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WFU Commencement to Feature Cardinal

By Kimberly Griffing
(336) 758-5237
Feb. 4, 1999

Cardinal Francis Arinze, one of the Roman Catholic Church's most renowned leaders, will deliver Wake Forest University's 1999 commencement address on May 17.

Arinze, an international figure who was made cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 1985, is frequently mentioned as a possible successor to the pope. He is president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Vatican's office for promoting mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between Catholics and followers of other religions.

"His work as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue brings ideal conclusion to this Year of Globalization and Diversity," said Wake Forest President Thomas K. Hearn Jr. "The Wake Forest community is fortunate and grateful to have Cardinal Arinze as our honored guest."

Hearn, along with his wife, Laura, extended Arinze an invitation to speak at commencement during a personal audience in Rome. "We left with a sense of his deep piety, keen intellect and warm engaging personality," Hearn said of the visit.

A 1998 Wall Street Journal article placed Arinze "near the top of the list" among papacy candidates. If elected, Arinze would be the first black pope since the reign of St. Gelasius I ended in 496. The article also described the cardinal as "theologically conservative, with a charismatic personality."

Born in Nigeria, Arinze became an ordained priest in 1958, bishop in 1965 and an archbishop two years later. His work for the Roman Catholic Church has included a variety of major international positions.

In Africa, he served as the regional Catholic education secretary for eastern Nigeria, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, and vice president for Africa of the United Bible Societies.

In 1985, Arinze was appointed president of the Secretariat for Non-Christians, which was later re-named the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. In addition to the council, Arinze serves on several sacred congregations of the Vatican, including the Doctrine of the Faith, the Causes of Saints, and the Evangelization of Peoples. Arinze is also part of a small group helping plan Jubilee 2000, the church's millennium celebration.

Arinze's nephew, Niki, is a sophomore member of the men's basketball team who is out for the season while recovering from an injury. Ifeanyi Arinze, Niki's father and a professor at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, is a member of Wake Forest's Parents' Council.

Commencement will conclude the university's Year of Globalization and Diversity, a yearlong series of events focusing on the world's development into a more global community.

For information about commencement or other events during the year, call 336-758-5788.

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