John Cardinal Onaiyekan

Posted: November 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

By Adamu Adamu
On Wednesday, October 24, 2012, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI named our own Archbishop John Onaiyekan a Cardinal. In the Christian hierarchy, next only to the Pontiff himself, a Cardinal is the highest-ranking official in the Catholic leadership structure. There had been much speculation about it for some time now; and, for those who knew, it was not totally unexpected; and by the common consent of all those who commented, it was an elevation that was well-deserved. When he was informed about it, he only said it came as a delightful surprise; but, as is characteristic of him, he gave all the credit to God. Just as it should be.

And just as it has always been a cause of anguish for Nigerians that in the comity of nations, their country is often only remembered and condemned for the many inequities of its ubiquitous citizens; it must today be an occasion for joyful celebration that here is one of us scaling to the pinnacle of the leadership of Christendom.

Not in the level of riches accumulated, which someone in the market will one day hope to reach; nor in the mundane exercise of earthly power, which any one of the many midget of politicians will one day hope to beat; and nor yet in devilry, which will have been all too easy for a Nigerian; but in a matter of greater moment—the matter of religious faith, theological scholarship and Christian spiritualism.

No doubt, a life of faith is not for everyone, and leadership in it is obviously only for a select few who have read and who have readied themselves. It is a life of self-denial and self-effacement—to deny oneself what all others covet, to rise above that into which all others sink, and to conquer by moral authority what all others fear.

Always stubborn in his insistence to seek not the pleasure of Man but the grace that issues from God, Onaiyekan is someone who has served his church and Pontiff with diligence and distinction and with dignity and grace; and in his encounter with non-Christians, he has nothing but goodliness and genuine fellowship for all. And in our troubled debacle, he remains a leader whose sight and compassion rise above and see through the deafening sound and the blinding dust of detonated bombs and dynamites, and the crackle of gunfire and the disconsolate grief of distraught flocks.

Yet as the test wore on, even an Onaiyekan could get fed up. Once in 2006, he appeared at his wit’s end and for once out of patience. Reviewing the spate of violence then sweeping parts of the North, he wondered aloud how it was that a crisis in which violence against Christians and their churches by Muslims could be said to be not a religious crisis, as the Muslim leadership insisted.

At that time, we all suffered his pain and were in the same quandary in which His Grace found himself. And the reality of course was that the motivation was, no doubt, religious, even if so tragically mistaken and so obviously wrong and reprehensible; but to that extent must it also be viewed as religious, even though it could never qualify or count as a religious act, and would forever stand condemned. But so also would the revenge for it, in as much as it was visited on innocent persons; for, no amount of provocation or level of pain should be made to justify the contrived culpability or retaliation by way of substituted suffering imposed against an innocent soul.

As it is, today we live in a needlessly divided world and divided cities and divided wards. On the world level, there are Muslims whose view of Christians is defined only by the Crusades and not by a correct interpretation of the Holy Qur’an, or by a full understanding of the amicable nature of the practical relationship between the Holy Prophet [SAW] and the Christians of his time—and this has often led Muslims to a negation of Christian spiritual reality.

On the other hand are Christians whose image of Islam and Muslims is defined by Turks knocking on the gates of Vienna or the battalion of Charles Martel at Tours, either of which almost always recalls and leads to a validation of those unfortunate stereotypes created by the pens of medieval scholars and perpetuated by Orientalism and Sunday School.

From the international level, it has come to the national and local levels; but the truth is not to be found in any of these extremes and the two worlds must rise above.

It is an eloquent testimony to the greatness of Cardinal Onaiyekan that he should soar so high and be steeped so deep in a tradition, and yet be so totally free of its avoidable prejudices. With is brad mind and practiced charity to all, but especially across the religious divide, His grace was all ready to take a wounded people to a Promised Land, a land of mutual respect full of brothers-keepers who have been delivered from the pain and futility of being prisoners to history.

Since he abruptly left, the post-Onaiyekan Christian scene has been that much poorer because of the loss of that sympathetic engagement and constructive approach for which he is so well-known.
And, alas, in its place, we see a deliberate and orchestrated sire in liturgical demagogy quite at variance with our situation and which neither reduces Christian pain nor leads towards a resolution of the crisis; and may in fact have caused stirrings of reverse ecumenism at a time when unity among Christian sects is needed to respond to the tragedy with interdenominational gospel effort.

As Engineer SS Salifu, former Secretary-General of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said, in his pursuit after and his defence of Christian interests, he does everything with courage and dogged insistence, but without fire-spitting demagoguery. This approach produces better results for Christianity and engenders better understanding between it and other religions.

For the man of God who does what he does for some higher purpose, what people think of or say about his efforts hardly matters. Indeed, what glory other than that of God should one celebrate? It goes without saying that there cannot be anything of inherently glory in a world that is itself passing away, nor yet in the world reasons enough to cover up the truth for the sake of some short-term, transient gain in a world that is itself temporary.

Every religion is a house to its adherents; and each religion boasts of pillar for its doctrines; but, as it is, no one lives in pillars, no matter how stately or beautifully constructed; for, pillars are there but to support a roof.

For all religions, that roof is justice; and each and every religion must be, and be seen to be, unconditionally committed to justice—whoever it is for or against.
We are all witnesses to the fact that as far as it is open for us to know, Onaiyekan has been a true Christian leader from who Muslims have nothing to fear and everything to hope for. “And surely you will find nearest in affection to those who believe those who say, “We are Christians.” This is because among them are priests and monks and they are not arrogant.” [Holy Qur’an 5:82] For the entirety of his Archbishopric and before, and throughout the archdiocese for which he was responsible and beyond, His Grace has been a true bishop of Christ [AS].

And we shall wait patiently by his side till the time comes when he becomes the Bishop of Rome.  


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