SHAFAQNA – Francis Cardinal Arinze is a prince of the Catholic Church. He has served the church diligently, dutifully and faithfully for many years and in many capacities. He was the former Archbishop of Onitsha Archdiocese and has served at the Vatican for over 30 years before he retired about six years ago. The last office he held was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
In this interview, he speaks on why he chose to remain in Rome after his retirement, his upcoming 50th episcopacy celebration and other matters, concerning the church and the society, including the 2015 general elections and insecurity in Nigeria and the Ebola disease. Excerpts:
What office did you hold last before you retired from the Vatican?
The office I held last in the Vatican City was Prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. That means, the office of the Catholic Church of the Latin for everything touching worship. Every form of prayer we say, beginning with the big events we call Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, which is Mass and Adoration. Then forgiveness of sin, marriage, anointing sick people, ordaining priests. That is one major area. Then all other areas of the prayers of the Church for the different times of the day; blessings and so on. I worked in that office for six years. We call it Divine Worship Office, prayer office of the Church.
When did you retire from the Vatican?
In 2008, according to Church Law, when Bishops or Cardinals reach 75, we write the Pope a letter that we have reached the legal age to retire. The Pope can wait one year or two or three but never beyond 80. So, latest when the person is 80 years old, he must cease from a particular office. When we say retire in the Vatican sense, I do not go to the office everyday but the Pope can assign duties from time to time, short-term duties to such Cardinals.
Though you have retired, you don’t look tired. What is the secret behind this?
God knows best. We all differ. Some people have better good health than other people. Only God knows why this person has better good health than another. Also, if a person will listen to his doctors because some people do not obey their doctor, they eat what their doctor told them not to eat, do what their doctor said don’t do, then, later they get into trouble. Then, they go back to the doctor and pay. If you prefer that, it is alright (laughter).
People differ. So, nobody can boast. But when a person reaches our age – 80, normally, he will be sick somehow. Either the knee or the neck or the back or the stomach or cancer. You cannot be as complete when you are 80 as when you were 25.
Yes, you are into your 80s and retired. How do you live your life?
Much is left to our discretion when a Bishop or a Cardinal is 80 years old. Surely, he will know how to organise his day. He can be receiving invitations to give a lecture here, a lecture there. He will decide how many he can accept. Invitations to celebrate Mass here, ordain a priest there, ordain a bishop, attend a meeting. He will decide how many he can accept, in Italy, in France, in United States. We have that discretion. For people of our age, who have been working in the Vatican system for 30 years, we have a flat where we live. And this person can decide to stay there if he wishes or to go back to his country if he wishes or both. Sometimes in Rome, sometimes in Nigeria.
Many think that after such a long years there, you would retire home to be close to your people for them to tap from your deep repository of knowledge. Why did you choose to remain there and not here?
Most of the Cardinals, who reach our age keep their flats in Rome but also go to their countries. They stay longer in their countries – one month, two months, as I am staying now – two months. Last Easter, I was home for one month. That makes already three months in the year.
If you ask: Why I retain my flat in Rome, I will say, Rome is Rome. There is no other city like Rome in the whole world. That’s where the central offices of the Catholic Church are. People from all parts of this world come there. They come and go. It is the centre for Christians. So, it is the world in microcosm – small edition of the whole world.
I have nothing against my country, Nigeria, but there is no town that will be like Rome. Then, the Pope is there. Rome is the city of Peter and Paul. The big celebrations are there, like the Canonisation of Popes and other Holy people. So, there is no place like Rome. You meet people from any part of the world. You make contact immediately. If I want a document, if I am writing, it is immediate. Or I want to meet the top people, who are famous for this, it is immediate. So, it is the reason for staying there. And then, also having worked for 30 years, I have insurance into which I have been paying each year. I can be back in Nigeria. But, you know, the Nigerian doctors are wonderful and they are experts when they have electric current. If the current is not running, if he prescribes a medicine, you go to buy, they adulterate the medicine, it is not genuine anymore. It is not the fault of the doctor. The television may work or it may not work. The doctor’s machines may be excellent but the current is not there or his assistant played tricks. So, you see, these things are facts in our lives. And when a person is 80, he will, sometimes, be sick, no matter how strong you think you are, you will also need the expert doctor and the insurance covers us. Otherwise, see all the expenses people run to fly him here, fly him there and eventually fly back the corpse. Of course, when there is no Ebola (laughter).
