“Arinze was born in Eziowelle, Anambra, Nigeria. A convert from an African traditional religion, he was baptized on his ninth birthday (1 November 1941) by Father Michael Tansi, who was beatified by John Paul II in 1998. His parents later converted to Catholicism. At age 15, he entered All Hallows Seminary of Onitsha from which he graduated and earned a philosophy degree in 1950. His father was initially opposed to his entering the seminary, but after seeing how much Francis enjoyed it, he encouraged him. Arinze stayed at All Hallows until 1953 to teach. In 1955, he went to Rome to study theology at the Pontifical Urban University, where he ultimately earned a doctorate in sacred theology summa cum laude. On 23 November 1958, at the chapel of the university, Arinze was ordained to the priesthood by Gregorio Pietro Agagianian, pro-prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fide).
After ordination, Father Arinze remained in Rome, earning a master’s in theology in 1959 and doctorate in 1960. His doctoral thesis on “Ibo Sacrifice as an Introduction to the Catechesis of Holy Mass” was the basis for his much used reference work, “Sacrifice in Ibo Religion”, published in 1970. From 1961 to 1962, Arinze was professor of liturgy, logic, and basic philosophy at Bigard Memorial Seminary. From there, he was appointed regional secretary for Catholic education for the eastern part of Nigeria. Eventually, Arinze was transferred to London, where he attended the Institute of Education and graduated in 1964.
On 8 April 1985, Arinze resigned from his post in Onitsha, and the Pope named him a Cardinal-Deacon of San Giovanni della Pigna in the consistory held on 25 May 1985; he was raised to the rank of cardinal-priest in 1996. Two days following his elevation to cardinal deacon, Arinze was appointed President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
He served in various related capacities including the president of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. He also received honours in this capacity: On 24 October 1999 he received a gold medallion from the International Council of Christians and Jews for his outstanding achievements in inter-faith relations. He traveled extensively and became a popular speaker in the United States.”