Papal Candidates: Cardinal Francis Arinze, Nigeria

Because he hails from Africa, Cardinal Arinze has attracted considerable media attention and prompted questions about whether the world is ready for a black pope. But his background runs deeper than skin color. As a convert and a citizen of Nigeria, where approximately half the population is Muslim, he can speak with authority on interfaith and cross-cultural matters: in 1985, Pope John Paul II tapped him to lead the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. But he’s equally comfortable in dealing with internal Catholic issues, having spearheaded the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Thus his 1973 quotation, noted by the Washington Post, is appropriate:

The Church has to be at home in every culture, while not being tied down or imprisoned by any.

“Proposed, Not Imposed”

Buddha is “a great teacher of humanity.” Muslims and Christians are “part of one human family.” Indeed, writes Cardinal Arinze, “Christians must remember that God has also manifested himself in some way to the followers of other religious traditions.”

So how does Catholicism distinguish itself? Cardinal Arinze highlights “God’s salvific will” and emphasizes the Church’s role as “the universal sacrament of salvation.” He then adds:

But there are people who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church. They also are included in God’s plan of salvation. There are, however, conditions. They must be sincere in their seeking of God. They must be open to the secret but real action of the Holy Spirit in them. They should follow their conscience in all matters of right and wrong. Because Christ has taken on human nature and somehow united himself with every man and woman, God can in ways known to him put people in link with the saving mysteries of Christ (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22). He can give them the grace needed for salvation.

But to say that the followers of other religions can attain salvation under some conditions does not mean to ignore the fact that in these religions there are limits, errors and shadows. As St Paul says: “Very often, deceived by the Evil One, men have become vain in their reasonings, and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and served the creature rather than the Creator. Or else, living and dying in this world without God, they are exposed to ultimate despair” (Rom 1:21,25). This explains why the Catholic Church “painstakingly fosters her missionary work” (Lumen Gentium, 16) so that, becoming full members of the Church, people may have access to the fullness of the means of salvation, a fullness to be found only in the Church which is the ordinary means to salvation.

In stressing respect for human dignity and recognizing religious freedom, Cardinal Arinze not only reveals his conversion story but also aligns himself with Pope John Paul II’s message:

This stand is in perfect line with the Catholic doctrine that the human response to God in faith should be free. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mk 16:6). Religion is proposed, not imposed. “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power” (Dignitatis Humanae, 1).

There have been periods in Church history when this principle has not been sufficiently respected in practice. Vatican II itself admits this: “In the life of the People of God as it has made its pilgrim way through the vicissitudes of human history, there have at times appeared ways of acting which were less in accord with the spirit of the Gospel and even opposed to it” (Dignitatis Humanae, 12). This happened, for example, when people accused of heresy were imprisoned or burnt. In the 12thMarch 2000 ceremony in St Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father asked pardon of God for all such acts.

“Culture Is Broader Than Religion”

According to Cardinal Arinze, “religion can be said to represent the transcendent dimension of culture and in a certain way its soul.” But he also acknowledges the “alienating influence” that religion can sometimes have on politics and civilization. This realism is particularly evident in his views on Christian-Muslim relations.

He recognizes the commonalities between the two faiths:

Among the values shared between Christianity and Islam, peace deserves special mention. Both religions stress the pre-eminence of peace. “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you” (Jn 14:27), said Jesus to his Apostles the night before he suffered and died. And after his Resurrection when he appeared to them he generally began with the greeting: “Peace be with you” (cf. Jn 20:19, 21, 26). St Paul calls Christ “our peace” (cf. Eph 2:14). For Muslims, Peace is one of the Beautiful Names of God. Does this fact not give added significance to the customary greeting among Muslims: al­salamu ‘alaykum? Peace is necessary for individuals, within the same religious community, between two or more religions, between peoples and between States. Christians and Muslims have a duty to promote this tranquillity of order. No right­thinking Christian or Muslim today should support crusades or holy wars. Nor should they allow their conduct to be tainted by racist considerations or give way to discrimination on the basis of race, colour, condition of life or religion.

But Cardinal Arinze is unafraid to point out differences — even those with serious political implications. Consider his thoughts on human rights:

Christians see human beings as having been created in God’s image and likeness. They are brothers and sisters of Christ, the Son of God made man. The Incarnation has ennobled the whole of humanity. This is the real foundation of human dignity. Moreover, Christ died on the cross to redeem all humanity. So we can say that love of God passes through love of neighbour. The Muslim vision is different. The human person is the servant of God, and remains so even when receiving God’s call to be caliph or God’s vice­regent, among created things. This vision finds expression in the names used. Many Muslim names begin with ‘Abd (servant) followed by one of the numerous names for God. Christians see man as created by God with certain inalienable rights. Prominent among these is the right to religious freedom. “This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs. Nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits” (Dignitatis Humanae, n. 2).