So, what most Cardinals do is to retain their flats in Rome and also, their home base. When age begins to be heavy, nobody will tell them to stop traveling because, at times, you will like to travel very much. You will see the old Cardinals, staying in one place then. Time will tell.
Nobody is wishing that you leave us…
(He cuts in). But we know that we all will eventually end in the cemetery, even the best of us. So, that is a fact of life.
If that comes, will you prefer to be interred there or here?
Of course, it is more expensive to fly a corpse back to this country. So, if a person is sick, it is better to die here because it is cheaper for the people. Why should they run all the expenses of bringing the corpse back (laughs). Anyhow, those things, time and God will tell. There is no need to worry too much about tomorrow. The Bible said tomorrow will take care of itself.
By next year, God willing, it will be 50 years of your episcopacy. How has it been all these years both as a priest, as bishop and a cardinal, and how are the preparations for the great event?
It is God, who gives us whether good health or moderate good health or sickness, whichever and gives us the number of years. Psalm 89 says the number of our years is 70 and if we are strong, we are 80 and we can add. And if you obey your doctor, you may be 90, God knows. Whichever it is, it is true if I live long enough, it will be 50 next year that I became a bishop. It has been a great opportunity to serve the people in our own country, beginning from Onitsha, and then the whole of Nigeria and in Rome, in the offices of the Pope, for the service of the whole world. It has been a great opportunity and a great responsibility.
My request is, put the emphasis on prayer, not on material things. So, pray, pray for me, thank God; pray with me, praise God, pray for others, pray for our priests, our bishops. I do not require many gifts. If you want to give things, give them to the Brothers of St. Stephen at Nkwelle Ezunaka. If you have money, pump it to the Brothers. Give it to the Sisters at Umuoji. There is a monastery of the Benedictine Nuns – 120 nuns in that monastery. Pump your money there. I don’t need it myself.
I do not need a car because when I was 80 years old, somebody gave me a car, very strong car. Another person gave another one. Another one also gave. I gave one to Brothers, one to Sisters. So, I have one. It is in good order. I do not need another car at all. But if you must give a car, give it to one of these religious: Brothers, Sisters. I would not want people to spend much money, saying they are doing Jubilee for Cardinal Arinze. I want people to go to church and pray, do Holy Hour. Go to Mass, yes. I do not say on that day, when people come to Mass, nobody should give them any food. That will not be realistic. Let them eat, drink and be happy but do not bother too much about spending money on them.
Recently, the Universal Church sainted Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. Some people are of the view that, that of Pope John Paul II was fast and they say our own Blessed Iwene Tansi has been on the road far too long. They are alleging that politics is involved in the whole exercise. Can you enlighten people more on this?
Yes, that sentiment is understandable. I can see why. But explanation is needed. The church law is that after beatification, one more miracle is required for canonisation- if one more miracle is obtained, proved and goes through the stages in the diocese and in Rome. For John Paul II, the miracles were obtained in plenty. Why will God work more miracles on the name of John Paul II than another name, I don’t know. God didn’t appoint me His special adviser. But, sometimes, the miracles come soon. At other times, they do not come so fast. God knows.
Moreover, the Pope also has the discretion to wave a miracle if he so decides but it is exceptional. The only case I have heard the Pope waived it in my lifetime is for Blessed John XXIII; so that he was Canonised along with John Paul II. There was no miracle in the name of John XXIII but there was in the name of John Paul II.
