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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Cardinal Arinze: From Esteem for Marriage & Family, & Seeing Children As Blessings: Here’s What Europe Could Learn From Africa

Cardinal Arinze from Nigeria Tells ZENIT ‘In Spite of World’s Focus on Migrations from Africa, I See Signs of Hope There’

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Everyone has the right to migrate to another country, “we do not deny it”. But there is a question that disturbs Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze: “Are young people who want to migrate not among those most needed to develop their country? Should Europe and America not be helping the leaders of African countries to motivate their citizens to stay at home and develop their nation?”

Cardinal Arinze is considered one of the most authoritative voices of the African Catholic Church. In spite of much talk, in Europe and the USA, about issues like war, poverty and unemployment, that provoke migration from Africa, he says he see many signs of hope, including “praiseworthy efforts at economic and political cooperation in the African Union,” and that “family in Africa remains basically healthy and children are welcomed as a blessing.”

After having served in the Vatican as Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, from 2002 to 2008, now he compels European Catholics “to celebrate Mass with more fidelity to the Missal, to value sacramentals like holy water, medals, and group prayers and pay more attention to joyful Church singing”.

Finally, the Nigerian prelate addresses the issue of the lack of priests, in Western countries, whose shortages often filled with priests from Africa. “Those local Churches should ask themselves some searching questions: Do secularism and materialism threaten religious values and what can be done to meet the situation?”

The following exclusive interview with ZENIT was inspired by recent news from Nigeria, a prestigious prize that the students of the Onithsa Catholic school in Nigeria won in San Francisco, California, and in Tunisia (see Zenit, “In African countries,” Cardinal Arinze commented, “the Church has shown herself an important promoter of all-round education.”

After being ordained bishop in 1965, as coadjutor and then, in 1967, Archbishop of Onitsha. From 1985 to 2002, he served in the Vatican as President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, then as Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, till 2008. In 2009, he preached the Lenten spiritual exercises for Pope Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia, then was named President Delegate of the 2nd Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, “The Church in Africa, at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. ‘You are the salt of the earth, … you are the light of the world.”

Here is our exclusive interview with Cardinal Arinze:


ZENIT: In Europe, Africa is often discussed, especially in relation to migration, caused by poverty and unemployment, but also by wars and terrorism. While these unfortunate realities tend to be the world’s focus regarding Africa, aren’t there positive realities and phenomena as well?

Cardinal Arinze: Yes! In the 54 countries of Africa, there are many realities more positive than the question of migrations, although migrations remain an important consideration. In Africa there are such positive realities like welcome given to children in the family, children regarded as a blessing, marriage and the family respected as God’s gifts, effort to build up modern states out of what the former colonial powers handed on at independence, improvement of roads and agriculture, modern educational institutions, science and technology taken seriously, and the growth of Christianity.

ZENIT: There is much talk of the right to emigrate. But is there as much talk of the right to remain in one’s own land? Many African young people arrive in Europe and discover that the better life they dreamed of was often an illusion. What should be the priorities in managing the phenomenon of migration?

Cardinal Arinze: While we do not deny anyone the right to migrate to another country, it becomes a great concern to a country if a high number of its young people, or of its professionals like graduates or medical personnel, want to go to another country. If many Young Africans migrate to Europe or America, who will guarantee them proper employment, choice of a marriage partner, and future life? Are these young people not among those most needed to develop their country? Should Europe and America not be helping the leaders of African countries to motivate their citizens to stay at home and develop their nation? Are the universities and technological and vocational schools in Africa doing their best to train up African entrepreneurs big and small? Or are they only producing graduates with paper qualifications but without the know-how to get things done, to grow anything or to fix or mend any machine?

ZENIT: What are the greatest signs of hope that you see in Africa today?

Cardinal Arinze: Here are some signs of hope I see in Africa: The Church is growing. The departure of European missionaries has not slowed down evangelization, the Church in Africa is doing evangelization inside and outside Africa, Africa is the continent with the highest percentage growth of Christianity in the world of today, in the African Union the 54 countries of Africa are making praiseworthy efforts at economic and political cooperation, roads, aviation and medical services are improving, and Africans are becoming known in the fields of sports and United Nations Activities. Above all, the family in Africa remains basically healthy and children are welcomed as a blessing.

ZENIT: Recently, some young students from a Catholic school in Onithsa, Nigeria, where you served as archbishop some years ago, won an important prize in USA, at the “ World Technovation Challenge Competition”. Can you tell us something about this success and the formation that young people receive in Christian schools?

In African countries, the Church has shown herself an important promoter of all-round education. Catholic schools are known for effort at character formation, employment of teachers of serious character, promotion of science, especially in grammar and technical and vocational schools. This explains why students from Catholic schools have won prizes in San Francisco and in Tunisia.

ZENIT: In many of the countries of the world now, it’s a common experience to enter churches and parishes on Sunday, and find them almost empty, even in countries that were historically Catholic/Christian. Some say the future of Christianity is no longer in Europe or America. Is this true? What would observers see of the Catholics in their parishes in Africa?

Cardinal Arinze: The Vatican Yearbook of Church Statistics shows that Africa is the continent with the highest annual percentage growth for the Church. Please note that I say percentage growth, not the total number of Catholics. Baptized Catholics, priests, seminarians and religious sisters are increasing each year in Africa more than in other continents. African Sunday congregations also show great life and interest and the young people, even in the midst of many challenges especially unemployment, continue to show interest in Church matters. African bishops, priests and catechists are also aware of the return of some Christians to unacceptable practices of African Traditional Religion and are doing what they can to meet the challenge. Situations do not stand still!

ZENIT: The reality of the African Church is a very alive reality. The African Church is a young Church, where many statistics (Baptisms, conversions, priestly ordinations) are much more comforting than elsewhere. In your opinion, what should the Churches of Europe learn from Africa?

Cardinal Arinze: The Churches of Europe can learn from the Churches of Africa some of the following: esteem for marriage and the family, to have more children in the family, since angels do not become seminarians or candidates for the religious life, to celebrate Mass with more fidelity to the Missal, to value sacramentals like holy water, medals, and group prayers and to pay more attention to joyful Church singing.

ZENIT: With the election of Pope Francis six years ago, the Catholic Church broke with the custom according to which the Pope was European and especially Italian. Do you think that in the future we could have an African Pope?

Cardinal Arinze: We can have a Pope from any continent. The important thing is not where the Pope comes from but rather how well he carries out his service.

ZENIT: In Europe, and in other countries where secularization is advancing, there are increasingly more numerous African and Asian priests that render service, filling the every greater void caused by the drop in vocations.

Cardinal Arinze: Yes, African and Asian priests can and should help out in Europe or America if the there is a lack of priests in some particular places. The Church is Catholic, universal. That is how European missionaries evangelized Africa. Important is that the bishop of the priest who is coming, and the bishop of the receiving diocese be in agreement. What is not acceptable is that an individual priest seeks to go to Europe or America, or to remain there, as a matter of personal convenience.

ZENIT: Do you think that this is a truly practical solution to the problem of few priests in some countries?

Cardinal Arinze: Of course, the permanent and best solution is that each country generates enough priestly and religious vocations for its needs. Where this is not the case, the local Church should ask itself some searching questions. Are its families having many children and motivating them well? Are local priests and religious living exemplary lives? Do secularism and materialism threaten religious values and what can be done to meet the situation?

ZENIT: Another crucial subject for the African Church, especially in Nigeria, is the dialogue with Islam. There is an Islamic fundamentalism that is advancing in many regions of Africa. In your opinion, what are the risks for the future of coexistence in Africa between Christianity and Islam?

Cardinal Arinze: Christians and Muslims form more than 50 percent of the world population. They have to learn to live together , to respect each other, to allow each person free exercise of the right to religious freedom, and to avoid all violence since religion is proposed, not imposed. Each country has to see how to work out all this, because what I have just said is easy to say but difficult to do. And yet it has to be done if we are to have a world free of tension and avoidable suffering.

ZENIT: Thank you, Your Eminence


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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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