OPENING REMARKS AT THE 13TH ANNUAL GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF JOS, BY MOST REV. IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA, ARCHBISHOP OF JOS AND PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF NIGERIA.
As the name implies, our annual General Assembly means the gathering of our Archdiocesan family to pray, to search for our common pastoral good and to learn together. The spirit is collective and collaborative in approach as against the spirit of individualism or sectionalism. Our yearly gathering helps us to examine the spiritual, pastoral and social activities of our Archdiocese during the past year and to reflect together on ways of improving on them. We do so in an atmosphere of fraternity, solidarity and conviviality to show that we care for one another and that we are not just anonymous labourers in the Lord’s vineyard. Our Assembly offers all those working in different apostolates; whether in parishes, institutions or Church societies to share experiences which will enable us gain a better insight into happenings in the Archdiocese. Through this gathering we can also confront headlong those tendencies or social prejudices that can cause a lot of disaffection even among well-meaning and religious people. I sincerely thank you all for coming to the opening ceremony. I wish the over one hundred and seventy delegates who will be here for the next four days fruitful sessions. We welcome the new comers to our General Assembly Family. We congratulate St. Michael Pwomol on their upgrade to a full parish and the newly created Pastoral areas of Blessed Sacrament, Jenta Mangoro, and St. Paul, Kwata. From my visits to parishes I see that there are many potential pastoral areas. May the Lord supply the labourers. Records show that even after the creation of two dioceses out of Jos in 2007 and 2014, we had 6,891 baptisms in 2014 alone. This is not including the record of over three thousand baptisms of the same year that were transferred to Pankshin Diocese. We thank God for this. Further progress in catechetical work was recorded by the first graduation of female catechists at the Female Catechists’ Formation Centre (FCFC), Kwall. I am happy that Eucharistic adoration, Masses for the sick, monthly youth Masses and “Know Your Faith” programmes are continuing in parishes. Equally, awareness of the activities of the Pontifical Mission Societies and annual collections for them continue to improve. The Holy Childhood Association is waxing stronger, with children taking their rightful place in evangelization. We wish to see the entrenchment of the culture of personal bible reading (Lectio Divina) and also bible reading in homes and during society meetings. Thank you for the very warm reception I usually get during my pastoral visits. Your cordiality and generosity even when the times are hard show your love towards your pastor. The work of catechists and evangelists is effective and commendable. We shall invest more in short training programmes for evangelists and refresher programmes for catechists. I hope that the Religious are using the “Year of Consecrated Life” to renew their commitment to the religious life as witnesses of Christ in the society. People expect their priests and religious to be on a high moral pedestal, to transcend such mundane things as jealousy, gossips, greed, quarreling, materialism, backbiting, etc. We need God’s grace and mercy to succeed. We fervently pray that in the Holy Year of Mercy beginning December 8th 2015 to November 20th, 2016, we shall witness more acts of mercy from individuals, the Church and the civil society, especially towards the sick, the disabled, the displaced, the poor and even the unborn, giving them concrete assistance. We call on those in our society who destroy, kill or blatantly violate the rights of others in the name of religion or some other cause to repent of their evil deeds. Atrocities committed by those who profess faith in God is a terrible contradiction of what religion stands for. To my friends the prisoners in Jos prison, I send greetings from our General Assembly to you even in the darkness of your prison cells as I look forward to meeting you for our usual Christmas celebration. May I call on the Governor of Plateau State and the Chief Judge to exercise the prerogative of mercy to grant amnesty to deserving prisoners especially during the Holy Year of Mercy. I wish to seize this opportunity to talk about our new Cathedral project. While people have not seen a structure rising on the new Cathedral grounds, I can assure you that a lot of preliminary work not visible to the eyes has been done. The Ministry of Urban Planning has now approved the drawings – a huge step forward. The bidding process is on. As you know, our target during the launching in May last year was Three Billion Naira. Thanks to God and to all of you, we got a little over sixty Million Naira in total from the launching, individual and family donations. Since then, in addition to individuals who continue to donate, some further sixty Million Naira has been collected in the last three months. Parishes were directed to submit in toto et quam primum all the tithe offerings, seed sowing, harvest and bazaar proceeds to this project for the next three years. As from January 2016, the block per individual and bag of cement per family will resume. Msgr. Cletus Gotan is heading a small group which will monitor very closely the new Cathedral income and expenditure and publish same for the sake of transparency. Already, expenditures running into millions of Naira have been made just to arrive at the stage we have today. I urge my beloved Catholics of the Archdiocese not to be discouraged or afraid. With faith and great determination on the part of all of us, our new Cathedral building will start and hopefully come to be an edifice to make us happy and proud, no matter how long it may take. Since our theme for this year’s Assembly is on the family, we must guide against those things that Pope Francis listed in his recent address while visiting Bolivia, threatening to destroy the family: domestic violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, unemployment, abandonment of the elderly, etc. He stressed that the family as the foundation of human society is “The basic cell of society which fosters the solid bonds of unity on which human existence is based and through the bearing and education of children, ensures the future and the renewal of society.” The culture of “same-sex marriage” is alien to our understanding of the family and should not be imposed on Nigerians. In wrongly reading the letter of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in January 2015 to President Goodluck Jonathan, some international organizations and the media instead of highlighting our biggest concern that marriage must be BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN, in accordance with our cultural and religious norms, mischievously reduced the CBCN position to advocating severe punishment of gays or lesbians with long prison terms! This is a deliberate distraction and a wicked deviation from what is our primary concern. In a recent statement, “Our stand on Marriage, Family and Human Society”, we re-emphasized our position: No to “same-sex marriage”. As we say in Nigeria, “No shaking”. Permit me at this point to congratulate the new governor of Plateau State, Hon. Barr. Simon Bako Lalong. We wish him good governance. We pray for him and his team and wish to remind them that politics is for good governance and social development. We made our “political wish” known in 2007 as a fruit of our General Assembly in a booklet tilted “Politics for Good Governance, A Pastoral Message to the Catholics of Jos Archdiocese on their Duties and Participation in the 2007 Political Programmes”. Mr. Governor may find this publication of some help especially pages 16 – 20, 31 – 35, as the administration decides on major policy issues for the good of Plateau people. We appreciate former Gov. Jonah David Jang who related cordially with the Catholic Archdiocese of Jos and helped in different ways. We support the strong current national wave against corruption in Nigeria. Corruption has done us very deadly harm as a nation and has messed up the lives of most Nigerians. President Buhari must emphatically win the war against corruption as he is doing with terrorism and this can only happen if we all vow to be individually corruption-free and those who have corruptly enriched themselves in the past, to make comprehensive restitution. Every correctly identified living corrupt Nigerian, no matter how high or influential and no matter how long ago he or she practiced the art of corruption should be brought to the “altar” of justice and made to suffer for being so insensitive and unmerciful to the aspirations and well-being of Nigerians. This will no doubt be a deterrent to other Nigerians who might be contemplating to corruptly enrich themselves. I look forward to my usual interaction with the senior Catholics in Jos Archdiocese who are in government, to discuss how they should serve with integrity and selflessness while also participating effectively in the mission of evangelization. I wish to conclude by once again calling on parishes and institutions to step down the proceedings of this General Assembly which is titled, “Pastoral Challenges to the family in the context of Evangelization”. In asking the intercession of our Blessed Mother and the Lord’s special guidance and direction, I now declare the 13th General Assembly of the Catholic Archdiocese of Jos open.