So, the Pope has that faculty. You can say to me; why does he not use it for Blessed Tansi? My answer, as I said, in my own lifetime, I have heard the Pope use that discretion only once. Just because Fr. Tansi is from Aguleri and Onitsha and Nigeria, you think he is exceptional but there are others also. Think of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was beatified but not yet Canonised because there is not a second miracle proved. Then think of Cardinal Newman. These are very famous people in history. It took many decades before a miracle was obtained for his beatification. So, the actual thing to do is simple: To keep on praying for a miracle in the name of Blessed Tansi. There was one case of cancer. The person touched the remains of the Blessed Tansi and was healed but when it was examined, they found that he had also got very good medicine from the doctors. So, according to the very demanding criteria in Rome, if there is any possibility that it was because of doctors’ care that the person got well, it is not technically called a miracle. So, we keep on praying. There is no question of politics there at all. It is not because Blessed Tansi is from our area. No. Indeed, you know that when Blessed Tansi was beatified, it was a favour to Nigeria. I know because I presented a case in Rome. I said because there were very many candidates lined up, their cases to be examined for beatification, if Blessed Tansi were to wait for his turn, it might have taken 10 years or more because there are hundreds of cases in the Congregation for Canonisation of Saints. So, I went there and begged the Cardinal and said: “I know it is not the turn of Fr. Tansi but in the whole of West Africa, we haven’t people beatified. You, Cardinal, you are an Italian and you have Saints almost from every town in Italy. Right, left, centre; saints all over the place. So, you don’t need so much encouragement. Please, encourage us. Push his own forward as a consideration for West Africa. And he said, yes, you are right.”
For the same reason, you will like to know, in this Congregation for Saints’ canonisation, if there is a lay person and better still, husband and wife, they will be given priority immediately before bishops, priests and sisters. The reason is because, it makes more impact in our society. So, the Pope can decide to make this one urgent provided there is the miracle.
So, if you are a lay person and your cause is on and there is miracle, you will be given priority before bishops and priests, because when bishops, priests and sisters are canonised, the people say, of course, these should be saints but if it is husband and wife, this impact is more. So, that is where a practical pastoral decision comes in. If we get a second miracle, Blessed Tansi will reach canonisation.
The Pope has just visited South Korea where, he, among others, beatified 124 early Korean Catholics and others. Do you see him, visiting Nigeria and any West African country very soon?
I am not a prophet but the question of which country he visits depends on many factors. One, the Pope is to consider his own health. Our Pope is very young, only 77 years old, and you know what 77 years mean. When you are at that age, you are not as strong as when you were 55. Secondly, the Pope will consider the countries that invited him. So, generally, the president of the country and the bishops of the country will invite him. When President Jonathan went to Rome in March 2014, he invited the Pope to Nigeria and the bishops will also invite him. Then, the Pope will consider how many countries invited him and how many of them he can visit without fainting, without becoming sick. Pope Francis has gone to Asia, Korea to meet the youths of Asia. Indeed, next year, he will go to Asia again. He will go to Sri Lanka and the Philippines because the Philippines was devastated by a terrible typhoon; and in Sri Lanka, there is a theological institute, beginning there. But the Pope has also to look at the map of the whole world to see which areas get priority. You see, no Pope has visited Asia in the last eight years. During the whole time of Pope Benedict, he did not visit any country in Asia but he visited Middle East, which is really West Asia and he visited Australia. He visited Africa two times. He went to Cameroon, Angola and Benin Republic. So, this Pope didn’t tell me but I guess he looked at it that Asia will say; are we forgotten? So, he makes the two visits to them. We do not grudge Asia that. It may well be that he will visit the United States because there is a big congress for the families in Philadelphia next September. Perhaps, he will go but he has not promised yet because he has to reckon how many considerations. It does not mean Nigeria is not important; just as Nigeria wants him to come, so also Kenya, Congo, Egypt and so on. And the Pope will examine all of them and see where he will place priority. It is not for me to say.