Here’s the money quote:

[S]ome predominantly Muslim countries have their reservations regarding the United Nations 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which they see as an expression of Western culture. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, proclaimed in Paris in 1981, does contain an article on the right to religious freedom (art.13). It is however very short, merely stating: “Every person has freedom of belief and freedom of worship in conformity with his belief: ‘to you your religion, to me mine’ (Q. 109:6)”. The following article treats of the right to summons (da ‘wa) and to proclamation (balagh), but the content of the article remains vague. It is not clear whether or not people of religions other than Islam have the right to propagate their religion. There is certainly no mention of a right to change one’s religion. So the question of human dignity and the rights which flow from it is one on which Christians and Muslims who have learned to know and trust one another can exchange views in the hope of greater service to the human person and therefore to the world.

That’s a pretty firm criticism. It’s also highly relevant for a post-9/11 papacy. Whereas a different religious leader might struggle to make such strong statements, Cardinal Arinze seems to have genuine credibility. At the same time, it’s hard to confuse him for a bellicose neoconservative when he asserts:

Poverty, underdevelopment, justice and corruption are fertile grounds for the rise or growth of extremist religious tendencies. In such societies those who reject the present situation, or who oppose the government in power, may find it easy to get the support of the suffering poor who are the vast majority, by making appeal to extravagant religious claims. The temptation that the answer to these situations of suffering is a return to what is presented as an original or pure form of a certain religion – whether Christianity or Islam – is an easy one. The effective response is not a crackdown on religious fanatics. It is rather a joint commitment of Christians and Muslims, and other citizens, to justice, development, sound economic programmes, honesty in private and public life, and willingness on the part of the rich to show serious solidarity with the poor. Peace stands on the pillars of love, truth, development, justice and solidarity.

“Sometimes It Shows a Lack of Faith”

When it comes to liturgical issues, Cardinal Arinze frowns upon departures from approved rites:

The general approach is that the liturgy is the public worship of the Church. It is not an area where individuals do their own thing, feed the people with the latest production of their over-fertile imaginations. This would do damage to the faithful and the liturgy. Sometimes it shows a lack of faith.

Some abuses make the Mass invalid. For example – nobody did this – but suppose a priest says, “I don’t like wine at all. I am going to use Coca-Cola.” From the point of view of theology, it would not be Mass at all. If he didn’t use bread made from wheat but uses bread from cassava or wine from the palm tree and not from the vine.

These are abuses that affect the validity of the sacrament. But there can be abuses that do not make the sacrament invalid. Like if a priest begins Mass by saying, “Good morning. Did your favorite football team win?” That’s banalization. Everyone would recognize that.

Suppose in preaching it is no longer on the Gospel and our faith but on politics. Or suppose he says, “I do not like these vestments. I think I will use my overcoat.” Or if he says, “I do not like some of the words in the book, I am going to invent my own prayers. I composed these myself last night.”

On the other hand, he stresses the principle of subsidiarity, as this statement on liturgical dance makes clear:

In the last analysis, the bishops of each country must look into this matter. It is not cut and dried. There are many rites: Ethiopian, Byzantine, Greek, Armenian, Coptic, Chaldean, for example. The Latin rite has not traditionally known dance. If you say “dance” to anyone in Europe, I leave it to you to see what comes to their mind. They will say, “That has nothing to do with the liturgy. When we want to see a dance, we don’t go to Mass. We go somewhere else.” It is a cultural thing.

In the same vein, note his recommendation for addressing liturgical abuses:

Do your best to speak with those in the parish who can do something about it. If there is no success, if it still very important, you can approach your diocesan office. But the first thing to do is not to take paper and write to the Vatican. There must be a better solution than that, although as a last resort, people retain that right.

“Each One Will Have a Separate Story”

In the end, Cardinal Arinze seems strongly influenced by his conversion to the faith. Though he shuns the term — “in Nigeria, we would hardly call the person a convert” — he’s quick to invoke the “work of God’s grace.” “This is,” he says, “God’s own mystery.”


Papal Candidates: An Overview

FILED UNDER: Africa, Religion, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


  1. Kent says:

    I’m a paleoconservative, not a neoconservative, but I had little or no difficulty with the statement on poverty.

  2. denise says:

    Robert — I appreciate your doing this. I haven’t seen this kind of coverage anywhere else.

  3. It’s my pleasure, Denise. I’m glad you find it informative.

  4. McGehee says:

    I think Arinze would make an exciting choice even if his skin were of a paler hue.

  5. John says:

    This is great stuff. I too have no problem with the poverty statement. I think he’s on the money. He’s not prescribing how to tackle those problems, which is where I disagree with many on the left.

    Interestingly, I would have thought that this statement ties neatly with the Bush Doctrine.

    What the Cardinal suggests is the an effective response “not a crack down on religious fanatics”, but “justice, development, sound economic programmes, honesty in private and public life, and willingness on the part of the rich to show serious solidarity with the poor” sounds pretty reasonable to me. He wants to undermine the fanatics, not kill them. The only people who we really need to kill are those who are using violence against us, not hard-line religious devotees.

