An All-Night National Prayer marking the End of the Year of Mercy at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral Abuja, 3rd to 4th November, 2016.
Opening Remarks by Most Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos and President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria
The Jubilee Year of Mercy was announced by Pope Francis on March 13, 2015. It was declared in the Pope’s April 2015 papal bull of indiction, Misericordiae Vultus (Latin: “The Face of Mercy”). The Year is moving to its end on November 20, 2016. I welcome you to this national pilgrimage of prayer, our own way of marking the closing of the Year of Mercy in Nigeria.
Our last national prayer pilgrimage took place here in Abuja from 13-14 November, 2014 and was held at the National Christian Centre, Abuja. At that time, we prayed for the overall spiritual, social, political and economic well-being of Nigeria and were concerned about successful elections, peaceful coexistence and security issues in Nigeria. We recall with gratitude the reflections of Bishop Anthony Adaji, the Bishop of Idah on “At a Time like This” and Bishop Godfrey Onah of Nsukka Diocese on “the Nigeria that we desire and work for”. At the time the elections were imminent and there was palpable anxiety as to whether Nigeria would remain one country still after the elections. This was because there were many apocalyptic predictions about Nigeria disintegrating. Happily, we are still here today one nation even if struggling to overcome political, socio-economic and security predicaments. The times are certainly not the best. Economic recession stares us ominously in the face as we are still confronted by the challenges of what Prophet Habakkuk denounced in his days: violence, corruption, division, tyranny, injustice, looting, wickedness, etc (cf. Hab. 1:1-4)
We must thank God for His acts of mercy which we enjoy as a nation. The return of the 21 Chibok girls was happy news for which we commend the Federal Government, the security agents and those who worked behind the scene. We call on those keeping any human being captive to free them in the name God. The release of the kidnapped Chibok girls is a clear demonstration that where there is political will accompanied by genuine prayers, God will certainly intervene. Prayers still work. Hence, the need to sustain prayers for our dear country Nigeria. I am not talking about the type of prayer the Pharisee in Luke 18 engaged in. He waxed eloquently about his personal qualifications and achievements: ” I thank you, God, that I am not like other people, grasping, crooked, adulterous, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give tithe of all my income to the Temple”. The Pharisee no doubt did good works but he was overwhelmed and drunk by his sense of righteousness. He convicted and condemned others as corrupt, adulterous, etc. The tax collector on the other hand admitted his failures and begged for God’s mercy. Our prayer should always be humble, pleading for God’s mercy. Our Churches and Mosques should be true houses of prayer, where we strive after holiness of life and where people hear sermons about virtuous life and the evil of sin. Unfortunately, many Nigerians spend time, too much time, in their places of worship judging and castigating others, and even plotting political strategies or devises on the optimal ways to make quick money! How I wish our places of worship were true houses of prayers and dedicated to promoting true religion; places where we encounter the face of mercy.
The revelations about financial recklessness and scandals in our nation are mind-boggling. We hear how one person could amass so much wealth while other brothers and sisters they are expected to serve are suffering serious deprivations. Let us not be mistaken about it, corruption is not just about public officials. It shows it self also in matters of recruitment into public service or admission into government institutions of higher learning where a young Nigerian cannot easily be recruited or admitted without being extorted. What about the pretty girls who face a tough task to pass exams without giving into the lascivious demands of unscrupulous teachers? In our public hospitals, you are not attended to quickly if you do not know anybody. If you buy yams, vegetables or potatoes on the side of the road you are likely to be cheated. Give your car to the mechanic and he must exaggerate what is wrong with your car to make more money; send a ten year old boy on an errand and he must squeeze out something for himself! Dangle money before some pastors or some priests and you get customized sermons! We are dealing with either dead or unscrupulous consciences which need to be reawakened. God help us.
We Catholics begin Holy Mass by asking for forgiveness – a mea culpa. We meet here today for a national mea culpa, beginning from the children to the adults, the men and the women. All are guilty and have fallen short of the glory of God (cf. Rom. 3:12). It is a fact that Nigerians practise one religion or the other, but we need a serious national repentance, a rebirth. If we should cry out in prayer, fast, turn from our evil ways and violence like the people of Nineveh in Jonah chapter 3, , God will have compassion on us and heal us and our land of the wounds inflicted on us by the culture of corruption and insensitivity to the needs of others (cf. Phil. 2:4). The Lord will answer our prayers. We do not need to bribe God as we are assured in Sirach 35: 16-18, that He hears the cry of the poor, the one wronged, the fatherless, the widow; those whose service is pleasing to the Lord, the humble, etc. Their prayers pierce the cloud to reach God
Schooled at the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has asked us during this jubilee year or mercy, to be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful may we go out to the many people in our society who are burdened with guilt and shame and assure them that God never tires of forgiving those who express sorrow for their sins and the desire to begin anew. May we go out as missionaries to those who have wandered from the Church and assure them that God stands ready to embrace them and welcome them home. Go out with missionary zeal to our young people who sometimes stumble and fall in the light of the many temptations around them. They can so easily give up on themselves. Convince them God never gives up on them. As missionaries of mercy, may we find ways to be available to married couples and their families especially those who encounter many challenges in our busy world to accompany them in their struggles.
Dear brothers and Sisters, we call on Mary our Mother, Queen/patroness of Nigeria to intercede for our nation. The CBCN has declared a Marian Year in 2017 which will culminate with the centenary of Our Lady of Fatima apparitions in October. May we experience God’s mercy and also show mercy in all we do now and always. I wish us all a happy and fruitful all-night prayer.