THE CHURCH AND PROPHETIC WITNESSING IN NIGERIA
“And you shall be my witnesses . . . even to the remotest parts of the world” (Acts 1:8)
A Communiqué issued at the end of the Second Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), which held at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, Ogui, Enugu, Enugu State, 19 – 27 August, 2021
We, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, held our Second Plenary Meeting for the year at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, Ogui, Enugu, Enugu State, from 19 to 27 August 2021. Having prayerfully reflected on issues affecting the Church and the Nigerian State, we now issue this Communiqué.
2. A CALL FOR PROPHETIC WITNESSING, CONVICTION AND RESILIENCE
The present times demand that we listen anew to the Lord’s command to us to be prophetic witnesses (Acts 1:8). A prophet is not merely one who predicts the future, but one who reinterprets the past, explains the will of God for the present, and in this way, shows the right path to the future. As witnesses, we must show clearly and unmistakably that we firmly believe what we are seeking to propose to others; that we are truly living what we believe, courageously preaching what we live and are ready to defend that message, even with our very lives. After all, what is faith if it lacks resilience?
Resilience amidst challenges is however never a call to indolence or mere passivity. As Christians, we are followers of Jesus Christ and should always adopt our Lord’s approach of prayer and concrete action as a strategy for survival. In this wise, we all are called to witness to our faith with conviction wherever we find ourselves: in the Church, at home in the family, in the market places, in the field of politics, and commerce, in public offices and in other areas of life, especially when it is not convenient. We admonish all Christians, while continuing to pray and propose Christian values, to always seek out ways of doing something concrete to make the society better.
3. STATE OF THE NATION
Increasing Insecurity and Violence: Respect for the Sanctity of Human Life
We strongly advocate total respect for the sanctity of human life. Regrettably, except for the civil war, our nation has never witnessed the kind of widespread evil, wanton destruction and murderous bloodletting. Life has never been so cheap, nor has Nigeria ever been at the stage we are now. Deaths in the hands of kidnappers, killer herdsmen, bandits, terrorist groups have made Nigeria one of the most terrorized countries in the world. The abductions of school children present us with the prospects of a traumatized generation of young people. We recognize the efforts being made by Government to fight insecurity in the land. However, we stress that Government needs to show more strategic commitment and sincerity in this fight and take full responsibility for the present culture of violence and impunity in the country. Furthermore, Government must be balanced and seen to be so in its response to the challenges of insecurity in every segment of the citizenry. In the same vein, we call on all citizens to be law-abiding, vigilant, live by sound moral principles and, above all, obey the commandments of God. We continue to plead with all to shun violence and criminality. We urge Government at all levels to provide the enabling environment that would make it possible for both the Government and the private sector to create job opportunities for our teeming youth population. This would surely reduce the danger of insecurity and unrest in our land.
National Unity, Justice, Peace and Development
We are grateful to God that we still exist as one nation. This is in spite of sundry agitations and struggles for self-determination. We observe that the agitations and tensions are mainly as a result of bad governance, injustice, inequity, and unfairness in appointments and distribution of resources to parts of the country. We recognize the rights of peoples to self-determination; yet we emphasize that the exercise of such rights must be within the confines of the rule of law. We urge the Government to ensure a just and fair trial of the arrested key players in the struggles. To mismanage these cases is to trigger off further avoidable unrest. We urge both Government and citizens to work for a nation in which everyone and every part, irrespective of differences of tribe or religion or political affiliation, will have a sense of belonging. We reiterate that the struggle for the ‘soul’ of Nigeria, that is presently ongoing, will not be won by ethnic cleansing, nepotism, kidnapping and banditry but by love, fairness and equity, common good and patriotism. We therefore enjoin Government and all Nigerians to toe the path of justice and conciliatory dialogue and see themselves as agents of peace and development in order to ensure a harmonious and united nation. While we congratulate the Federal Government for enacting the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, we advise that the Federal Government address the genuine concerns of the people regarding some clauses in the Act. It is our hope that the implementation of the provisions of the law will truly serve the common good.
Politics and Electoral Reform
We as Church are keenly interested in the political situation of our country. Although the Church does not support any political party, but she supports every Government that prioritizes the welfare of the citizens. In the same way, the Church vehemently condemns Government policies that do not promote development and the common good. We insist that there is an urgent need for a fair and credible electoral process, through which our political leaders emerge. We therefore state loud and clear that the recent voting by the National Assembly against electronic transmission of results of elections will create opening for further manipulation of electoral votes and lay the foundation for more conflicts in future elections. We call on the National Assembly to reconsider its position in the light of world best practices.
4. CELEBRATING THE HOLY EUCHARIST, THE MYSTERY OF FAITH
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council rightly proclaimed the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life (Lumen Gentium 11). This makes the Eucharist central to the life of the Church. The heart of the mystery of the Church is in the Eucharist (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 1), the mystery of faith. This mystery of faith certainly deserves to be celebrated with untainted faith, deep love and manifest devotion, always taking care that monetary matters do not distract the faithful or detract from the solemnity of the celebration. We therefore urge priests to show and grow their commitment to the Eucharist. They are to celebrate the Eucharist as “servants” of the mystery and not “masters” of it. As servants, priests are called to the consciousness that adding or subtracting from the approved Missal text does not build up the faith of the people. We exhort our priests to intensify their efforts in making adequate preparation of themselves and of the people. In celebrating the Holy Eucharist with great reverence, devotion and love, the people are nourished in the Word of God and their faith is strengthened by a worthy reception of the Holy Communion.
