Why Cardinal Francis Arinze Matters in the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda, Part 3

By Nchumbonga George Lekelefac

Cardinal Arinze: Teacher and Formator to future Cardinal Tumi and Bishop Lysinge

From 1961 to 1962, Father Dr. Arinze was professor of liturgy, logic, and basic philosophy at Bigard Memorial Seminary. It is worth noting that the then Fr. Dr. Arinze was the first ever black and only African ingenuous formator at Bigard. The rest of the members of staff were Irish. The then Father Dr. Arinze taught parts of philosophy and logic and liturgy in Bigard Memorial Seminary in 1961 and 1962.

Fascinatingly in 1961, Cardinal Arinze taught the then seminarian Francis Lysinge and the then seminarian Christian Tumi who were in their second year of Philosphy studies. They were his students in Logic, History of Philosophy, French and Latin.  Captivatingly, Fr. Dr. Arinze had studied French in Rome and could even teach it to English Speaking Cameroonians. Later, in 1962, both Christian Tumi and Francis Lysinge were Cardinal Arinze’s students in Epistemologyin their third year of Philosophy.  Cardinal Arinze noted admirably in ter alia: “…And they were brilliant students.” At the end of 1962, Fr. Arinze was appointed regional secretary for Catholic education for the eastern part of Nigeria, so left Bigard Memorial Seminary to continue his service of the Priesthood.

Francis Arinze: Co-adjutor Bishop, Archbishop and Cardinal: Visits to Cameroon

Father Francis Arinze became the youngest Roman Catholic bishop in the world when he was consecrated on 29 August 1965, at the age of 32. He was appointed titular bishop of Fissiana and named Coadjutor to the Archbishop of Onitsha, Nigeria. He attended the final session of the Second Vatican Council in that same year. He became Archbishop of Onitsha on 26 June 1967 until 8 April 1985 when he resigned from his service in Onitsha, and Pope John Paul II named him a Cardinal-Deacon of San Giovanni della Pigna in the consistory held on 25 May 1985; he was raised to the rank of cardinal-priest in 1996 and raised as a cardinal -bishop by Pope Benedict XVI. He was the first native African to head his diocese, succeeding Archbishop Charles Heerey, an Irish missionary. As a Cardinal from Rome, Cardinal Arinze visited Cardinal Christian Tumi in Douala in the 1990, two years after his former student – Christian Tumi was created cardinal. Pope John Paul II created Archbishop Christian Tumi a cardinal on 28 June 1988 assigning him as Cardinal-Priest the title of Santi Martiridell’ Uganda a Poggio Ameno on 28 June 1988.Cardinal Arinze informed that Cardinal Tumi, Bishop Lysinge and Archbishop Paul Verdzekov visited him in Rome sometimes and concluded that Archbishop Cornelius Esua was never his student at Bigard, but Cardinal Arinze still remembers sometimes meeting him during his visit to Rome.

Card. Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals noted on Friday, November 18, 2022 in a tribute titled: “A Cardinal man of God and dear friend.” He stated: “I met Cardinal Francis Arinze in January 1982. He was 50 years of age, but he had already been Bishop for 18 years.

Pope John Paul II had called him to Rome to learn more about the situation of the Church in Nigeria in view of the trip to that nation, scheduled for the following month of February.

After the meeting and lunch with the Holy Father, Archbishop Arinze met with Msgr. Justin Rigali and with me, as they were charged with helping to prepare this trip. I remember that he gave us information, ideas and suggestions that were very useful and appreciated by Pope John Paul II for the pastoral spirit they revealed.

During that trip, from 12 to 19 February 1982, Pope John Paul II got to know Archbishop Arinze well and returned from that apostolic visit with the intention of calling him to Rome at the helm of a Dicastery of the Roman Curia, as soon as he the opportunity was presented, as it did in 1984.

In Rome, Cardinal Arinze immediately received great esteem and sympathy especially for his kindness, which creates fraternity and friendship. He combines the characteristics of the African soul with a great Christian spirit, simplicity and deep attachment to the Pope.

In these long years here in Rome, Cardinal Arinze has honored Africa, because he is an authentic man of God, eager to show everyone the way that leads to heaven. In him there is also great coherence between what he says, what he thinks and what he does.

Given the profound spirituality that distinguishes him, in 2009 Pope Benedict asked him to preach the Spiritual Exercises to the Pope and the Curia. I took part in that spirituality course and I remember the depth of the reflections and the love for God and the Church that transpired from the words of Card. Arinze.

He had chosen as the theme: “The priest meets Jesus and follows him”.

At the close of that day, Pope Benedict XVI publicly thanked Cardinal Arinze, saying: “he did not offer us theological acrobatics… but the good bread of our faith. His preaching was permeated by Sacred Scripture, with a great familiarity with the Word of God, read in the context of the living Church. I admired and liked the references to the concrete experience of his fifty years of priesthood “.

The 90 years of age of Cardinal Arinze is a reason for joy and spontaneously gives birth to the wish that God will be light, support and comfort for him for many more years, so that he can continue to sow so much good in our secularized society and marked by numerous problems.” As you could see, Cardinal is an authentic man of God.

Cardinal Arinze, the Lion of Africa’s Ecclesial World

Rev. Maurice Agbaw-Ebai, Boston MA, USA noted; “My generation of African Catholics have overtime, come to identify the African presence at the Vatican with the towering figure of Francis Cardinal Arinze. In countless ways, this son of Onitsha Archdiocese has become the Father-figure of African Catholicism, and has delivered for Africa on the global stage: a serene, kindly and stable persona. Called to Rome by St. John Paul the Great, Cardinal Arinze’s impeccable service at both the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue and the Congregation for Divine Worship, amidst other curial duties, showed global Catholicism that Africa is capable of delivering at the highest ecclesial level. As a Jesuit friend of mine in the US once said to me, Cardinal Arinze has been a steady presence, and has made Africa proud. As His Eminence celebrates 90 years of the gift of life, I join many the world over to offer thanks to God Almighty for the gift of this great son of the Church in Africa, for his deep faith and faithful witness, for his love for Jesus Christ and the Church. Ad multosannos, Your Eminence. You are truly the Lion of the African Ecclesiastical world.”


As you can see, Cardinal Arinze matters because he was a good formator and teacher of the only Cameroonian Cardinal Christian Tumi and Bishop Francis Teke Lysinge. In addition, he was very close to Bernard Nsokika Fonlon whose cause of beatification he has tirelessly reminded the bishops but which has unfortunately fallen on deaf ears. It is my wish that the present Metropolitan of Bamenda, Archbishop Andrew Nkea could remind Bishop George Nkuo on the importance of introducing the beatification cause of Bernard Fonlon. It is also my wish that Archbishop Nkea will keep the connection alive between him and Cardinal Arinze who was a formator and teacher to our beloved bishops as I have attempted to demonstrate in this research article. I wish Cardinal Arinze a happy 90th birthday and many more years in the Lord’s vineyard.

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