Posted on August 20, 2019

‘You Ask Them: Are You Serious?’: An Interview with Cardinal Arinze

Dan Hitchens, Catholic Herald (UK), July 25, 2019

It’s a sunny morning in London on the feast of Corpus Christi and, not coincidentally, I’m standing outside the presbytery of Corpus Christi Church waiting for someone to answer the door. Somewhat to my surprise, it is opened by the man I’ve come to interview: Cardinal Francis Arinze, who is in town to celebrate Mass. {snip}


At other times he speaks the careful, precise language of a diplomat. On the difficult subject of migration, for instance, he speaks in cautious generalities. It’s a subject the cardinal knows from first-hand experience. On June 26 1967, he was appointed Archbishop of Onitsha, a week before the Nigerian civil war erupted. He was effectively a refugee, fleeing from one area to another as the theatre of war changed, while organising aid for the many displaced people. What did he learn from that experience? The cardinal generalises: “It is best for a person to stay in that person’s own land – country, town, area – and work there.” But sometimes, he says, that isn’t possible. And “in general, we cannot deny a human person the right to look for another area where you will have more peace, or even more study, culture or economic opportunity.”

Governments, he says, also have a duty to be realistic. “Each government has to see, for how many people can they provide? Not only their entrance: lodging, work, family, cultural insertion.” (One of the cardinal’s verbal habits is this kind of listing, as though drawing up a table of contents.) Moreover, he says, countries that lose their young people are losing the people who can build that nation’s future. “So the countries in Europe and America can sometimes help best, not by encouraging the young people to come to Europe as if they looked on Europe as heaven – a place where money grows on trees – but to help the countries from which they come.”

Leaders of countries with high rates of emigration, he says, should examine their consciences and ask why so many people are leaving. So should those who sell arms, which indirectly cause mass migration.

Some, the cardinal says, tell him this is “all theory”. The pitch of his voice rises. “It is not theory. It is fact.” For people who come to Europe: “Where is their future: work, family life, culture, religion? Think of all that.” He concludes this discourse: “So it’s all these considerations we must make, when we mention the word ‘migrant’.”