Some people are of the view that religious leaders are not playing their roles of correcting their followers/members. This, they say, is one of the causes of rise in immorality and other vices in the society. How do you react to this?
I agree with some elements in it. That element is that religion should convert us in our heart so that we promote justice and peace towards our neighbour. Therefore, if religion does not help us to practise more justice and solidarity, that means love of others, then that religion is not doing its work well because religion should mean love of God and love of neighbour. And St. John tells us: “He who says I love God but does not love his brother is a liar. If he does not love his neighbour whom he sees, how can he love God that he does not see?”
So, religion must fulfill that role. But we have also to consider that religious bodies have no army, police or prison. They can only appeal to conscience. They cannot use force. They can only propose, they cannot impose, which means that a person can go to Mass on Sunday; he knows the Commandment: Love your neighbour, do not tell lies, do not steal your neighbour’s money or car or wife and do not steal government money, no matter what name you give it, but when he sees money on Monday or Tuesday or a woman, who is not his wife, he may in the middle of temptation put aside all those things he heard on Sunday and do what he knows he should not do. Religion doesn’t have police and army to catch him and put him in prison. That means various religious leaders must continue to orient, to direct, to convince their members that what you do on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and every day is part of your religion. Religion is not only on Sunday for Christians and Friday for Muslims. It is everyday. Which means, if a person says, I am a good Christian, I am a good Muslim but that person cheats, embezzles government money, takes bribes, that person is not content with his salary, is always looking for crooked money to add, that person is not a good Christian or a good Muslim. Not to talk of those who kill people, cheat, oppress unemployed young people and students. So, religion should be part of life. It should make us better citizens. So, as we put it in Catholic Theology, a good Christian is a good citizen. If a person is not a good citizen, then he is not a good Christian. Even if he goes to Mass five times a day, if he is not a good citizen, then he is not a good Christian because religion and daily life should form one peace, one synthesis. In that one, religion has actually become part of that person’s life. There is hope. Suppose we had no religion at all? Things would be worse. Everybody will be a wolf. This big wolf will eat the smaller animals. It will be Equatorial forest, big eat small. But religion teaches us differently- not to revenge, not to take human life. Some people kill human beings as if they were killing chickens. Religion must help us to understand that human life is sacred. It comes from God. So, indeed, not only killing but respect for the human person. Respect for the child, the unborn child, for the student, who is looking for work and helpless, for the worker, who should be given promotion because this worker deserves it. But you didn’t give that person promotion, you give it to another one, who does not deserve it. It is not right. Why did you make the other one heart-broken, and on Sunday, you tell us you are a good Christian? Shame on you!
People think that if our religious leaders are a little hard on their members, who live bogus lives, that it can help to make some of them change. What do you think?
You have a point. That means let them preach that you are to be a good Christian, preach the gospel without discount, without looking at the faces of the big people in front. And in any case, why put the big people in front always, why not put children in front? Those in front should be actually the little children, the sick people and the handicapped. Sometimes, they may please God even more than those who wear 1,500 (flowing agbada). I have nothing against rich people. We need their money but they must share their money with others and they must get their money according to honest means. If he got it by honest means, you cannot complain because if you couldn’t work hard but he worked hard and he earned the money and then you are angry, are you angry because you couldn’t catch a fowl yourself or angry because he is intelligent?
So, we don’t condemn rich people, but let them share their riches with others. We call it “the universal destination of earthly goods.” That you are rich, you have duties towards those who don’t have. Then those who preach must also preach that Gospel. As you noticed how Christ preached and he said for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven is more difficult than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. (Imagine that, with the hunch back of a camel) Well, our Lord was just using it as a parable. There is another point implied in what you said, religion must not preach that money and riches are a sign that you are a good man because some are preaching what they call “prosperity gospel.” They say if you are a good Christian you will not suffer. If you are a good Christian, you will not be poor, you will be rich, you will be sitting on money. Christ never promised that. Never. But he told us if you want to be my disciple, carry your cross and follow me, which means, those who preach should not cheapen the gospel. They should preach the gospel as it is, whether what it says is comforting or not. Indeed, if a preacher is good, you will find that he will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. He is not there to humour those who are rich but to bring the gospel of Christ to everyone – rich or poor. So, if he does that, the gospel has something to say to sick people and poor people. You notice that Pope Francis is always giving more attention to children and those in prison and those that are handicapped, those that he called at the periphery, those that are overtaken by the stampede of life, those that are not so rich. So, religion should also think of that. Those who preach have that duty. But let us remember again that they can only propose, not impose.
