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One-time papabile, youngest surviving Council father and one of Africa’s most famous and well-liked prelates, Francis Cardinal Arinze reached his 80th birthday on 1 November. With this, the number of cardinal electors drops to 115 out of 205 members.

Born in an agrarian town in the Nigerian state of Anambra, located in the Niger delta, Francis Arinze converted from African traditional religion at the age of nine. His family later followed suit. At the age of 15, young Francis entered the seminary in nearby Onitsha, from which he graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1950. He stayed on as a teacher at the seminary until 1953. Two years later, he continued his studies at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome. From here, he graduated summa cum laude with a doctorate in sacred theology. Francis Arinze was ordained to the priesthood in 1958, at the chapel of the university.

Father Arinze spent the first years of his priesthood in Rome, earning a master’s degree in theology in 1959, followed a year later by a doctorate. He then went back to Nigeria, to teach at seminary, after which he was appointed as regional secretary for Catholic education in the eastern part of the country. Following that position, he studied at the Institute of Education in London. He graduated from there in 1964.

In 1965 Fr. Arinze became the world’s youngest bishop, when he was appointed as coadjutor archbishop of his native Archdiocese of Onitsha. As such, he also became the youngest Council father of the Second Vatican Council, when he attended its final session. He succeeded Archbishop Charles Heerey upon the latter’s death in 1967. Archbishop Arinze was the first native archbishop of Onitsha.

The start of his episcopate was marked by the outbreak of the three-year Biafra War, with the Archdiocese of Onitsha located completely within the breakaway republic of Biafra. The fighting forced the archbishop to flee from Onitsha, only to return in 1970. During his forced exile, Archbishop Arinze worked for the relief of refugees, as well as his priests and faithful who could not flee. The war’s aftermath was also a challenge, as the region was devastated and deeply impoverished, and the Nigerian government decided to expel all foreign missionaries, leaving only the native clergy, who were still few in number.

In 1979, Archbishop Arinze was appointed as pro-president of the Secretariat for Non-Christians next to his duties as Onitsha’s archbishop. When the secretariat became the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, he resigned as archbishop of Onitsha.

Two months after his resignation, Pope John Paul II created the archbishop a cardinal in the consistory of 1985. He became the first cardinal-deacon of San Giovanni della Pigna. Two days after the consistory, Cardinal Arinze became the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue. He performed several other high-profile tasks in that period, as a member of the Committee for the Great Jubilee of 2000, and before that as chairman of the Synod of Bishop’s special assembly on Africa. In 2002, he was appointed as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

An active catechist, Cardinal Arinze promoted faith education across the world, often travelling far and wide. In this period, the final years of the life of Blessed John Paul II, he was considered by many to be a possible future pope. In the end, he was not elected, although continued to be held in high esteem, evidenced by the fact that Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as Cardinal-Bishop of Velletri-Segni, the titular diocese that the new pope himself had held until his election.

In late 2008, Cardinal Arinze retired as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Cardinal Arinze was a member of many Curial departments: The Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, Oriental Churches, Causes of the Saints, and Evangelisation of People; the Pontifical Councils for the Laity, Christian Unity, and Culture; the Committee for the International Eucharistic Congresses; and the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

Today will see the return of Pope Benedict XVI to the continent where the Catholic Church only seems to know growth, as he departs Rome for an apostolic journey to Benin. Apart from the usual courtesies and meetings, there are several important points in this three-day visit. As the relevant page on the Vatican website indicates, this visit takes place “on the occasion of the signing and publication of the Post-Synodal Exhortation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops”. Said Assembly took place during most op October of 2009, and the upcoming Apostolic Exhortation, said to be titled Africae Munus, will collect its conclusions and form something like a game plan for the African Church.

Cardinal Gantin (1922-2008)

Another personally important part of the visit, at least for the Holy Father himself, will be the opportunity to visit and pray at the tomb of Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, the Beninese prelate who was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s immediate predecessor as Dean of the College of Cardinals from 1993 to 2002. Cardinal Bernardin died in 2008 and his tomb is in the chapel of the St. Gall seminary in Ouidah, about 40 kilometers west of the capital, Cotonou, where the rest of the papal visit will take place.

Following the previous papal visit to Africa (Cameroon and Angelo in March of 2009) many media eyes and ears seem only open to whatever shockingly ‘new’ statement the pope will make now about condoms or some such interesting topic. If there will be such a statement that the media will take and run with, there is a high risk that the more important elements of this journey will be completely snowed under. It happened in the past, it will happen again. Better be aware of it.

