“Come and see” was the answer to the question of the two disciples of John who saw Jesus and asked Him, “Where do you live, Rabbi?” (Cf. Jn 1:38-39).
The desire of the Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) communication team to come and visit Nigeria materialized from March 12th to 22nd, 2017, when fourteen ACN communication officers and national ACN directors who came from ten countries of Asia, South America and Europe arrived in Lagos, headed the next day to Maiduguri then to Jos and finally to Kaduna where they undertook a familiarization visit. They came, they saw, and they now know and have experienced a little more of Nigeria.
It was a joy to receive such a visit and I believe the pastoral and social aims have been achieved. It was possible for our visitors to see and mix with the people in Northern Nigeria, experience their life which is lived often in the midst of great difficulties and challenges. It was an opportunity for our international visitors to see those whom over the years ACN has been supporting with their prayers and also the funding of projects such as the training of seminarians, catechists and material help to support general pastoral development. The social dimension of the visit was to taste a bit of the culture of Nigeria, which varies from North to South. In Lagos where their Lufthansa plane touched down, they experienced the hustle and bustle of Lagos, in the North, another rhythm of life and in the extreme North East where Maiduguri, the hot bed of Boko Haram activities is located and where people have suffered the destruction of lives and property, a different reality all together. They saw the people at prayer, managing to eke out a living, meeting at spiritual/social gatherings where even with the weight of problems on them the people could still celebrate life, rejoice in the Lord by massively attending religious functions in Churches irrespective of the risks involved. The people’s faith has been so emboldened that even in the midst of tears and blood they can still manage to sing, dance and smile, drawing strength of course, from the Lord who has promised to be with His people till the end (cf. Mt. 28: 20).
This visit brought to prominence the need for pastoral solidarity between the Church of other continents and Africa. Relationships should not be formed or based only on television, newspaper or radio reports or letters through posts or emails. Such a warm friendly visit by the fourteen men and women bound together by the mission and vision of ACN, who came to celebrate the “sacrament of presence” in Nigeria is a veritable witnessing in love. The visit was therapeutic to a people traumatized by natural disasters, the menace of criminals and religious fanatics, persecution, discrimination and the challenges of daily life.
Such visits certainly tear down social barriers. Sometimes opinions about others are formed through inadequate information and the exaggeration of the media which is interested in harping on sentimental issues rather than reality. Hardly is the story of courageous struggle and witness in the face of attacks by hostile religious fanatics or cruel killers the subject matters of media reportage. Patriotic persons, honest workers, faithful witnesses of the Gospel, those working for lasting peace, etc are hardly celebrated by the media except the brutality of Boko Haram, kidnappers or criminals or the media showing of the faces of victims of social deprivation.
The visit which was well received and appreciated by even the civil authorities was a step in the right direction. The exchange of views with journalists, Bishops, priests, seminarians, parishioners, children, internally displaced persons, etc. gave our visitors a proper perspective of things. They had time to learn about issues such as inter-religious dialogue (Muslim/Christian relationship in Nigeria), peace building initiatives, pastoral growth, etc
This visit has certainly upgraded the level of friendship and collaboration between ACN and Nigeria.
We invite many more civil and Church organizations, conferences of Bishops, parishes, youth groups, etc from all over the world to “come and see”.