GUINEA, THE LAND OF Ahmed Sekou Toure is a majority Muslim country with 85% of the population professing the Islamic Faith with only 8% Christians.  The population of Catholics in Guinea is about300,000 yet  Guinea has been placed on the Catholic scene in a profound manner, thanks to the visibility of one man in the affairs of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. That man, Robert Cardinal Sarah,is currently the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome. Not surprisingly, the country is divided into only three dioceses; Conakry the metropolitan, Kankan, and N’Zerekore, the suffragans. But Guinea has produced outstanding priests and bishops, and a cardinal.

Whereas Cardinal Gantin arrived in Rome in 1971 fifteen years a bishop, eleven of them as Archbishops of Cotonou, it was not until six years later in 1977 that he was elevated to the cardinalate and given his first headship of a dicastery. Along the way he had been an official, a secretary, a vice-president, and a pro-president of different councils and commissions. Cardinal Arinze did not have to wait that long. He arrived in Rome in April 1984 to the position of Pro-Prefect of the Commission for Non-Christians. The following year, he was elevated to cardinal and appointed President of the same commission.

Cardinal Sarah was Archbishop of Conakry for 22 years when he was moved to Rome in 2001 and for nine years served as Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. It was only in 2010 that he was appointed President of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”.  Towards the end of 2009, Peter Cardinal Turkson arrived in Rome after being Archbishop of Cape Coast Ghana for 16 years and a cardinal for six years. Cardinal Turkson moved immediately to the Presidency of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He is currently Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

In effect, four archbishops from West Africa have served the Roman Curia, two of them retired, and two remaining in active service. Of those active, Cardinal Turkson is 69; Cardinal Sarah is 72. Not just archbishops,  Barthélemy Adoukonou  a priest of Abomeh, Benin Republic was appointed as Secretary  of the Pontifical Council for Culture in 2009, made a bishop two years later and in August 2017 retired from the only position he held in Rome.

Not all Africans serving in Rome are from West Africa. Not counting those serving in the Diplomatic corps, another African currently serving in Rome is 57 year-old Archbishop Protase Rugambwa who was recently appointed secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Archbishop Rugambwa was Bishop of Kigoma Tanzania for four years when he was moved to Rome with the personal title of archbishop and appointed an official of the congregation of which he is now secretary. His namesake and also from Tanzania Laurent Cardinal Rugambwa was modern Africa’s first cardinal. There is another Rugambwa from Tanzania; Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, a priest of Bukoba who was appointed Nuncio to Sao Tome and Principe in 2010 and currently serves as Nuncio to Honduras.

Of those Africans serving in Rome, Cardinal Sarah and Cardinal Turkson are not only the two most senior, being cardinals, they are also the two best known. And of the two, Cardinal Sarah has been more in the news for reasons not unconnected to his stance on liturgical and doctrinal issues. Lest we forget, Cardinal Sarah’s path to the cardinalate has been remarkable but not quite smooth. At 34, he was the world’s youngest bishop in 1979, appointed Archbishop of Conakry in succession to the one who ordained him a priest ten years earlier. Young yes; untested- No. His path to the priesthood took him through five seminaries across four countries.  Over a period of 12 years, he attended one seminary in Ivory Coast, two in Guinea, one in France and one in Senegal.

The issues on which Cardinal Sarah has been outspoken include abortion, euthanasia, divorce, same sex marriage all of which he opposes most vehemently. Within the Church, he is a voice for orthodoxy in an age when the Church is trying to adapt to the dynamics of modern society. At least once, Pope Francis has had to hold a ‘private meeting”

with Cardinal Sarah and to

correct the cardinal

 after openly canvassing strictly conservative views

on the liturgy.

Cardinal Sarah  speaking in Brussels last month accused some Church leaders: “High-ranking prelates, especially from opulent nations, are working to bring about changes in Christian morality concerning absolute respect for life from conception to natural death, the problem of the divorced and civilly remarried, and other problematic situations,” It was not the first time that the cardinal from Guinea  would speak boldly even to the discomfiture of powerful interests such as bishops and countries.

Perhaps Cardinal Sarah’s most powerful intervention was during the World Synod of Families in Philadelphia USA in 2015. Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, of Tunja, Columbia at the conclusion was one of those full of praise for Cardinal Sarah for his contributions. He was not alone, but as expected, many do not like the cardinal’s position. Those who hold contrary opinions to Cardinal Sarah have not been silent in opposition to his views, and to his person, with some openly campaigning for his removal. His two books “God or Nothing” and “The Power of Silence” are probably more popular than the man himself who lives a simple and quiet life shunning the limelight.

Cardinal Sarah may not be popular in Rome, he is

well respected as a voiceshun of duplicity.

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