Leading African cardinal tours city's ministries among blacks


A Nigerian cardinal widely mentioned as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II toured Roman Catholic ministries among Baltimore's African-Americans yesterday and said he was pleased by "the image of the church here" as it serves "people who are suffering."

Cardinal Francis Anizoba Arinze, 62, who heads the Vatican's relations with non-Christian faiths, is a leading African among the pope's advisers in the Roman Curia, the powerful administrative council of the church.

For more than three years, as concerns increasingly were raised about the health of John Paul, Cardinal Arinze's name appeared repeatedly on every short list of likely papal candidates in both the Catholic and secular news media.

But yesterday, as he has done countless times around the world, he firmly deflected all questions about the possibility that he would be elected the next pope. Nearly half of the voting members of the College of Cardinals are black or Hispanic.

It is his first trip to Baltimore. He said he scheduled the three-day visit at the urging of his friend, Cardinal William H. Keeler.

As the limousine transporting the two churchmen made a whirlwind round of parish educational programs in Cherry Hill, inner-city examples of the Nehemiah low-income housing project, a shelter for homeless men on East Eager Street and a historic convent of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in the shadow of the Maryland Penitentiary in East Baltimore, the short, black-clad Nigerian spoke energetically of his desire to experience the city's racial and cultural diversity.

"Whether a person is Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or whatever," Cardinal Arinze said, "it is a fact that religion and culture often influence one another. And the different cultures of the population of this arch diocese include the African."

Last night, he was the guest of honor at a colorful Mass featuring African music and vestments at St. Francis Xavier Church, Caroline and Oliver streets, the nation's oldest parish specifically for black Catholics.

He is scheduled to meet today with national Muslim leaders at the West Fayette Street headquarters of Catholic Relief Services.

In an interview at the restored Brentwood Avenue convent of the Oblate Sisters, once the home of Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, founder of the world's first religious order for women of African descent, Cardinal Arinze said, "Our faith is not just going to church on Sunday, or going to church every day of the week for that matter. When each Mass is ended, we must live what we have prayed."

Although he has traveled to the United States many times for meetings related to his work as head of the pope's Secretariat for Inter-religious Dialogue, his three-day stay in Baltimore is his "most extensive visit to any diocese to see a variety of projects of church life," he said.

"I am happy," he said, "to see the church here showing those who are down -- from neglect, from addictions, from lack of education, from being poor, not just poor from lack of money but in other ways -- that they are loved, that they are remembered."

On the midmorning stop at Christopher Place on East Eager Street, Cardinal Arinze wondered why so many men were asleep in chairs in the day room. Marvin Hardley, the shelter's director, said they had been walking the streets all night and this was where they could rest safely. Explaining efforts to get them off addictions and find them jobs, Mr. Hardley said, "We try not to look at a place where a man's been in his life, but where he is going."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad