Homily at St. Mary Major Basilica, 21.04.2018, during the Ad Limina Visit of Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, by Most Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos.
If you ask any Catholic in Nigeria what Bishops do when they come to Rome for the Ad Limina Visit, the likely answer would be that we come to meet the Pope. This is only partially correct. The essence however is to visit after every five years the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul; to visit the various dicasteries to interact with the officials and to be able to meet the Pope either individually or collectively in order to report on the state of our Dioceses or ecclesiastical jurisdictions; following the quinquennial reports sent in advance for the kind consideration of the Holy Father, which enable him to assess the pastoral or spiritual situation of every diocese and indeed of the Nigerian Church (ad limina visits are the subject of canon 399—400).
We have come to Rome to the tombs of the Apostles to drink from the source, that drink of communion, unity, holiness and universality of our Church. We desire and pray that we and our priests become true shepherds, models of prayer, and as Lucy the teenage girl told us during the CBCN conference in Otukpo in 2013, to “be priest enough” for them.
The first reading from Acts 9:31 – 42 presents Peter as a pastoral model, one we should imitate. From the accounts of the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was a zealous pastor travelling everywhere visiting the flock (cf. Acts 9:31). He distinguished himself as a preacher who after preaching many of his hearers asked, “what should we do?” (Acts 2:37). On account of his well presented homily on the day of Pentecost 3,000 souls were converted (cf. Acts 2:41) and after the incident of curing the lame man and his careful speech based on the history of salvation, the numbers increased that day to 5,000 (cf. Acts 4:4).
Peter was on the move visiting everywhere (cf. Acts 9:32) communities of believers. He cured Aenias in Lydda, a paralytic bed ridden for eight years. (Even if we cannot cure the many sick and frustrated persons who come to us we can at least pray for them and give them hope.) Peter raised Tabitha in Joppa (my parish priest and I in 1982 after an inspiring retreat attempted to raise a dead woman parishioner – at least we tried!).
We are told of the peace the Church enjoyed throughout all of Judea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31) after Saul the persecutor got converted . It is our prayer that the Nigerian Church, will continue to live in peace and harmony everywhere in a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect; to eschew the tendency to parochialism and materialism among the laity clergy and religious. I will be happy if a prayer for the unity, progress and holiness of the Nigerian Church could be composed, like we have the “prayer for Nigeria””.
We come here as the Pope’s representatives in our respective jurisdictions and as members of CBCN to seek the face of the Lord and to re-anchor our pastoral and spiritual activities on the model provided by St. Peter. He is the rock. What a privilege that last Sunday we celebrated the Holy Mass at his tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica, bringing our personal intentions and those of our people to St. Peter for his intercession.
We thank God for the logistics provided by the members of the Work of the Church who facilitate our movements and for their wonderful gift of a day of prayer and recollection last Wednesday in the very conducive atmosphere of their home. During this Ad Limina Visit, I notice that the spirit of fraternal communion among us is palpable and heightened as we move from Holy Mass, praying the Divine Office, having common meals to going for meetings in the various dicasteries. The strong bond of the unity of our conference was alluded to and commended during our meeting with the Prefect for the Evangelization of Peoples. I see how we feel relaxed and happy as the activities of the Ad Limina proceed, thanks to Fr. Ralph Madu, Fr. Valentine and others for offering great logistical support.
Having concluded in Benin City the Year in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary to mark the centenary of her apparition in Fatima Portugal, and during which we rededicated our country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it is proper that during this Visit we have this opportunity to pray in the house of Mary, in the biggest Basilica dedicated to her – the Basilica if St. Mary Major. Here, I understand that Pope Francis comes to seek the intercession of Mary before and after each apostolic journey. We too have come to our Blessed mother to seek her intercession to be always loyal in doing whatever Jesus tells us to do, because as Peter said, “to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life”.
Since John took Mary into his home (cf. Jn 19:26-27) some 2,000 years ago, Catholic Christians of all generations venerate and honour her with great intensity. Last month I, together with some Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals joined the pilgrims in Elele Eucharistic Adoration and Marian Devotion Centre and I saw the huge crowds that go on pilgrimage there. I participated in the all-night procession and adoration with the pilgrims and I can testify to their intense and impressive devotion and I said to myself that it is better to keep them adoring Jesus and celebrating Mary than letting them go elsewhere to be misled by those who claim they love Jesus but hate his mother!
The Eucharistic discourse in today’s gospel (cf.6:60-69) which left many disciples in disarray, incredulous and outrightly going away from Jesus, reminds me of how we are so blessed in Nigeria with large flocks, vibrant worshipping communities overflowing cathedrals, parish churches, chaplaincies, outstations, with youth, women and enthusiastic men hungering for nourishment of their souls and spirit. One can say that this is the springtime of faith in our nation. My experience of four days as a parish priest during this year’s Holy Week and Easter ceremonies in a small village community because they had no parish priest further convinced me of how blessed we are with eager Catholic children, youths, women and men and how we should not take things for granted. Things may be rosy now but time will come when like in Europe and elsewhere, many will go away like the rich young man who left Jesus sad or the young man who ran away naked as Jesus was being led to his crucifixion and those in the gospel of today who left and stopped going with Jesus because his teaching was too hard for them. We are constantly losing youths to Illicit drugs and the social media culture today is compounding problems by robbing them of essential cultural and religious values. Some returning from Europe or America have developed an atheistic ideology or they simply become indifferent to God and the Church. We lose many others to Pentecostal preachers as the youths are frustrated into seeking miracles or instant riches.
Finding ourselves here in a place dedicated to the honour of our Blessed Mother, let us tell her about Boko Haram, a group that has robbed many of their lives and property and displaced so many and are still detaining many innocent teenage girls since four years now; Leah, the brave school girl from Dapchi who refused to renounce her christian faith and is still being detained I believe under very harsh conditions. We have the herdsmen menace to contend with. Many Bishops here especially from the North can tell many stories about the terrible destruction to lives and property perpetrated by these people and yet they seem to have such a free hand and an increasing audacity to attack where ever and whenever they want!
We are concerned about the politics of the coming elections, 2019. We are concerned about the teeming population of idle youths, the hunger, poverty, insecurity, decaying infrastructure caused by irrepressible corruption which has almost become a culture!
We are however consoled that never was it known that anyone who fled to the protection of the BVM ,
implored her help, or sought her intercession, was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence, we fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins our Mother;
“to thee do we come; before thee do we stand, sinful and sorrowful;
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions,
but in thy mercy hear and answer us. Amen”.