RECENTLY, THE CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF ABUJA ArchDIOCESE, REV. FT. JOHN ONAIYEKAN WAS APPOINTED A CARDINAL, ALONGSIDE FOUR OTHERS BY THE POPE. YEMI AKINSUYI SPOKE WITH THE DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS at the ArchDIOCESE , REV. FT. THOMAS ASEN, WHO SAID THAT ONAIYEKAN’S ELEVATION IS A SIGN OF GOOD THINGS TO COME PRODUCE A POPE’
Three living Cardinals in Nigeria. That is Bishops Francis Arinze, Olubunmi Okogie, and now John Onaiyekan; what does the country stand to gain in these appointments?
I thank the Almighty God for the glorious elevation of Bishop Onaiyekan in a glorious Roman Catholic Church. This is the kind of recognition of a man of great intellect, a man who is so kind, loving and open hearted. He is a man that God has blessed this country with. The fact that Nigerian Church is being recognised by the Pope as one of the five new cardinals in the whole world. As you can see, Bishop Onaiyekan is the only African amongst the five cardinals and this is a pointer to the fact that God Almighty loves this country so much.
Cardinals have a lot of duties to perform. First, they are the direct advisers of the Pope. The Pope is always consulting them for advise. Bishop Onaiyekan is now to be addressed as His Eminence, Cardinal John Onaiyekan. By his recent elevation, he has become the consultor or advisor to the Pope. It means a Nigerian will be advising the Pope.
But there are three Nigerian Cardinals, two before the appointment of Bishop Onaiyekan?
That is why I said the country is blessed. Apart from being advisers to the Pope, they constitute part of the decision making body of Roman Catholic. They are the ones to appoint a new Pope in case there is vacancy. It is from the Cardinals that a Pope is chosen, therefore, they can vie and eventually become the Pope. My dear, Nigeria is indeed blessed. Out of the five cardinals appointed, there is only one African and that person is our own dear Bishop Onaiyekan.
What are the criteria for choosing a cardinal?
Honestly, I don’t know, I am not the Pope. I am not part of the decision making body. But I think his good works, humility, dedication to the things of God, open-heartedness and a whole other things must have informed the Roman Catholic decision to elevate him as the only African.
Does it have to do with the fact that Bishop Onaiyekan was once the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and is always speaking out his mind on all issues?
Honestly, I think it has to do with his composition as a Bishop and what he has been able to achieve in the Catholic Church worldwide as well as his dear country Nigeria.
With the elevation to cardinal, what does the country stand to benefit?
You and I know that we have been having problems with our image abroad. With the third cardinal from Nigeria, people around the whole world will know that we are not bad people. Something good can still come from Nigeria. We fear God and we are trying our best in ensuring that we are serving Him in our own little way. God help us. As I said earlier, the cardinals are the future Pope. Their elevation is a sign of recognition of the fact that we are moving forward in the country.
So, what are the expectations of the Catholic Church and Nigerians from the newly elevated cardinal?
He is going to carry out his duties as stipulated in the Roman Catholic’s law.
Will he remain in Nigeria or relocate to Rome?
He can do it anywhere. With the internet, he can send his suggestion or advice to Rome without necessarily being present physically. I know he will be going there from time to time, but that won’t still stop him from performing his duties from the country.
I will ask you to describe the new cardinal, how long have you been working with him?
I have been having dealings with him as far back as 1993 when I was admitted into Catholic priesthood in Abuja here. I have good interaction with him. He is my direct spiritual father. He is my Archbishop. He sponsored my training in the priesthood. I see him as a very loving spiritual father, who is highly intelligent. I see him as an embodiment of problem solver.
Apart from the image, what other benefits do you think the country will derive from this?
Nigeria as a country is blessed. Despite all that have been happening here, we are still moving forward and I know we will continue to move forward. One day, with this elevation of the third living cardinals, the country will produce a Pope.
Lastly, what is your advice to Nigerians and especially our leaders?
There are lots of unresolved investigations in the country. Some of the killings in the country are done with impunity because no investigation would be carried out to a logical conclusion, whereby the culprit would be made to face the music, as well as debarring others from committing same.
There are lots of unemployment. Large number of the youths are roaming about the streets doing nothing and you know that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. The housing programme is nothing to write home about. I mean, there are still lots to be done in the country. With the abundance of natural resources, you know God has been kind to us in this country.
I believe that with sincerity of purpose on the part of our leaders, Nigeria will get to the promised land. Catholic should remain consistent in praying to God and strive to become good example in every area of their Christian living. On a final note the elevation of our Lord Bishop to a Cardinal is a pointer to the fact that God still loves us in this country.