In from Rome, cardinal visits Nashua parish

NASHUA – A Roman Catholic cardinal visiting the state Saturday chose as his only church visit one of New Hampshire’s most ethnically diverse parishes.

Francis Cardinal Arinze, 76, was honored at a prayer service at St. Louis de Gonzague parish. Arinze, of Nigeria, accepted gifts representing the parish’s Polish, French and Spanish communities before speaking briefly, greeting and blessing parishioners and then addressing visiting Catholic clergy.

“I thank you for this unexpected, midday-prayer, Christian togetherness, not copied from anywhere, just original,” Arinze told about 200 parishioners who attended the half-hour service.

Arinze has lived and worked for 25 years in Vatican City, where he holds the position of prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Arinze was a principal adviser to Pope John Paul II and was considered a candidate for the papacy after John Paul’s death.

The cardinal is in the state as part of lecture tour in the United States. On Saturday evening, he delivered the keynote address at the president’s dinner for Magdalen College, a Catholic liberal arts college in Warner. The dinner was held at C.R. Sparks Restaurant in Bedford.

Arinze is scheduled to return to Rome on Monday.

His current position at the Vatican is with a committee that handles matters related to the liturgy and the sacraments, “the Holy Eucharist, especially, which touches everybody so personally,” Arinze said.

Arinze told the St. Louis parishioners to celebrate their Catholicism.

“It is a joy to be a Catholic. Our Catholic faith is a gift,” Arinze said.

“It is not something to hide. It is not something we apologize for.”

Father Richard Dion welcomed the cardinal, and at the end of the service, he thanked Arinze for his visit in Polish, French, Spanish and English.

Representatives of the three ethnic groups presented Arinze the gifts: maple syrup from the French, oplatek (an unleavened wafer) from the Polish and many-colored flowers from the Spanish.

Children from St. Christopher School and members of the Knights of Columbus also shared in the celebration.

“To the Polish, Dzikuj bardzo. To the French, merci beaucoup. And to the others, thank you very much,” Arinze said.