Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria has been appointed a member of the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI. Along wth five others, the new Cardinal will be conferred with his ‘red hat’ at a Consistory to be held at St Peter’s on 24 November. With these new appointments the College of Cardinals will now have 122 Cardinals eligible to vote in a Conclave. It also means that Nigeria now has three Cardinals.
The new Cardinal was born in Kabba on 29 January 1944. He was ordained a priest for the diocese of Ilorin in 1969. He taught and was Rector of Ss Peter & Paul Major seminary in Ibadan for several years. Even at that time his many talents were evident to all and he served on many Church Commissions, both at home in Nigeria and in the wider Church as well as other bodies.
He has served as President of the Nigerian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria. For some years he was a member of the International Theological Commission, which advises the Holy Father on theological matters. He has received many awards, the latest was the Pax Christi International Peace award. He was also on the list for this year’s nobel Peace Prize.
He remains very much a welcome speaker at international gatherings, particularly those relating to Inter-Religious Dialogue. He is skilled in debate and is also well able to present his point of view in a respectful way for others of a different mindset.
In 1982 he was ordained Auxiliary bishop of Ilorin by Pope John Paul II on 6 January 1983, with his parents and family members present in St Peter’s Basilica for the occasion. He succeeded Bishop William O’Mahony SMA as Bishop of Ilorin the following year (20 October 1984).
Less than six years later he was appointed as Coadjutor Bishop of Abuja, succeeding Cardinal Dominic Ekandem on 28 September 1992. In March 1994 the diocese of Abuja was raised to the status of an Archdiocese and Bishop Onaiyekan became its first Archbishop.
In what many see as a long overdue recognition, Cardinal Onaiyekan will see his already heavy workload made even heavier by the weighty responsibilities which will now rest on his broad shoulders. SMA members who worked with him, in Ilorin and Abuja, attest to his humanity and concern for the poor and know him as a defender of the poor.
The Provincial Leader of the Irish Province, Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll, and all the members of the Province, particularly those who worked with him in Ilorin and Abuja, wish Cardinal Onaiyekan every grace and blessing as he assumes further responsibilities in the Church. May the Lord watch over him and bless him with the graces he needs to discharge his office. Ad Multos Annos!