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Francis Arinze, Nigeria

Saturday, April 16, 2005; Page B09

The year Cardinal Francis Arinze was ordained a priest, an older colleague was receiving psychiatric care after being deemed mentally unbalanced for his desire to incorporate African rites into the ritual of the Roman Catholic Church.

A decade later, after the 1960s upheaval that brought myriad local languages into Catholic churches in place of Latin, Arinze held closely to the Vatican's position, allowing African drums to be played in only two of the many parishes he administered as a bishop.

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Through decades of change, Arinze, 72, has remained a strong voice of the establishment, leading to his rise to the No. 4 position in the Vatican and, with the death of John Paul II, a chance to become the first African pope.

John Paul gave Arinze custody of the church's style of worship, sacraments and liturgy. Arinze also helped mediate the church's rapprochement with other religions when Islam and evangelical Protestantism replaced Communism as the biggest challenge to Catholic proselytizing.

In Africa, Catholicism has found perhaps its most fertile ground. While congregations decline and seminaries close in Europe, the African church has grown by one-third in little more than a decade and is sending priests to the United States and other countries.

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