Cardinal John Olorumfemi Onaiyekan
“Nigeria recently made yet another history with the appointment of the Catholic Archbishop of the Metropolitan See, Abuja, His Grace Archbishop John Olorumfemi Oniyekan to the rank of Cardinal in the Catholic Church by the Catholic Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI , Onyebuchi Ezigbo digs into the rich profile of the uncommon Clergy which spans through various aspects of life including education and teaching career, Church appointments, CAN Presidency other social works”
Fate must have been so kind to the newly appointed Cardinal John Olorumfemi Onaiyekan who until his latest elevation has served as the Archibishop of the Abuja Catholic Arcdiocese for over 18 years.
On Tuesday, September 18, 2012, Archbishop Onaiyekan was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to serve as one of the papally-appointed Synod Fathers for the upcoming October 2012 Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation. He will be created a Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in a consistory on 24 November 2012.
The ebullient, unassumingly confident and humble Onaiyekan could not have imagined what fate had in stock for him as toddler born into the ancient city of Kabba in Kogi State on January 29, 1944. Life began on a very challenging note as young Onaiyekan commenced his Primary School education at home in 1946 and between 1957 and 1962, he attended Secondary School at St. Michael’s Secondary School, Aliade. Benue State. In line with his passion for God’s ministry work, youthful John did not waste time in joining the SS. Peter and Paul Major Seminary, Bodija, Ibadan to study of Philosophy from 1963 to 1965 . In October 1980, Pope John Paul II gave Onaiyekan a five-year appointment to the Pontifical International Theological Commission in Rome and in November the same year, he joined the International Catholic/ Methodist Dialogue Commission. He completed his religious studies in Rome in 1969, and was ordained as a priest. As a young Priest, Onaiyekan taught at St. Kizito’s College, Isanlu in 1969. He later became rector of St. Clement Junior Seminary in Lokoja in 1971. He finished his Licentiate of Sacred Scripture in 1973 and earned his doctorate in 1976. He became Vice Rector of SS. Peter & Paul in 1977, a position that afforded him the opportunity he has been waiting for to impart the knowledge so far gathered onto the younger ones.
Cardinal Onaiyekan’s priesthood formation also saw him attending further Theology courses at the Pontifical Urban College of Propaganda Fide, Rome from September 1965 to June 1969. He was ordained as bishop on January 6, 1983, and became the Bishop of Ilorin, Kwara State. In 1990 he became Co-Adjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Abuja, and when the diocese became a Metropolitan See in 1994, John Onaiyekan became the Metropolitan of Abuja. Onaiyekan was elected to the position of Vice President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in 1994, and President of that organization in 2000.
As a social crusader, Cardinal Onaiyekan plays very active roles in building bridges across religious and socio-political divides. He is one of the outstanding voices of reason both in times of religious conflict and political crisis. While some members of his constituency may choose to hide their face or remain numb during challenging times, Onaiyekan would rather take on the challenge boldly trying to broker a way forward. He is known as one who is not afraid to speak to power in the face, especially on matters affecting the welfare and justice for the masses. For his boldness and sincerity, the 68 year old Cardinal has wielded enormous influence within government circles and among his religious community. An educationist, Onaiyekan has spearheaded the establishment of many mission schools under the Abuja Archdiocese. No wonder he recently was named Pax Christi International’s 2012 Peace Laureate. He was many times a member of Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican and also once a member of the Standing Committee of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.
On December 18th, 2001, Onaiyekan was conferred with the national honour of the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) by President Olusegun Obasanjo and on May 2003: he bagged the honour of Grande Ufficiale (1 Classe): Ordine della Stella della Solidarieta Italiana, Conferred by President Carlo A. Ciampi of Italy. Other posts held by the religious icon of our time include, President, Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria, from March 1999 – March 2006., President, Association of Episcopal Conferences of Anglophone West Africa (AECAWA), from August 2001, President, Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, (SECAM) from October 2004 , January 2007, Member of the Nigeria Inter-religious Council (NIREC) since September 1999, Co-President, African Council of Religious Leaders, (ACRL) since June 2003, Vice-President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) from 1996 to 2003, between June 2007 to June 2009 when Onaiyekan served as President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) and Co-President of the Nigerian Inter-religious Council.