April 3, 2005


The African cardinal tipped to succeed the Pope (AFP, 4/03/05)

The fourth-ranking cardinal in the Vatican and the African with the best chance of succeeding Pope John Paul II began his stellar church career as a child of poor pagan parents in a mud-brick bungalow in the forests of southern Nigeria.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, the 72-year-old Prefect of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is seen by many as a credible candidate to become the first African to rule the Holy See since the death of Gelasius I in 496 AD.

And if the college of cardinals sitting in the Sistine Chapel does decide that the Holy Spirit has chosen Arinze to lead the Church, the tiny Nigerian farming village of Eziowelle might well become a place of pilgrimage for the world's hundreds of millions of Catholics. [...]

"His name will work magic for us. We cannot say when this will be, but we are hopeful that Arinze's name will soon begin to bring the good things of life to the village," declared 68-year-old Celestina Emecheta, who was born four years after Eziowelle's most famous son.

The house where he was born is still standing; a somewhat ramshackle bungalow of mud-brick and rusting corrugated iron, painted in faded chocolate brown and framed on one side by a mango and a pawpaw tree.

A newer, concrete family home stands close by, but Arinze's fame has not brought riches to his relatives. The grave of the cardinal's mother is marked by a simple heap of dark red laterite soil.

"He does not want an elaborate grave for his parents and this grave as it is is an ample demonstration of his simplicity and humility, qualities for which he is known," said Father Philip as he showed a reporter around the village.

Once a year, in August, Cardinal Arinze leaves the marble halls of the Vatican and returns to Eziowelle to stay in the parsonage and celebrate mass in the humble surroundings of Saint Edward's church.

It was here, as an eight-year-old child of parents who worshipped the traditional deities of the Igbo people, that Arinze first heard the teaching of the church from the Reverend Cyprian Micahel Iwene Tansi, a missionary who became his mentor and was in 1998 beatified by Pope John Paul II.

Since those days the village has become a devout and energetic Catholic community, proud to have sent a cardinal, nine priests, 14 reverend sisters and one reverend brother to do the work of the church.

Now, perhaps, Eziowelle could become the first village in sub-Saharan Africa to send a Pope to the Vatican. Many feel Arinze would be the perfect candidate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 3, 2005 5:23 PM


Posted by: Dave W. at April 4, 2005 1:33 AM

Why would he pick Leo? I am unfamiliar with the reason.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at April 4, 2005 5:20 AM

After telling us that he's 72 and she's 68, does AFP think it really must tell us that she was born 4 years after him?

Posted by: David Cohen at April 4, 2005 10:42 AM