocesan secretariat in 1972, and founded the brothers of St Stephen. He also brought into Onitsha Archdiocese various congregations/pious movements like the St Scholastica Benedictine Abbey Umuoji, and the Apostolate for family consecration in Onitsha.Opened up seminaries, set up statutory bodies like the catholic men organization and catholic women organization and battled from 1967-1984 post war rehabilitation and reconstruction of damaged diocesan structures. The expatriate missionaries were expelled after the war. With 50 missionaries sent packing, the archdiocese was left with about 33 priest (mostly young), but by the time Cardinal left Onitsha for Rome in 1984, the Archdiocese priest had risen to 150 priests. The Igbo mass, the Igbo missal and production of Sunday bulletins were also introduced.
A holder of 6 honorary doctorate degrees from USA, one from Nigeria (UNN) and another from Philippines. He has written over 44 books among which are ‘Alone with God’, ‘Divine providence’ and ‘Meeting Jesus and following him;