CHARLESTON — Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, made a special visit to the Diocese of Charles-ton and celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on July 23.
Bishop Robert J. Baker said Cardinal Arinze came to the Lowcountry after speaking at Family Honor’s national conference on the theology of the body, held in Jacksonville, Fla., July 21-22. He said the cardinal had visited the diocese once before for a private visit but that this was his first time celebrating a public Mass here.
Hundreds of people filled the pews of the cathedral, and the Mass began with a procession of representatives from the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Peter Claver, Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The cathedral’s choir performed some special music with African roots, including the inspiring song “Siyahamba.”
The Nigerian cardinal, clad in brightly colored vestments, stopped to greet some people in the pews and blessed the crowd as he made his way up the aisle.
During his homily, he referred to the messages in the day’s Scripture readings. He spoke about the constant presence of Jesus Christ and the spiritual gifts Catholics receive through focusing on him, especially through the sacraments.
“Christ is our peace,” he said during his homily at the 11:15 a.m. Mass. “Christ is the way, the truth and the life. He looks after us in the sacraments … he shepherds us in the truth.”
Cardinal Arinze brought up the topic of violence in the Middle East and the fact that Pope Benedict XVI had declared that day a time of prayer for peace.
He referred to the second reading, which described the uniting power of belief in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:13-18), and talked about the importance of that belief as a means to creating unity in daily life and in the world.
“Every one of us can be a promoter of peace in the family, in our place of work, in society, our parish, our diocese, and in the world,” he said. “ …We pray that all those who have responsibility in these matters in the Middle East will be guided by the best principles of human rights.”
Cardinal Arinze, who has lived in Rome since 1985, has the challenging job of making sure that the integrity of the Mass is maintained throughout the Catholic world, especially with the many cultures and worship styles that are regularly incorporated into the liturgy. On Sunday, he discussed the stability of the church, its teachings and sacraments, and why this strengthens Catholicism.
“Our faith is not subject to market prices,” he said. “The church is a sure guide in faith and morals in a world where real truth is not always clear. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever!”
Cardinal Arinze stressed the importance of Scripture reading and suggested that study of the catechism can help Catholics to learn more about the foundations of their faith. With a bit of light humor, he referred to what a challenge the catechism reading might be in today’s increasingly busy society.
“Every family should have the Bible, not just on the shelf but read every day,” he said. “And the catechism … if you read one page a day, it will take you two years to finish!”
After the Mass, the cardinal visited with people in the parish hall and posed for photographs. Bishop Baker said Cardinal Arinze himself had offered to come to Charleston to celebrate Mass, and he praised all the people who worked to put the liturgy together.
The bishop also said that this is a particularly challenging time for the cardinal in his role as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. This congregation must give final approval for the English translation of the Roman Missal, which was under discussion at the U.S. bishops’ June meeting.
“Cardinal Arinze is a charming person who had vast experience as a pastor and bishop before he became a cardinal,” he said. “He stresses the importance of the Catholic message, that we as Catholics shouldn’t pick and choose which teachings to follow.”
Cardinal Arinze was born in 1932 in the Onitsha area of Nigeria, and became Catholic after attending a mission school with his older brother. He was ordained as a priest in Rome in his early 20s and in 1967 became the youngest bishop in the world at that time at age 35. He was named a cardinal in 1985 and shortly after was appointed by Pope John Paul II as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He held that position until October 2002.