A Profile of Cardinal Francis Arinze

Italy - Religion - Conclave - Congregation of Cardinals
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Francis Arinze was ordained a priest at the age of 25 and became bishop just seven years later when he was 32. He was named cardinal in 1985, when he was 52, making him one of the highest-ranking African clerics at the time.

Background and Early life of Francis Arinze

Francis Arinze was born November 1, 1932, to an animist family of the Ibo tribe in Eziowelle, Nigeria. He wasn’t baptized until he was nine years old when he converted to Catholicism. Father Cyprian Michael Tansi, one of Nigeria’s first native priests, was an important influence on him. Cyprian was the one who baptized him, and Arinze certified Cyprian’s beatification in 1998.

Current Status of Francis Arinze

In 1984, Francis Arinze was named by John Paul II to head the Vatican office which handles relations with all other religions except for Judaism. For most of this time, he focused on relations between Catholicism and Islam. Every year he sent a special message to Muslims to commemorate fasting during Ramadan. Since 2002, Francis Arinze has led the Vatican office dealing with methods of divine worship.

Theology of Francis Arinze

Francis Arinze is known as a theological conservative, something common to Catholics from the southern hemisphere. Arinze has been heavily involved with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Inquisition, and supports efforts to maintain strict doctrinal integrity in the Catholic church. He has said of gay men with ponytails and earrings that he would like to “wash their heads with holy water.”

Assessment of Francis Arinze

If Francis Arinze were elected pope, he would not be the first African pope, but he would be the first African pope in more than 1,500 years. The prospect of a black pope from Africa has captured the imagination of Catholics and non-Catholics all over the world.

One of the most important qualifications that Francis Arinze would bring to the office of pope is his experience in dealing with Islam. Many leading Catholics believe that Christianity’s relations with the Muslim world will be as much a defining feature of the early 21st century as the conflict between the capitalist West and the communist East was during the late 20th century. A pope with an understanding of Islam and experience in dealing with Muslims would be very helpful.

Francis Arinze is also from the third world. Many Cardinals would like to elect a pope from the third world, if possible, because the largest and fastest growing populations of Catholics are located in third world countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. A pope from a nation in one of these regions would make it easier for the Catholic church to reach out to the large, poor, and theologically conservative Catholic populations.