“True religion must be about peace”: Nigerian Cardinal Says, Decries Religious Fanaticism

John Cardinal Onaiyekan. Credit: ACI Africa

True religion fosters good relationships and peaceful coexistence among people, John Cardinal Onaiyekan has said.

In an interview with ACI Africa, Cardinal Onaiyekan, who turned 80 on January 29 decried religious fanaticism.

“My position is that true religion must be about peace whatsoever you do; even if you shout the name of God a thousand times and you are hurting your neighbour, killing the innocent, that is not religion but something else,” he said during the Thursday, February 1 interview.

The Nigerian Cardinal added, “I believe that religion has a major role in promoting peace. Very often people think that religion is the cause of conflict; they even blame religion for our situation.” 

“It doesn't mean when you shout religion, but when you behave with goodness, kindness, forgiveness,” the Archbishop Emeritus of Nigeria’s Abuja Archdiocese said.


He emphasized the link between true religion and peace, saying, “If religion is presented in a way that is not peaceful then it cannot achieve the possibility of the peace that we are talking about. Many people talk about religion but behind it they are talking about war.”

“Let those of us who believe in religion come together and work for a peaceful society,” Cardinal Onaiyekan said.

The Nigerian Catholic Church leader, who started his Episcopal Ministry in January 1983 as Auxiliary Bishop of Nigeria’s Ilorin Diocese went on to decry religious fanaticism that he said is common among groups that foster terrorism. 

“Without in any way targeting Islamic religion, if I was a Muslim, I would be very ashamed that they are often talking about Islamist terrorists, Islamic fanatics. Why must it always be fighting?” he posed. 

The Nigerian Cardinal, who was at the helm of Abuja Archdiocese till his retirement in November 2019 added, “You rarely hear about Christian fanatics or Christian terrorists, which means some people have captured Islamic faith and are using it for violence and war that is not Islam.”

More in Africa

“Thank God that we have cases like the event in Abu Dhabi when the Pope signed an agreement with the leader of the Suni Muslims, so in Islamic religion there are people who are for peace,” he further said. 

The Catholic Church leader, who previously served as President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) went on to applaud religious leaders keen to foster peace, saying, “These are the ones whom our own Muslims here in Nigeria should follow and emulate while we Christians should follow and emulate people like Pope Francis who is always talking peace.”

While acknowledging the link between justice and peace, the Cardinal underscored the necessity of mercy, which is practiced through forgiveness. 

“We used to say if you want peace, fight for justice. But no matter how much you fight for justice there will always be injustice in the world which means there will always be war,” he said.

In his considered opinion, “If you want peace, learn to forgive. Be prepared to give in and let it go and at the end of the day peace will reign. But if you continue to say there will be no peace until there is justice, then we will have reason to fight and continue to fight.” 


“In our world today, we are sad; things are not getting better as far as peace is concerned; and above all in the last decade, religion has been used for war, which is very disgraceful and very depressing,” Cardinal Onaiyekan told ACI Africa during the February 1 interview.

Abah Anthony John is a Nigerian Journalist with great enthusiasm and interest for Catholic Church Communication and Media Apostolate. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication from Benue State University, Makurdi, Benue State Nigeria. He has vast experience in Print,  Electronic and Multi-Media Production.