VATICAN CITY, OCT. 1, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II surprised many observers here with the appointment of Cardinal Francis Arinze as new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
Born to a non-Christian family of the Ibo tribe of Nigeria, in a small town of the Archdiocese of Onitsha, Arinze converted to Catholicism at age 9. His mother converted when her son was a theology student, and his father joined the Church when his son was already a priest.
At age 15, Francis Arinze began his secondary studies at the All Hallows (“All Saints”) Seminary of Nuewi, studies which he concluded in 1950 at Enugu. He then taught at the same seminary until 1953, when he began philosophy studies at Bigard Memorial Seminary at Enugu.
In 1955, he studied theology at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome. He was ordained a priest Nov. 23, 1958.
From 1961-1962, he was professor of liturgy and also taught logic and philosophy at Bigard Memorial Seminary at Enugu. He was then appointed regional secretary for Catholic Education for the eastern part of the country. When transferred to London, he took courses at the Institute of Pedagogy, earning a diploma in 1964.
On July 6, 1965, he was named coadjutor to the archbishop of Onitsha. He was consecrated bishop that Aug. 29. Two years later, he was entrusted with the pastoral government of the archdiocese and, on June 26, 1967, he was named archbishop.
In 1979 his brother prelates elected him president of the Nigerian bishops’ conference, a post he filled until 1984, when John Paul II asked him to head, as pro-president, the Secretariat for Non-Christians (now the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue).
He was archbishop of Onitsha until April 1985, while awaiting the nomination of a successor. In addition, in 1982 he had been elected vice president for Africa of the United Bible Society. He was made a cardinal by John Paul II in the consistory of May 25, 1985.
For the past 17 years he has been officially responsible for the Catholic Church’s relations with other faiths and denominations (with the exception of Christianity and Judaism, which come under the jurisdiction of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity).
In 1998, he formed the Committee of Muslim-Catholic Dialogue. It comprised representatives of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Al-Azhar Permanent Committee for Dialogue with Monotheist Religions.
The committee has published statements against racism and terrorist violence, and in favor of dialogue between believers of the two religions.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, which the cardinal will now head, oversees all that concerns the preparation and celebration of the Eucharist, and the other sacraments and sacramentals, as well as the Liturgy of the Hours.