A PASTORAL MESSAGE PRESENTED AT THE END OF THE 15TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF JOS

A PASTORAL MESSAGE PRESENTED AT THE END OF THE 15TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF JOS, HELD AT THE SACRED HEART PASTORAL CENTRE, JOS, FROM SUNDAY, 20TH AUGUST – THURSDAY, 24TH AUGUST, 2017
PREAMBLE
We give thanks to God for giving us the opportunity to witness another General Assembly, the annual gathering of our Archdiocesan family: Clergy, Religious and Laity during which we examine our pastoral and social programmes and how these affect our Church and the state. Having prayed and reflected on the theme, “The Message of Our Lady of Fatima: Relevance to Nigeria Today,” we present this Pastoral Message to the family of God in our Archdiocese, on the Plateau, and beyond.

OUR GRATITUDE TO GOD
As a people, we cannot thank God enough for His continued benevolence in spite of our limitations. We are grateful to God, especially for the relative peace currently enjoyed on the Plateau and sincerely hope that it has come to stay permanently. We applaud the Simon Lalong led-government and enjoin it to sustain this, while assuring the governor of our unalloyed support to continue to deliver the dividends of democracy to our people. We welcome President Muhammadu Buhari from his medical vacation in London as we continue to invoke God’s mercy upon him, to give him the courage and wisdom to tackle the numerous challenges confronting the nation.

PASTORAL GROWTH IN THE ARCHDIOCESE
The Archdiocese has continued to enjoy God’s blessings, particularly, in the area of pastoral growth. Last year, nine (9) Pastoral Areas were created. They are: St. Peter’s Pastoral Area, Gyel; St. Rita’s Pastoral Area, Rantya; St. Augustine’s Pastoral Area, Dong; Church of Nativity Pastoral Area, Kangang; St. Gabriel’s Pastoral Area, Anglo-Jos; Our Lady Queen of Peace Pastoral Area, Gold and Base; St. Augustine’s Pastoral Area, Farin Gada; Holy Trinity Pastoral Area, Old Lamingo Road and St. Paul’s Pastoral Area, Lamingo. Also, at this solemn Assembly, the Archdiocese created Zawan Deanery, comprising of St. William’s Parish, Zawan; St. Michael’s Parish, Anguldi; St. Joseph’s Parish, Du; St. Thomas’ Parish, Shen; St. Paul’s Pastoral Area, Kwata and St. Mary’s Pastoral Area, Maijuju. We rely on the help of God to witness more of such rapid growth.
While we welcome this development we wish to stress that the creation of Pastoral Areas, Parishes or Deaneries is for pastoral convenience. However, we have had the experience of some people saying that they cannot be “under” a Parish or Pastoral Area reasoning that their chief is higher in status, or their market is bigger than where the headquarter is located or even that they cannot join the new Parish or Pastoral Area because they are not of the same tribe. This is certainly not Catholic reasoning. We are under no one but Jesus the Lord alone. We must also note that the Church does not assign names to any geographical or political entity. She uses names officially recognized by the government or as it is popularly used by people.

THE MESSAGE OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA AND ITS RELEVANCE TO NIGERIA
The message of Our Lady of Fatima during her repeated apparitions to Lucia, Francesco and Jacinta in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal, was about the need for peace in the world at a time when the First World War was raging.  Her message and her request for Reconciliation, Repentance and Prayer are very timely and relevant to our situation in Nigeria where we are still grappling with insurgency, religious extremism and agitations from North, East, West and the Niger Delta area. Her message, if well assimilated, will help prevent conflicts which often stem from provocative and hateful messages and speeches, and help us to appreciate the need for peace in our homes, our Church, our state and indeed our nation. The peace we pray and work for most, however, spring from the foundation of justice without which violence raises its ugly head. May our Mother Mary intercede for our country Nigeria and help us combat the ills of our country.

