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Notre Dame will honor papal candidate with degree

Kate Antonacci | Thursday, April 14, 2005

Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria, who has been mentioned in many media accounts as a leading candidate for pope, will be awarded an honorary degree at Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony May 15, University sources confirmed.

Theology professor Law-rence Cunningham said the University plans to award Arinze an honorary doctorate at graduation, unless he is named pope before then.

“If [Arinze is elected pope] he obviously will not be at the commencement,” Cunningham told The Observer for an article published April 4.

A second University source also confirmed the award.

However, Dennis Brown, associate director of Notre Dame News and Information, said the University is “not prepared to announce the honorary degrees at this time.”

Arinze, 72, was close to Pope John Paul II, who chose the Nigerian cardinal to lead the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue in 1985. Arinze, as the Prefect of Divine Worship and the Disciple of the Sacraments, has been actively involved in creating interfaith dialogue among Catholics, Hindus and Muslims.

As a convert, he is known for being able to speak authoritatively on cross-cultural issues, especially in Nigeria where nearly half of the population is Muslim. According to CNN.com, though Arinze is considered theologically conservative, he is embraced by Catholic liberals for his support of Third World countries.

And as the Church’s cardinals prepare to choose a new pope, Arinze’s name has been mentioned on the list of possible candidates to succeed Pope John Paul II.

If elected pope, Arinze would be the first black pope in 1,513 years. There has been much discussion surrounding the possibility of the next pope being from the Third World, including countries in Central America, Latin America, Asia and Africa. Pope John Paul II believed in reaching out to the large poor Catholic population, and a pope from a Third World nation would help further these efforts, Cunningham said.

“It would be good to have someone from, say, Africa, which has the fastest growing Catholic population, or Latin America,” Cunningham said. “I think it would be a terrific thing for the Church – after all the Church is a Catholic Church.”

Brown said the University finalized the list of honorary doctorate recipients Wednesday and will release the names early next week.