10 November 2012

Nigeria: Salute to Cardinal Onaiyekan


The Catholic pontiff, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, recently announced the appointment of the archbishop of Abuja diocese, His Grace Rev Dr John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, and five others who will be created cardinals in a consistory on November 24, 2012, at the Vatican City. Thus, Archbishop Onaiyekan will become the fourth Nigerian to be named cardinal after Dominic Cardinal Ekandem of blessed memory, Francis Cardinal Arinze and Anthony Cardinal Okojie.

Shortly before this appointment, Archbishop Onaiyekan had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Sultan of Sokoto Sa'ad Abubakar III. This could not have been a coincidence. His deep love for peace became even more manifest with the emergence of Boko Haram and the security challenges the Islamic sect presented.

Curiously, the sect gave the impression that it had a grudge against the Catholic Church and went out of its way to visit the church in Maiduguri, Madallah and Kaduna with its venom of suicide bombings. In the face of these unprovoked attacks, Onaiyekan remained calm; he has been able to restrain Christians generally from following the path of reprisal. To a large extent, this pacifist disposition helped in managing the crisis.

For Catholics and non Catholics alike, Archbishop Onaiyekan comes across as a man of integrity imbued with courage, forthrightness, purity of thought and ready to defend the truth at all times.

Since he took over as the apostolic head of the Abuja Metropolitan See after his stint as bishop of Ilorin and co-adjutor of Abuja Diocese, Onaiyekan has come to personify the voice of Christendom in the area. He played a splendid role as, first, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) and later as president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

He used those positions as a pedestal to make the church's views on national issues known. His principled stand against the third term project of former President Olusegun Obasanjo contributed immensely to the failure of that agenda.

Onaiyekan , in his own words, is a man of destiny. As is the tradition in the Catholic Church, young priests are, often, sent abroad for further studies. Following that tradition, he was one of the three sent abroad by his bishop in the late '60s. Of the three, he is the only one alive today and is knocking on the doors of papacy.

He is a known face in the Vatican as evidenced by his appointment by Pope John Paul II into the Pontifical International Theological Commission as well as the International Catholic/Methodist Dialogue Commission. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to serve as one of the Synod Fathers for the October 2012 Ordinary General Assembly of the Synods of Bishops on the New Evangelisation.

Born in Kabba in present-day Kogi State on January 29, 1944, Onaiyekan was ordained priest in 1969.

We join his flock, friends and well-wishers in praying for his success as he assumes this new apostolic responsibility.

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