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Online Edition - Vol. VIII, No. 7: October 2002

Cardinal Arinze to Head CDW

Nigerian prelate brings unique perspective, experience, to the Holy See's worship congregation

by Helen Hull Hitchcock

Cardinal Francis Arinze, 69, was appointed prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on October 2.

The Nigerian cardinal, who has been president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue since 1984, succeeds Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez, prefect since 1996, who submitted his resignation earlier this year when he reached the age of 75.

The new prefect arrives at a critical time for the Holy See's office of worship, only months after the release of the new Roman Missal in Latin, which will now be translated into vernacular languages.

Cardinal Medina Estévez, who had served on the committee for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, has guided the Congregation during crucial years when revisions and re-translations of liturgical texts were introduced. During his tenure controversies over translation that surfaced in the mid-1980s escalated.

The Latin "third typical edition" of the Roman Missal, officially released in the Jubilee Year 2000, appeared in print in March 2002. The Missal's regulations for the celebration of Mass, the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (IGMR) had been released in July 2000.

In March 2001, a high-level Instruction that will govern translations of all scriptural and liturgical texts was produced under Cardinal Medina's supervision. Liturgiam authenticam (Authentic Liturgy), the fifth Instruction on the correct implementation of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, is the first authoritative pronouncement by the Holy See on the crucial issue of translation since the Council permitted vernacular languages for the Liturgy. The Instruction is widely acknowledged to have ushered in a "new era of the liturgical reform".

A massive revision/retranslation of the English-language liturgical texts proposed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), was in the process of approval by national conferences when Cardinal Medina took office, and continued through much of his tenure.

In an interview soon after his appointment, June 21, 1996, he commented on the importance of translation: "There is reason to lament the fact that some translations are not faithful but quite fanciful [fantasiosi]. I believe that the texts of the Leonine, Gregorian, and Gelasian sacramentaries have a perennial richness and value. And it is possible to translate them with fidelity. At times translation is confused with interpretation, but they are two different things".

In 1999, the CDW asked for a review of the work of ICEL, and Cardinal Medina Estévez made concrete suggestions for its "thoroughgoing restructure".

Progress towards this restructure was evident in the announcement in August of new officers of ICEL, both from England (see ICEL Renewal, AB September 2002).

Cardinal Medina Estévez was a peritus (expert) at the Second Vatican Council and a member of the International Theological Commission for the Interpretation of Canon Law.

He will continue to serve as a consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and several other important committees at the Holy See.

The new cardinal prefect

The selection of Cardinal Arinze, an African Anglophone, for this office seems to underscore the worldwide importance today of accurate English translations of biblical and liturgical texts.

The cardinal is known to have had a strong interest in the Liturgy throughout his life as a priest, and has taught Liturgy in the seminary. He is reported to have been very vigilant as moderator of the Sacred Liturgy in his own archdiocese, energetic in preventing liturgical abuses, and protective of the traditions of the Roman Liturgy.

Francis Arinze was born November 1, 1932, to a non-Christian family of the Ibo tribe of Nigeria in the Archdiocese of Onitsha, and was converted to Catholicism at age 9. "I was very impressed by that parish priest who baptized me, and after watching him for a long time, I felt the desire of becoming myself a priest", the cardinal told Our Sunday Visitor in a 1996 interview. His mother converted to Catholicism when her son was a theology student, and his father came into the Church when his son was already a priest.

After studying and teaching at seminaries in Nigeria and Rome, Arinze was ordained a priest in 1958. In 1965 he was named coadjutor to the archbishop of Onitsha and was consecrated bishop that August 29. Two years later, he was named archbishop of Onitsha.

In 1979 Archbishop Arinze was elected president of the Nigerian Council of Bishops, where he was instrumental in advancing the effort to bring Roman Catholicism to more Nigerians. A few years later, the number of Catholics in the Onitsha area had risen more than 65 percent, in comparison to 11 percent in the rest of Nigeria.

Archbishop Arinze continued as president of the Nigerian bishops conference until 1984, when John Paul II asked him to head the Secretariat for Non-Christians (now the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue).

He remained archbishop of Onitsha until April 1985, when a successor was named. He was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II on May 25, 1985.

For the past 17 years he has been 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, comprising representatives of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Al-Azhar Permanent Committee for Dialogue with Monotheistic Religions. This committee has published statements against racism and terrorist violence, and in favor of dialogue between believers of the two religions.

Cardinal Arinze has also served as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and other pontifical councils and committees.

"To be Catholic by definition is universal -- a religious family for all nations", he said in a speech in Sydney, Australia, reported in the Sydney Morning-Herald. "If everybody followed what the Catholic Church preached we would have a paradise on Earth".

Cardinal Arinze comes from a part of the Anglophone world that is woefully under-represented in current structures (i.e., ICEL). South Africa is the only African bishops' conference that is a member of ICEL, and that country's three-and-a-half million Catholics probably represents no more than one-tenth of the Catholics in Africa who worship in English. The Anglophone African Catholics would outnumber the populations of all the other ICEL member conferences combined, excluding the United States. Their participation would help to balance the influence of North American and European experts whose views have dominated ICEL until now.

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Excerpts from Cardinal Arinze's 1999 letter to bishops on the "Spirituality of Dialogue"

(Various news sources were used for parts of this story.)

Cardinal Francis Arinze Page

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