5. INTENSIFYING CATECHESIS AND EVANGELIZATION
Regardless of our challenges, all of us are called to take part in the missionary “going forth” to encounter the men and women of our time where they are. But for that to happen, it is incumbent on all Christians to make an unconditional option for Christ even in critical times such as the ones we are passing through today. Flight from God, the jettisoning or watering down of the Gospel values, resort to violence through revenge killings and reprisal attacks and a return to fetishism and idolatry in the face of difficulties can never constitute enduring solutions. For as the Psalmist sings, “Those who choose other gods increase their sorrows” (Ps. 16:4). That is why it is now all the more imperative for all teachers of the faith but especially, Bishops, Priests and Religious, employing the use of the communications media, homilies, relevant literature, catechisms and other wholesome strategies, to rededicate themselves to intensified catechesis and the evangelization of our people. Indeed, all teachers of the faith have a duty to challenge the faithful to embrace the Gospel in its totality with an exemplary witness of life rooted in Christ as well as fidelity to Him in the living out of the temporal realities: the family, culture, professional commitment in the world of work, science and research, the exercise of social, economic and political responsibilities.
6. THE NEED FOR INTEGRAL CATHOLIC EDUCATION
The primary goal of Catholic education is not just to prepare people for earthly life but also for salvation as well. The youths learn about God who wants us to develop all our capacities until we become our best selves as a way of giving glory to him. It is when we focus our energies on knowing and serving God that we become our best selves and are able to make positive impact on society (Gravissimum Educationis, 4).
We call on Catholic educators to understand that the way a person chooses to exercise his or her knowledge is as important as having knowledge itself. Therefore, we encourage character development, instilling in all learners, ethical values that ultimately guide their decision-making process from their personal, everyday behaviour to their chosen career paths. Moral conduct as dictated by Christian principles is to be built into the very fabric of school culture. Following the example of Jesus Christ, students should be drawn to model Christian behaviour by respecting the dignity of each individual and be encouraged to express their faith in word, thought, and deed. Above all, Catholic education should focus on forming compassionate and just leaders who are prepared to rise up to and confront the complexities of the ever-changing Nigerian society. Young people who go to our schools should receive solid and quality academic foundations, spiritual fortitude, strong moral convictions, and the desire to be actively engaged in their communities.
7. EVENTS IN THE CHURCH
The 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops comes up between October 2021 and October 2023 with the theme: For a Synodal Church, Communion, Participation and Mission. Prior to this, the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress, Budapest, holds between 5 and 12 September 2021. A little later, the Year of St. Joseph, which is ongoing, will be concluded on 8 December 2021.
On 10 May 2021, Pope Francis, in his Motu Proprio, Antiquum Ministerium (Ancient Ministry) established the lay ministry of Catechist. We, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, welcome with joy and enthusiasm this newly instituted ministry. As shepherds of God’s flock, we commit ourselves to making fruitful and viable this ministry for the building up of the Body of Christ and promoting the mission of the Church in the world. Furthermore, we enjoin dioceses to put in place a policy for just remuneration of catechists and pastoral care of retired, old and sick Catechists.
With joyful exultation, we note the steady growth of the Church in Nigeria. Ogoja Diocese has celebrated the Centenary of the arrival of the Catholic Faith. Similarly, Abuja Archdiocese celebrates 40 years of its existence as an independent territory and Port Harcourt Diocese celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of its canonical erection.
The Holy Father, Pope Francis, made the following appointments since our last plenary meeting: Bishop Michael Ukpong, Auxiliary Bishop of Umuahia, (30 May 2020); Bishop Luka Sylvester Gopep, Auxiliary Bishop of Minna, (9 December 2020); Bishop David Ajang, Bishop of Lafia, (31 March 2021); and Bishop Peter Nworie Chukwu, Bishop of Abakaliki, (6 July 2021). We welcome these our brother Bishops into the Conference, assuring them of our prayerful support.
We rejoice with and congratulate those of our members who have attained great milestones in their lives. The following celebrate their golden jubilee as Bishops this year: Most Rev. Felix Alaba Job, Archbishop Emeritus of Ibadan; Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos; Most Rev. Patrick Ekpu, Archbishop Emeritus of Benin City; Most Rev. Joseph Edra Ukpo, Archbishop Emeritus of Calabar; and Most Rev. Michael Olatunji Fagun, Bishop Emeritus of Ekiti.
With firm faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we announce the passing unto glory of some of our brother Bishops who served the Church and humanity with total dedication: Archbishop Peter Yariyok Jatau, Archbishop Emeritus of Kaduna (16 December 2020); Bishop Gregory Ochiagha, Bishop Emeritus of Orlu (19 December 2020); and Bishop Albert Ayinde Fasina, Bishop Emeritus of Ijebu-Ode (29 June 2021). We pray Almighty God to grant them eternal rest in his Kingdom. Amen.
8. CONCLUSION: LET US HOPE IN GOD FOR A BETTER NIGERIA
As Christians, we are called to constantly hope in God who never fails. The virtue of hope enables us to seek eternal happiness and union with God and happiness on earth as we place our trust in Christ’s promise and rely not on our strength and ingenuity but on the strength and grace of the Holy Spirit (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1817). We therefore call on Nigerians to hope for a better Nigeria knowing full well that without hope we as a people cannot move forward. No matter how difficult the times are, no matter the situation we may find ourselves, let us continue to hope in God and feel secure because our hope will not disappoint us (Rom 5:5). We however need to cooperate with God to attain the better days for which we pray and hope. We ask that, on October 1 every year, parishes all over the country hold a candlelight procession and pray twenty decades of the rosary for peace and unity of our country.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of all consolation and Queen of Nigeria continue to intercede for our country. Amen.
Most Rev. Augustine Obiora AKUBEZE
Archbishop of Benin City
Most Rev. Camillus Raymond UMOH
Bishop of Ikot Ekpene