A CALL ON THE GOVERNMENT AT ALL LEVELS
The need for Nigerians to work harder for peaceful coexistence and unity of the country cannot be overemphasized. The grumbles, mumbles and agitations from some quarters, even if for good reasons, must not be allowed to degenerate dangerously into religious or ethnic hostility. These will only take us back. The government must listen, take note and act fast. We reiterate in strong terms that every Nigerian has the legitimate right to live and work peacefully in any part of Nigeria.
Service to the poor must be a priority of Government. The depreciation of the Naira has impacted negatively on all of us. Nigerians now resort to begging for work, food, school fees, medical fees, rent, and admission into schools or recruitment into military and paramilitary establishments because our system is such that merit no longer counts. The 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria should not be merely ceremonial geographical entities. They should provide good water, schools, hospitals and roads with the allocations they receive. We believe too that Federal Government should do more about social security, provision of social services, job opportunities and indeed a safe and secure environment.
Nigeria has the capacity to do a lot for her people. We can build first class hospitals and manage them with great proficiency, build super highways, railroads and not the so-called federal roads riddled with valleys and trenches.

FIVE-YEAR PASTORAL PLAN
We are happy to announce the publication and presentation of our Five –Year Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese. With this document which is a fruit of serious brainstorming by stakeholders spread across our commissions, we now have a blue-print for our pastoral journey as an Archdiocese. With an Execution Monitoring Committee of the Pastoral Plan in place, we look forward to an accelerated implementation of the pastoral goals we have set for ourselves.

DIVINE MERCY CATHEDRAL
We wish to express our sincere gratitude once again to you all for your generous contributions and prayers for the success of this Archdiocesan project which is an important legacy we wish, by the grace of God, to leave for future generations. We wish to reiterate that, even without external support, we have almost completed 80% of the sub-structure, representing about 18% completion of the entire project. As we can all imagine, the cost of the project has doubled due to the devaluation of the Naira.  This has forced us as an Archdiocesan family, to give a serious thought to other strategies as a way forward in continuing this huge project. We therefore wish to encourage all and sundry to comply with the policy of one block per Catholic, one bag of cement per family and the sacrifice of Parishes, Pastoral Areas and Chaplaincies in surrendering all tithes, harvest thanksgiving and bazaar proceeds for the project.

REPORTS FROM COMMISSIONS: The various Commissions in our Archdiocese are up and doing, we remain eternally grateful to them. During the Assembly we listened to their reports.

Justice, Development and Peace Commission/Caritas: This commission, despite its limited means, gets prompt help to people in need. The commission is engaged with widows, prisoners, internally displaced people, and provides communities with wells and culverts, and even modest homes for victims of conflicts without discrimination. Some internally displaced people from the Boko Haram ravaged areas who are now based in Bukuru have consistently benefited from the generosity of the Church through this commission. The commission has now come up with a centre known as “Domus Pacis,” located at No 8, Goodluck Jonathan Road, Jos for accommodation, workshops, retreats and relaxation. We commend the commission for its achievements and encourage individuals and groups to patronize the new centre when the need arises.

Health Commission: We commend the commission for carrying on with the healing ministry of Jesus Christ through its provision of preventive and curative health care services in our Archdiocese. The infrastructural upgrade going on in all our hospitals is highly commended. Our Catholic doctors and Guild of Catholic Nurses continue to do us proud by offering both financial and medical support to Parishes through the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which has earned the body national recognition. We continue to call on all to patronize our hospitals, clinics and indeed, all health care centres.

Communication Commission: This commission is saddled with the responsibility of transmitting information within the Archdiocese and beyond. The hike in the market price of printing materials has made it difficult for the commission to sustain the production of our monthly publication, The WORD OF LIFE Newspaper even with the increase of the cover price from the initial N150 to N200. Parishes and Pastoral Areas must be prompt in the payment of the proceeds of the newspaper if the production is to be sustained. We call on our media practitioners to be all hands on deck to ensure a steady production of our newspaper.

Pastoral/Liturgical Commission: Our two priests heading the commission have attended and participated fully in workshops and seminars organized at the national level, and are up-to-date with current liturgical trends. We however, need enough feedback, input, contributions from Parishes, Deaneries, groups and individuals on areas of collaboration with the commission.

Education Commission: Our Catholic education institutions have consistently stood head and shoulders above others, despite the down turn in the Nigerian economy. We call on parents to make our Catholic institutions at all levels the first choice for their children. We equally call on government to expedite effort to stabilize our recessed economy as it has taken a heavy toll on education as they seek out judicious ways of transferring our take-over mission schools back to their original owners and to ensure government grants are paid to grant-aided schools promptly and consistently.

