…‘Why a Nigerian Pope is impossible now’
From AIDOGHIE PAULINUS, Abuja
The appointment of John Onaiyekan, the Kabba, Kogi State-born cleric as cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, has again reopened a new vista for Nigeria in the universal Church. The question on the lips of Catholics and non-Catholics alike since the announcement of his elevation had been the issue of having a son of the soil as Pope. Until now, Nigeria and her Catholic Community had witnessed other appointments such as the elevation of the late Dominic Cardinal Ekandem (April 1976), Francis Cardinal Arinze (May 25, 1985), and Anthony Cardinal Okogie (October 21, 2003) to the College of Cardinals. A cardinal is regarded as a high-ranking cleric in the Roman Catholic Church and counselor of the Pope.
He joins other cardinals in the conclave to elect a new Pope and stands eligible to be elected if under the statutory age of 80. They are usually referred to as College of Cardinals and their duties had always been to attend the meetings of the body and assist the supreme Pontiff in the discharge of his duties. Daily Sun findings revealed that the Catholic Church had a total number of 211 living cardinals out of which 120 were cardinal electors (cardinals who are under 80 years of age and who are eligible to elect a new Pope). However, more than half, 62 precisely, are from the European countries, a situation which had attracted criticisms that cardinals no longer represent the Church.
With the additional six cardinals namely: James Michael Harvey (America), Bechara Boutros Rahi (Lebanon), Baselios Cleemis (India), Ruben Salazar Gomez (Columbia), Luis Antonio Tagle (Philippines) and John Onaiyekan (Nigeria), Latin America, which has half of the world Catholics now has 21 voting-age cardinals, with North America having 14, Africa 11, Asia 11 and Oceana one. In response to the criticism, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, during the Ordinary Public Consistory held at St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, emphasized the universality of the Church, saying the Catholic Church belongs to the whole human race and not just for a group.
Speaking on the elevation of Onaiyekan in a recent interview with Daily Sun, Emeritus Archbishop of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Okogie, said nearly all the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), foresaw that Onaiyekan was a right candidate for the position in the Catholic Church. According to Okogie: “I must confess to you: when I was made a cardinal, I didn’t expect it. Nearly everyone in that our conference, I am confessing to you now, nearly everyone in that our conference foresaw that Cardinal Onaiyekan was a right candidate for that post.”
But Okogie further said having a Nigerian Pope in no distant time might be a difficult task, even as he said that having a Pope from Nigeria was not impossible. He said: “You see, when I say no, emphatically, I mean and I mean it because it is not an easy thing to be a Pope, to start with.
It is not an easy thing to be a Pope. It is not even an easy thing to be a bishop. Well, people always see the icing on the cake. So many priests would like to be a bishop but when they get there, then they know it is not easy.”