The Church of England recently introduced the consecration of women bishops and ordination of gay priests, which they did long time ago. Do you think the Catholic Church can also toe that line?
It is not a question of what I think or my view. No. it is a question of what the Catholic Church retains as gospel. What the church regards as dogma. That is what we cannot change. The Catholic Church people know it. The Catholic Church maintains that the church has no power to ordain women priests or ordain them bishops. If Christ wanted to ordain women, of course, He would have begun with his mother, who was the holiest of all of us – angels and men. He could have ordained some of those women, who were faithful to him. But Christ ordained only men. So, our faith is that priestly ordination and bishops’ ordination can be valid only for a man not for a woman. The Anglicans know that is what the Catholic Church holds. They also know that the Catholic Church will not change. We can change what is church law, like do not eat meat on Friday. The bishop can permit you to eat meat on Friday. But ordination of women as priests: We cannot change that one because we maintain it that it is of divine institution. It is a pity then that they went to that. Of course, gay also. The same thing has to be said; t is not right. It is not Church law. We regard it as divine institution but the Catholic Church cannot renounce efforts at Christian reunion but the step now taken by the Anglicans in ordaining women does not make it easier, it makes it more difficult, one big obstacle added to the obstacles we had before. That is what it means.
Recently, there was hype in the call for an assisted death – Euthanasia, with a former Archbishop of Canterbury and a former Archbishop of Cape Town, giving their support. What is your view?
Not so much my view, as the Catholic moral teaching. The Catholic moral teaching is that life belongs to God and that we do not have the power to terminate human life whether our personal life or the life of another person. We have no power to kill anybody. Commandment No. 5: You shall not kill. We admit that some sicknesses are painful, some people are so sick some people say death is better for this person but we have not the power to kill a person, even if the person is already sick. And nobody has power to kill self. We call it suicide. It is not right.
Killing a person, whether the person is one-month-old, conceived, just born, 90 years old or sick is not right. We should sympathise with sick people and show them every love and charity. You notice the Catholic Church puts much effort in hospitals to be near sick people, to show them love, to reduce their pain until God decides that the doctors have done their part, that it is now time to leave this world.
This present health crisis in the country is Ebola Virus Disease; the bishops have decided on certain preventive measures during conduct of Mass. How do you see the decision?
The bishops have done well. The bishops have said the major point. The bishops have said to the people, during Mass, because these doctors tell us, one of the ways this Ebola is spreading is touching another person, even perspiration from a person and perspiration can be not only on the head, especially when you have no hair on the head but also on the palms and hands, so the doctors advised do not shake hands. So, the bishops have said well, at the part of Mass, when we say give one another the sign of peace, now, do not touch another person. That is right, Indeed, it is not a law that we say give one another the sign of peace. It is not a law, only it can be done. The bishop can say, for the moment because of the Ebola, don’t give that sign. In some parts of the world like India, they don’t even touch anybody, I bow to you and you bow to me. It is cultural. So, that one is not a big thing. We should just obey it. Some day, there will be no more danger of Ebola and this bishop will say, you can return to giving that sign of peace. So, that is one. The other one is, receiving Holy Communion, a bishop can say giving in the tongue the priest can make a mistake and touch your tongue and then he touches another person’s. You see, a doctor will say that is dangerous. Suppose this person has infectious disease, you touch that person then you touch another one. God will not promise to do a miracle so that you never get contamination. No, you should take ordinary common sense measures. So, the bishop can say it in his diocese, you can receive Communion in the hand for the moment but when it passes, we continue as usual on the tongue. Bishops have that faculty. In any case, even without Ebola, in some parts of the world, the bishops have said you can receive in the hand. That has also many difficulties because there are particles of this host and people will drop them on the ground, people are careless. Some people are nonchalant. It reduces devotion and faith. The bishops will watch over all that. So, these are emergency measures.
