Card-designate Onaiyekan: Simplicity of heart, humility of spirit

2012-10-24 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) “My first reaction is of gratitude to God”, says Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, of Abuja Nigeria one of the six men – the only one from Africa – who will be created cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI during the November 24th Consistory, announced earlier Wednesday by the Pope himself.

He spoke to Vatican Radio’s Helene Destombes just after the announcement on the side-lines of the Synod of Bishops for the New Evangelisation.

“I see it purely as God’s grace, certainly not as any reward for any good action. I’m not the best archbishop in the world and God has chosen me. Also thanks to the Pope who has chosen to include me in this very special group of servants of the Church”.

“It means of course that I have a greater responsibility not only for the Archdiocese of Abuja but also as a collaborator of His Holiness. To work with him in his universal responsibility. That is a major issue that I have to pray seriously about.

The Church leader has a wealth of experience in inter-religious dialogue, particularly in the African context. In fact his synod intervention on October 19th concentrated on the idea of evangelisation and religions working together for peace. Nigeria, he notes, is often the scene of violent clashes of both a religious and social origin. However he adds, there are also signs of concrete hope.

“Coming from a country like Nigeria we have been doing our best to promote dialogue and an apostolate of peace making and peace building with Muslims. This is because I personally believe, not only do I believe but it is my experience that the vast majority of Nigerians want to live in peace. We are all citizens of the same country, with the same problems and difficulties but we also have a common ground in terms of spiritual values and even moral principals. So it should not be difficult for us to work together to tackle the problems of our nation. And I do intend to continue along those lines particularly as this is the line indicated by my Church, starting from Vatican II, right up to Ecclesia in Africa and it ist the Magisterium of all the Popes right up to Benedict XVI. And I believe it is the will of God for us

Below the full text of Cardinal-designate Onaiyekan’s intervention:

First of all, I wish to thank very sincerely the Holy Father and this august assembly for the concern about and prayers for our country Nigeria, so often in the news about religious and social clashes with considerable loss of lives and property. We continue to count on your prayers for us.
Despite the impression often given by the world media, I want to stress that Christians in Nigeria do not see themselves as being under any massive persecution by Muslims. Our population of about 160 million is made up of Christians and Muslims in equal number and influence. We have not done too badly in living peacefully together in the same nation. We believe we have learnt some lessons which may be useful for the rest of the world on Christian-Muslim relations.
In this regard, I wish to draw the attention of this synod to the following points:a) The irreversible process of “globalization” mentioned in the IL 47 means that our New Evangelization will need to take note of the arrival of Islam on the world stage. Since our two religions now embrace a major portion of humanity, we have a shared responsibility to work for peace and harmony with ourselves and in our world of today.
b) The differences between Islam and Christianity are not negligible. But there are also broad areas of common grounds about which Vat. II in Nostrae Aetate 3, reminds us. The new evangelization will entail working together for the promotion of commonly shared values, in a world that is very much in need of such values.
c) Our two religions claim to have a divine mission to embrace all humanity.
As we find ourselves in the same “global village”, we have to find ways of reconciling our sense of world mission with our God-given duty to live in peace with our fellow human beings. We must continue to insist on freedom of conscience as a fundamental human right of every citizen of every nation.
d) Our Nigerian experience teaches us that there are many kinds of Muslims.
In the new evangelization, we need to know our Muslim neighbours and keep an open mind to those who are friendly, and they are in the majority. We have to work together to make sure that the fanatics do not dictate the agenda of our mutual relations, pushing us to be enemies of one another.
e) There is an ecumenical dimension to interfaith relations. Drawing from the solid principles of our magisterium, we must try to forge a common approach in dealing with our Muslim counterparts. Most of our problems are caused by the reckless utterances and activities of extremist fringe groups on both sides of the divide.