Benin, which will host a pope for the third time (Blessed John Paul II visited in 1982 and 1993), has a population of some 8.8 million, of whom 27.1% is Catholic. Other main religions are Islam and Vodun (Voodoo). Many Beninese practice a combination of Muslim, Christian and local beliefs, and it seems likely that Pope Benedict will warn against that. To other African prelates, those of Angola and São Tomé and Principe during their ad limina visit in October, he spoke firmly against the practice of witchcraft in their countries and the threat it is to especially children:

“[T]he hearts of the baptized are still divided between Christianity and traditional African religions. Afflicted by problems in life, they do not hesitate to resort to practices that are incompatible with following Christ (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2117). An abominable effect of this is the marginalization and even the killing of children and the elderly who are falsely condemned of witchcraft.” [To the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Angola and São Tomé and Principe (C.E.A.S.T.) on their ad Limina visit, October 29, 2011]

The Church in Benin consists of two metropolitan archdioceses and eight dioceses. The two metropolitans are Archbishops Antoine Ganyé of Cotonou and Pascal N’Koué of Parakou. Archbishop Michael Blume is the Apostolic Nuncio to Benin, and also to neighbouring Togo.

Photo credit: 30giorni.it

This is the first installment of a series of who’s who in the Vatican, a series that will very likely appear quite irregularly. In it, I take a look at the men – and women – in Rome, who work to guide and shepherd the Church all over the world.

He is considered one of the rising stars in Rome and inevitably plays his part in the guessing game called ‘who will be the first African pope in modern times?’. He is Peter Kodwo Appiah Cardinal Turkson, 61 years old, born in Ghana, where he was ordained a priest in 1975. In 1992 he was appointed as Archbishop of Cape Coast and in the consistory of 2003, the last one convened by Pope John Paul II, he received the red cardinal’s hat. He left Ghana last year to become prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which works to promote justice and peace in the world, “in the light of the Gospel and of the social teaching of the Church”(Apostolic Constitution Pastor  Bonus, art. 142). He also has a link to the Netherlands, since in 1994 he was one of the co-consecrators of Bishop Tiny Muskens, the previous bishop of Breda.

Cardinal Turkson’s appointment as prefect came after he had chaired the three-week Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. During the preparation of that assembly he obviously made a good impression in Rome.

Considering both his function and his background, it is no surprise that Cardinal Turkson remains deeply involved with the Church in Africa. Only last week, he travelled to a village in Nigeria, to offer Mass for the victims of bloody clashes between Muslims and Christians earlier this month*.

Like Francis Cardinal Arinze before him, Cardinal Turkson is considered in many circles to be a very good candidate for the first modern African pope. Of course, a pope is not, or at least should not, be chosen simply for his place of origin, but in general it is not illogical to expect a pope with African (or Asian or South American) roots. These are the places where the Church is young and full of growth. As the  faithful increase there and decrease in Europe, the chances of influential Church leaders from those areas grows equally. For now, though, Africa still has the numbers against it. Out of the 182 Cardinals, only 13 hail from Africa. But still, in 1978, the Cardinal elected an outsider to the Chair of St. Peter…

Cardinal Turkson is young (for a cardinal, clearly) and unafraid to live his faith. These are the men the Church needs, and the Holy Spirit provides and inspires them.

*The reason for the clashes, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos said, is not religious in nature: “The fact that the Fulani are Muslim, and the villagers are mostly Christians, is an incidental fact. The real motivation for the massacre is the alleged theft of the livestock.”  

“I am concerned about the fact that the large international press continues to present the clashes that take place in Plateau State as a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims. This is not so.”

About this blog

I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

For a personal account about my reasons for becoming and remaining Catholic, go read my story: Why am I Catholic?

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IN PROGRESS

[Dutch] Internationale Theologencommissie - Sensus Fidei in het Leven van de Kerk.

30 June: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Boodschap voor het Katholieke Jongerenfestival.

19 June: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Interview in La Vanguardia.

18 May: [English] Pietro Cardinal Parolin - Homily at the consecration of Archbishop van Megen.

15 May: [English] Ane Hähnig - Interview with Michael Triegel.

3 May: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Boodschap voor de Wereldgebedsdag voor Roepingen 2014.

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

Sancte Ramon de Peñafort, ora pro nobis!

Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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