Corruption is a big problem in the country. You Nigerians outside the country, what damage has this done to the country’s image over there and how do you see the damage?
Corruption takes many forms. It can be what people just call bribery. It can be those who take government money quietly. There is contract, you know it will cost government N2 million but you tell the contractor to write N3 million so that you and the contractor will share N1 million. why do you punish the country like that? It is not right. Nigeria is not the only country where there is corruption. But it does no do good to any country. It’s against our Catholic faith; it is against common sense. It is against justice and love of others. Some people have even the heart to take bribe from school leavers, who are looking for work. No pity. Some people have introduced bribe even in universities, in promotion, not to talk of contract. Somebody told me, I did this contract. I should be paid so much like N5 million but the officials told me to write N7 million and they will take N2 million. I refused to write the N7 million because I know it is only N5 million and they refused to pay me. Terrible! So many words are not necessary. Every Nigerian should know that to promote our country. We need more justice. The more justice we have, the better our country will go. Nigeria has many capable people – lawyers, doctors, civil servants, engineers, pilots that are tip-top. I was told last month that we have 25,000 Nigerian medical doctors in the United States of America alone. Also, the desire for money is one of the reasons for corruption. Money never satisfies. When will you have enough so that you will now be satisfied? Your salary, you say is not enough but some people don’t earn one per cent of what you are paid and yet you have the heart to look for extra money. So, money never satisfies. This is terrible.
So, we pray also that Nigerians will learn to use what money they have. Everybody cannot be a millionaire. This is not possible. Try to manage with what you have. Work harder as much as you are able. But do not try to be as rich as the richest people. If you are celebrating, manage what you have, not the money you don’t have. If you are doing funerals, why are you pretending to be rich when you know very well that you are not rich? So, do as much as you are able. If Nigerians do like that, there will be more joy and more peace. And if a person is not rich do not laugh at that person. Those who are rich should not be proud. Do not make the poor people ashamed because God will judge all of us.
The country is preparing for general elections next year. What is your prayer for the country and your advice to politicians and those involved in the election preparation?
My advice is: Politics is good, government is necessary, some must serve in public office. So, if you want to be elected, that is good. But we will like to ask you why you want to be elected? Have you a plan for the country? Have you seen what is good for this people? What is your reason? Suppose your reason for being elected is “vote for me”. No more. Then we should not vote for you because you have no plan for us. If your reason is that you are hungry and you think that in politics you will get money, then, I will say, you are just a trader, go and trade but do not go into politics because you are poor and you haven’t any plan for the people. You only want money for yourself. So, you are not qualified to get any vote at all, not even in the local government. So, only those who have a plan for the people, who are able to deliver the goods, who are honest in conduct, should be voted for. If the voters vote for people who have no plan for the people, who have also no record of honesty, the people will suffer. And that time you will pray. Why are you praying now when you voted these people in, were you asleep when you voted for them? So, I beg those who want to be voted for to make sure they have a good plan for the country. Those who are poor, hungry and thirsty or who want money, please, do not ask for any vote at all, not even to the local government because you have no plan for the people. Those who go in, please, work for the people and be content with your salary, without looking to add anything. If we do that Nigeria, will become a small paradise inside one year.
There is a lot of insecurity in the country. What do you tell the government on how to handle this problem?
Everybody should do his/her part – government, police, citizens. Love your neighbour as you love yourself. Human life is sacred. Do not kill anybody. Do not injure any human being. If there is a problem.
SOURCE : http://sunnewsonline.com/new/?p=79707