Cardinal sits down for a rare interview
Jan 25, 2005
Cardinal Francis Arinze was the Vatican's point man for interreligious outreach for 18 years. Yet, he is famously reluctant to be interviewed. Cardinal Francis Arinze received an achievement award Tuesday from Thanks-Giving Square leaders.
(The Dallas Morning News, January 21, 2005) The 72-year-old Nigerian-born cardinal charmed a small crowd at Thanks-Giving Square this week with his acceptance speech for an award he got for his interfaith work.
God, he said, deserves the credit for anything he's achieved as a cleric.
"When you praise a suit well-made, you are praising the tailor," he said with a smile. "Not the wood that the suit is put on in the tailor shop."
After his speech Tuesday, he reluctantly but thoughtfully answered a few questions from The Dallas Morning News.
In 2002, after serving as the head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, he was named the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of Sacraments. That shifted his focus from what may be the Vatican's strongest outreach program to the most sacred internal workings of the Catholic Church. It also places him near the top of the Vatican hierarchy.
He was in Dallas for a conference on Catholic liturgy. He'd worked with Thanks-Giving Square on several interfaith events over the years, but this was his first visit since changing jobs. Thanks-Giving Square leaders decided to present him with an award while he was here.
He received his award on the same day news broke about a Catholic archbishop being kidnapped in Iraq. The cleric's release the next day scarcely lessens the danger that religious leaders face in many parts of the world.
There is no easy advice the Vatican can offer its clergy, Cardinal Arinze said.
"We cannot solve violence with violence. We have to try to solve hatred with love," he said.
"If we try to pay hatred back with hatred, that will not be a good solution. ... I know this is easy to say, difficult to do. As Christians, this is what Christ taught us," he said.
"Easy to say, difficult to do – but not impossible. With God's help. I must add that: with God's help."
His two decades of interfaith work spanned a time when some chasms seemed to close while others grew larger. Cardinal Arinze suggested that the bridge builders don't get as much attention as the bridge destroyers.
"There are many people sacrificing themselves for others. Often they do not catch the headlines. One evil action catches the headlines," he said.
"But occasionally, the headlines mention people like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta – occasionally. Such people remind us that there is hope."
Despite the internal focus of his current job, Cardinal Arinze thrust himself into last year's American presidential campaign when he issued a statement from the Vatican saying Catholic politicians who unambiguously support abortion are "not fit" to receive Communion.
Democratic candidate John Kerry, a Catholic, had said that he was personally opposed to abortion but supported the legal right of a woman to obtain one.
Someone who publicly embraces a particular faith has an obligation to live in accord with that faith, the cardinal said Tuesday.
"A person should be clear on what that person's religion teaches ... and make an effort to live it," he said.
"It demands sacrifice. But every student or ... athlete who wants to win in the Olympic Games knows that sacrifice is necessary if you want a good result."
Finally, the cardinal addressed the health of Pope John Paul II, now 84 and suffering visibly from Parkinson's disease.
"He is well," the cardinal said. "He is not a teenager. He cannot do skiing now. But he is well. He is calm, and he does his work in faith and love."