  6. John Thacker says:

    His nephew, Niki Arinze, played basketball for Wake Forest, and is currently playing in the UK.

  7. Ude Eko says:

    Thanks for the spread on Francis Cardinal Arinze! I am a non-Catholic Nigerian christian resident in the US, and I have always admired Arinze. I am one of those who believe Arinze or Scola or Ratzinger will be the next Pope.

  8. Sam Adelusimo says:

    Thank you for this piece on Cardinal Arinze. I am a Nigerian living in the US. I have always believed that history has a place for him. I strongly believe that the next Pope will be either Arinze or Ratzinger.

  9. marvin says:

    i am really happy to hear know more about Cardinal Arinze, i am a non catholic, i think Cardinal Arinze is the right one to be the next pope, let us try to forget about skin colour and country, as real christians we should not be considering that. because if any one does then the person is a racisist. And God threat every one the same so we should do that to all


  10. austin says:


  11. Valentine Mba says:


  12. Danielle says:

    I’m assuming that given his self-description, he has not been an leader in bringing effective, modern methods to Africa in the fight against AIDS. It seems that the Church stands at a crossroads of unprecedented proportions with the lives of millions hanging on the will of the next pope. That individual has the awesome responsibility of bringing the Church into line with science, as has happened before, but never have so many lives depended on the courage of one man. If it is possible to align the sacred history of the Church with the notion that the Earth revolved around the sun, I believe that it is possible for the Church to embrace this reality. If not, my heart weeps for the world.

  13. Ibodi says:

    Only the Holy Spirit will decide who will be the next pope. Cardinal Arinze is very good indeed to be the pope. Thanks and God help us.

  14. Matthew Malafa says:

    The choice of a new pope should transcend beyond colour or continent. Rather what is important is the choice that God will make. We should not forget that that person will be one of God’s point men on earth. A man who will first of all constantly put God’s perspective foremost and a unifying figure to the world. Arinze or anyone else might suit that requirement.

  15. Brian Golden says:

    The College of Cardinals didn’t just shock the world on Oct. 16, 1978. They freed 300 million people.
    God reached deep into the heart of occupied Eastern Europe to elevate the vanquisher of the USSR. That’s the same Soviet Union that officially died on CHRISTMAS DAY, 1991.
    Now, a new crisis threatens to destroy us in the new century: the confrontation between restive Islam and the Judeo-Christian world.
    Sometime next week, emboldened by the Holy Spirit, the College of Cardinals will electrify the world again.
    God will reach into the heart of a Muslim country to elevate a man born a Muslim to the highest office in Christendom. He will become the intermediary, the peacemaker who defuses another crisis.
    How shall we address him?
    Pope Martin VI, in honor of St. Martin de Porres, the Church’s first black saint?
    Pope Michael Cyprian I, in honor of the beatified Nigerian priest who baptized him in 1942?
    To a world whose heart has been emptied, and bows in tears, God will raise a beacon of hope to the beleaguered sons and daughters of Africa.
    We will look up with joy in St. Peter’s Square next week.
    Next week, praise his Holy Name, God will give us another hero.

  16. returnoftruthnglory says:

    Like many are saying let the Holy spirit which I believe lead in choosing the next Pope.
    some people are worried about skin color.
    the first people who lead the church were blacks
    as curled from this article below.

    “the first African in 1,500 years to sit on the throne of St Peter”.

    he is not

    Three Africans have already occupied the office, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia: Victor (around AD 183-203), Mechiades or Militiades (possibly AD 311-314), and Gelasius (AD 492-496).

    read more….,12272,1055080,00.html

    this were the early days of catholic church after the death of christ(AD).

    I know God is waiting for a good time.
    A good time to heal the hearts of the people that suffered most in history.

    To me electing Arinze means not just a pope but it has a greater significance in restoring the ideal world with equality of nations and retuning the diginity human which is God’s ideal.

    there is nothing like the first black pope as rumoured around by many but the return of black pope that started the ministry.

    let the will of God be done in alliance to his providence.

    just my 50cent so help me God!

  17. Mr. Unite Us says:

    Right man at the right time.
    The cardinals selected and Eastern European Pope at a critical time in Eastern European History.

    The election of a wise and insightful African Pope would be the right decision at this critical time in African history.

    From 189 and to 199 A.D the first African Pope Victor I, befriended the Roman Emperors and saved thousands of Christians from persecution. He also eastablished a special day during the Spring harvest to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today we call that day Easter Sunday.

    Note someone else came up with the Easter Bunny.

  18. Joe Bagodonuts says:

    Go Arinze! I got him at 12-1, so the payoff would be huge!

  19. Shawn McAlpine says:

    Cardinal Francis will be elected pope on Wednesday of the week of the passover 2005.