John L. Allen Jr.: Cardinal: ‘By African standards, I’m not conservative, I’m normal’

(Crux) Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze is now something of a lion in winter, a robust 84 years old. You’d never know it, however, from watching him in action, as he remains remarkably vital and engaged.

Among other things, Arinze is still a powerful voice for African Catholicism. When ten African bishops issued a collection of essays in advance of the October 2015 Synod of Bishops on the family, they asked Arinze to contribute the preface, knowing that putting his name on the book gave it an instant injection of credibility and news appeal.

(The book was titled Christ’s New Homeland – Africa, published by Ignatius Press.)

Though Arinze in particular, and the African church generally, is often seen as fairly “conservative” or “traditional” on matters of sexual morality, the family and marriage, Arinze told Crux on Wednesday that’s not how things feel to him.
“That word, ‘conservative,’ is understood by people in different ways,” he said. “Suppose you say that when we did arithmetic, we learned that 2 +2 = 4. It’s still the same, so am I then ‘conservative’ for saying so?”

Arinze also suggested that African culture reinforces traditional Christian beliefs.

“In Europe and North America, the culture is secularistic. Religion is treated as a private matter, and people seem to apologize for their religion,” he said. “In most countries of Africa, religion is a happy matter. When I go home, I put on my cassock in the airport, and it’s just normal.”

On the delicate issue of inculturation, meaning how much space Catholicism can provide to incorporate traditional African beliefs and gestures, Arinze expressed skepticism about liturgical dance, but also recognition that African worship is bound to be more expressive.

He brought the point home with a colorful explanation. [More]