Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis, has said he is thinking about visiting Nigeria. Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, who disclosed the Pope’s intending visit to Daily Sun exclusively, in Abuja, said no date has been fixed for the visit.
Recall that Pope John Paul 11 (now Saint Pope John Paul 11), was the first Pope to visit Nigeria in February, 1982. He visited Nigeria again in March, 1998, during the administration of late General Sani Abacha and beatified the late Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, a Cistercian monk, at Oba, Anambra state.
Onaiyekan said the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit Nigeria during the recent Ad Limina visit of the CBCN to the Vatican.
Onaiyekan said upon making the request, the Pope said he is thinking about visiting Nigeria as part of his programme.
The former President of the Christian Association of Nigeria however said since the Pope is head of state and head of the Catholic Church; he cannot visit Nigeria without the invitation of the Federal Government.
Asked if the CBCN has reached the Federal Government on the visit, Onaiyekan said the CBCN is awaiting the Pope’s response before approaching the government.
He added that since the Vatican has an ambassador in Nigeria (the Papal Nuncio) and the Federal Government has an ambassador in the Vatican, arranging the visit will not be problematic as both envoys will liaise with the respective authorities.
Speaking about the request by the CBCN, Onaiyekan said “Yes we did. The Pope said he is thinking about it, but no fixed date at all.
“The only thing that the Pope said is that he is also thinking about it among his programme, but he cannot say when.”
Onaiyekan added, “Both the government and the Church will be responsible for the visit. Whenever a Pope visits a nation, he visits as a head of state, as well as head of the Catholic Church.
“So, both governments and Church are involved. In other words, a Pope will not visit a country if the government of that country does not invite him.
“We have not reached the stage of contacting the government yet. All the formalities will normally start after there is a tentative decision by the Pope to visit. There is no point telling government to be making moves if the Pope is not thinking yet of visiting.
“In any case, you know that first; we have a Pope’s ambassador here in Nigeria and a Nigerian ambassador in the Holy See. So, these are the people who will handle all those diplomatic aspects,” Onaiyekan concluded.