Ivory Coast’s new cardinal intends to advance peace in his country

Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Feb 26, 2014 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa, the newly-elevated cardinal from Ivory Coast, has said he wants to combat politicians' “verbal violence,” and is confident that his new role can advance peace in the nation.

The red biretta gives the Archbishop of Abidjan, the de facto capital of Ivory Coast, a greater weight in the country which has suffered two civil wars since 2002.

Cardinal Kutwa was born in 1945, and was ordained a priest of the Abidjan archdiocese in 1971.

He was then appointed Archbishop of Gagnoa in 2001. While there, he represented Ivory Coast in the 2005 Synod of Bishops.

Much of his time in Gagnoa was marked by the First Ivorian Civil War, which split the country largely along a north-south line.

A year before the war ended in 2007, Cardinal Kutwa was transferred to the Archdiocese of Abidjan.

When a second civil war broke out in Ivory Coast in 2011 following a disputed election, Cardinal Kutwa focused his efforts on interreligious dialogue and reconciliation.

Forces loyal to the presidential challenger, Alassane Ouattara, a Muslim from Ivory Coast’s north, marched on Abidjan at the end of March. Thousands of Ivorians were killed in the violence which lasted only a few weeks, and hundreds of thousands displaced. Cardinal Kutwa was himself forced into hiding.

After Ouattara had been installed as president following the violence, Cardinal Kutwa, on April 24, 2011, encouraged Ivorians “to receive and to give pardon so that we may live in peace.”

“Yes, Ivory Coast must be a land of friendship and fraternity, whether you are Muslim or Christian, from the North or the South, white or black, from here or elsewhere … Today more than ever, we must seek to love others.”

Early in 2012, Cardinal Kutwa indicated his continued commitment to reconciliation, asking that Ouattara release political prisoners who had supported the previous president, a Catholic from the south of the country, according to Le Nouveau Courier. He also lamented the continuing exile of many Ivorians.

In a homily delivered in October 2013, he reminded Catholics of their call “to share with the poor and oppressed of every kind,” adding that “engagement for peace, justice, human rights, and the promotion of the human person must be a preoccupation for all Christians.”

The ordained, he said, should take up “courageous and prophetic positions in the face of the corruption of political and economic power … using what the Church possesses for its service to the poorest.”

It was announced Jan. 12 that Pope Francis would elevate him to the college of cardinals, and in an interview with Abidjan’s daily, Nord-Sud, shortly after, the prelate again emphasized his commitment to healing the wounds of Ivorians.

“What I'd like to combat precisely is the verbal violence of politicians … It isn't just the truth which matters, but the form in which it's proposed. If the truth isn't pronounced with good form, the person you speak it to will feel aggression and refuse what's offered.”

Cardinal Kutwa was one of 19 men added to the college of cardinals in the Feb. 22 consistory. He was one of two Africans, alongside Cardinal Ouedraogo of Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso. His two predecessors as Archbishop of Abidjan were also named cardinals.

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