Family Life Commission: The commission has lived up to its aim of ensuring a formidable and functioning family life system in the Archdiocese. In obedience to the directive of the provincial bishops contained in the “Guidelines for Marriages and Burials,” Parishes should implement the mandatory six months pre-marriage counseling period for would be couples. The World Meeting of Families comes up next year in Dublin, Ireland. Families who are interested should start saving for this purpose.

Youth Commission: The commission successfully coordinated the activities of all the youth groups in our Archdiocese, and we congratulate them for organizing a Sharing Education and Learning for Life (SELL) workshop and seminars on leadership training. May this help the youth in our Archdiocese to elect good leaders in their forth coming Archdiocesan rally and election! The 2019 World Youth Day is almost around the corner, we enjoin the youth and all people of goodwill to step up preparations to represent the Archdiocese in Panama, Central America.
Catechetical Commission: The commission supervised the training and retraining of our Catechists and Evangelists. We note the graduation of the 3rd set from the Female Catechists’ Formation Centre, Kwall. However, the low turn-out of candidates for admission from the Archdiocese into the centre remains a matter of grave concern. Parishes, Pastoral Areas and Chaplaincies should show more interest in this very important programme by scouting for and identifying prospective candidates for recruitment in the centre.
Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace Centre (DREP): The centre located at Kwang, Jos, is a “temple” for peace and reconciliation which is open to all tribes, religions as well as social or political groups. The centre is a neutral venue for dialogue and settling of differences instead of reverting to violence and needless confrontations. Christian and Muslim religious leaders as well as community leaders have been faithfully meeting at the centre every quarter in the past years. It is commendable that the centre has helped to reconcile individuals and groups, and for some time now it has been engaged in peace education especially with the youths, and it is aimed at teaching them the need for dialogue instead of hostility and needless confrontations in solving problems.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: We recommend the followings:

1) The devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is deeply enshrined in our Catholic tradition. While we do not worship her as many non-Catholics wrongly accuse the Catholics, we acknowledge her as a very special human being, worthy of our emulation. In the spirit of the Marian Year, we urge all Parishes, Pastoral Areas, Chaplaincies and Institutions to take seriously devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the month of May and October. We are looking forward to more awareness creation and pious devotion to our Blessed Mother by individuals, families and Church groups, hence it has been decided that intense special Marian activities will go on in our Archdiocese.

2) We encourage full and active participation of all Catholics during Bible, Catechetical, Laity and Family Weeks in our Archdiocese for the strengthening of the faith.

3) While we thank God for the tangible peace currently being enjoyed on the Plateau, we call on all Catholics never to slack in the “Prayer for Political, Ethnic and Religious Peace in Plateau State” which we put together during our difficult period.

4) We commend the many Church Organizations: the Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria in Abuja, JDPC and St. Vincent de Paul Society in their humble charitable works in caring for the poor even when the resources are meagre.

5) We condemn the unfortunate and tragic incident of the massacre of innocent worshippers in St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu, Anambra State and the senseless killings by herdsmen and other groups. While we pray for the repose of the souls of those who have met their untimely deaths and quick recovery for those who sustained injuries, we call on the Federal and State governments to ensure that those behind these dastardly acts are identified, arrested and made to face the full wrath of the law. No social or ethnic group should be sacred cows.

6) The culture of immoral and indecent dressing among our youth at home, public places and even in the Church is on the rise. As a Church, we shall play our part, but we urge parents to caution their wards and children on the need to dress decently and find ways of curbing this ugly trend in the society.

7) The current Federal Government and ASUU impasse is not to the best interest of our Educational sector. We plead with the Federal government and ASUU to return to the negotiation table for a permanent solution to the problems anchored on constructive dialogue and engagement to permanently end the incessant universities strike in Nigeria.

8) We wish to encourage every Catholic to have a copy of the Five Year Pastoral Plan and meditate on its contents and be committed to ensuring its workability. We urge the Planning, Evaluation and Execution Monitoring Committee of the Pastoral Plan to ensure that each commission is committed to executing its plans within the stipulated period.

CONCLUSION
Let us continue to be one family, working happily, harmoniously and peacefully, while counting on the maternal intercessions of Our Lady of Fatima.

Most Rev. I. A. Kaigama, Very Rev. Fr. E. R. Ikpa
Catholic Archbishop of Jos. Chancellor.

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