Durban - Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, the leader of the Catholic Church in South Africa, has written to Pope Francis, tendering his resignation - in line with canon law that requires him to step down on his 75th birthday.

Napier, who is also the archbishop of Durban, celebrated his landmark birthday on Tuesday.

The pope will now assess the circumstances before selecting a successor.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Tribune, Napier said it was with mixed feelings that he prepared to step down and cope with a life not governed by the needs of the church.

“There is a feeling of uncertainty. I am not sure what lies in the future. There is the feeling that I have to go at a time when so many possibilities are opening up like the Denis Hurley Centre and its commitment to deal with social issues,” he said.

Napier, who has been cardinal for 15 years, said when his resignation was approved, it could take up to two years for him to be replaced.

He became nostalgic, remembering the day he was told that Pope John Paul II had chosen him as South Africa’s cardinal.

“It was an overwhelming moment and totally unexpected. The pope announced he would be selecting cardinals.

“There was a list, but my name was not on it. It was a sense of relief, but a week later I received a call from the pope’s adviser informing me I had been selected,” he said.

When he retires, Napier plans to return to Ireland where his journey to become a priest began in the 1960s. He also plans to catch up with family and friends and “sort out all his old photographs”.

Napier said he might also write his memoirs.

“Most bishops, when they retire, believe they have the chance to do what they’ve always wanted to do, but they become busier than ever.”

Religious groups have congratulated the cardinal on his birthday and pending retirement.

Vice-president of the Council of KwaZulu-Natal Jewry, Alana Baranov, said Napier’s inspiring and important work, particularly in the interfaith arena and in building bridges between communities, was vital to building a free and peaceful South Africa.

“We’d like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to him for all his endeavours.

“The Jewish community looks forward to continuing to work with the cardinal and other religious leaders from across the various faiths in fostering a culture of understating and tolerance in the province,” she said.

President of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, Ashwin Trikamjee, said his organisation wished the cardinal many more birthdays and good health. He said he had earned his retirement.

“We wish him well. He has been a pillar of strength in the interfaith movement in the province and his contribution to church matters is unmatched. He has made great sacrifices, not only for the church but for South Africans,” he said.

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Sunday Tribune