CBCN FIRST PLENARY MEETING, 13-19 FEBRUARY, 2016, ABUJA
THEME: CATHOLIC CHURCH PROMOTING MERCY, SOCIAL JUSTICE AND PEACE
OPENING ADDRESS BY MOST Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama, Archbishop Of Jos AND PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF NIGERIA.
POSITIVE THINKING AND ACTION IN THE YEAR OF MERCY
Dear distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I welcome you with great pleasure and thank you most sincerely for responding positively to our invitation for the opening session of the first plenary of the CBCN holding in Abuja.
Last year in September, we successfully held our second plenary in Port Harcourt and in my opening address I dwelt on the need for true conversion of hearts by all Nigerians. Going beyond the euphoria of what was generally regarded as successful and peaceful elections and a political transition without much tears, (courtesy of both former President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari) we continue to thank Almighty God for all the political protagonists who paved the way for a peaceful transition despite predictions to the contrary. What remains now is the very serious task of honest governance by officials at all levels of government and a corresponding patriotic response by all of us so that we can rid Nigeria of moral and material corruption and entrench a culture of high ethical rectitude.
I wish in this address to focus on the need for positive thinking and action by all Nigerians, young or old, big or small, in government or in private life. A new Nigeria will be possible only if we change from doing things based on bad, immoral and greedy motives and start doing those things that are right, pure, lovely, admirable and praise worthy (cf. Phil 4:8). As there seems to be a general reawakening of patriotic consciousness today, we must work for the good of our children, youth, generation yet unborn and indeed for all Nigerians and Nigeria. We need to think positively about our nation and the Nigerian project and act in a manner that builds rather than destroys. Prophet Micah calls us to love tenderly, act justly and walk in humble fellowship with God ( cf. Micah 6:8). That is the panacea for a better Nigeria and the antidote to the crippling corruption that has resulted in multi dimensional social problems, unnecessary hardships and social deprivations which Nigerians have continued to bear with remarkable fortitude and patient endurance.
Last week I was at an international meeting in Europe where over 70 bishops from Asia, Europe, America, Africa, Oceania took part and I received compliments about Nigeria’s serious tackling of corruption and religious extremism/terrorism. We prayerfully join all Nigerians who wish this country well and all those who try to restore the sense of right and wrong. We must encourage the new administration by our patriotic conduct which will be a great help in its effort to promote attitudinal change and infrastructural development. We therefore call on officials to avoid corruptly sharing among themselves resources meant for laudable projects that are always well conceived but end up being badly executed or not done at all!
We align with the effort of our President to clean the Augean stable through his attempt to purge our nation of moral dirt and to disinfect Nigerians from the quest for unhealthy material aggrandizement which is largely responsible for the needless poverty in the land, poor infrastructural development, why many pensioners are forced into early death, unemployedyouth into atrocious acts of violence, millions displaced because of insurgency and the poor getting poorer while a few others wallow in unbelievable wealth. President Buhari’s “no friend”, “no foe” in the fight against corruption as well as his “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody” are strong and valid indications that he intends to tackle the very serious challenges dwarfing our nation. We pray that he remains committed to these principles and resists being stampeded into taking decisions that contradict the rule of law, be it natural, moral or the Nigerian law.
It is a fact that a few Nigerians have amassed so much ill-gotten wealth that they cannot finish spending in several life times. Leadership is not a license to abuse the trust bestowed on leaders. That trillions of Naira are said to have been stolen for decades now shows how very uncharitable some privileged Nigerians have been in the use of our oil wealth, thus, giving birth to the humiliating poverty of most Nigerians, the 419 culture, kidnapping and armed robbery/pen robbery. Now that the goose that lays the golden egg is in trouble as the price of oil is tumbling, we should seriously explore other sources of revenue with a determination to use very honestly what we already have and hopefully acquire for the good of all of us rather than for the economic comfort of a few.
In our country, narrow political interests do not allow our leaders to make long term investments since they want to reap immediate dividends. We have universities and ministries of technology, agriculture, etc yet our farmers still till the lands manually and live in bush grass houses just as wandering cattle rearers often come into violent conflicts with farmers due to lack of developing appropriately improved systems. Nigerians believe in using luxury products, exotic cars, motor cycles, private jets, but do not know how to produce them, since even ordinary tooth picks are still imported!
Sentiments of region, tribe and religion have held us in bondage for decades. Even many of our most educated or revered spiritual, political or traditional leaders see things in the prism of tribe or religion. Merit is the missing link. Prophet Jeremiah’s words in 22:3: “Practise honesty and integrity; rescue the man who has been wronged from the hands of his oppressor; do not exploit the stranger, the orphan, the widow; do no violence; shed no innocent blood in this place”, fall on deaf ears while many of Nigeria’s self-made prophets are inspired by political opportunism and glorification of material prosperity.
We have a duty to form the conscience and hearts of Nigerians to transcend parochial interests; to be open to the good of others as St Paul says in Philippians 2:4, not looking for our own good alone but for the good of others also. Unfortunately, we are often bogged down by malicious prejudices, inferiority/superiority complex, even when we know that nobody or region or tribe or religion has a monopoly of wisdom, entrepreneurship or indeed even the tendency to violence.
We should pride ourselves on being Nigerians and work in solidarity to correct imbalances in power/resource sharing and avoid lopsided infrastructural development. There is the need to reward people for exceptional courage, honesty and selflessness in service. Those patriotic Nigerians who, while serving the nation lose their lives e.g. soldiers, police men, etc., should have their families adequately catered for so that this can inspire the youths to be more willing to sacrifice for the country. Also, the proper social security that covers functional education,employment, health care, housing, old age, etcetera, will remove the grounds for corruption and violence. Selfless service and retributive justice will help us to greater greatness.
That Boko Haram even despite the huge success recorded by the past and present government continues to inflict great harm on innocent villagers, burning children alive, bombing IDP camps, etc goes to show that newer strategies must be developed for a more definitive victory. With the Psalmist we ask: “How long, O Lord, shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? They bluster with arrogant speech; the evil-doers boast to each other. They crush your people, Lord, they afflict the ones you have chosen They kill the widow and the stranger and murder the fatherless child” (Ps 93 (94):3-6).
Since our last meeting, we have lost our elder brother and father, the Bishop Emeritus of Port Harcourt, Bishop Alexius Makozi who was buried on January 28, 2016. May he and all the faithful departed rest in peace. We congratulate our brothers: His Eminence Francis CardinalArinze on his Golden Jubilee of Episcopal Ordination, Most Rev. Michael Okoro on his Golden Jubilee of priestly ordination, Most Rev. Francis Okobo on his fifty years as a priest and twenty five as a Bishop and Nsukka Diocese at twenty five. May they all continue to enjoy the favours of the Lord. Kindly continue to remember our sick brothers especially Bishop Athanasius Usuh whom the Bishops will visit here in Abuja immediately after this session.
We are happy to report that at the 8th World Meeting of Families Celebration in Philadelphia USA 150 Nigerians attended. As a follow up, a national meeting of families has been scheduled for Lagos from 11- 14th April, 2016. Equally, many Nigerians were at the Eucharistic Congress in the Philippines recently as well as many Nigerian religious who have just returned from Rome after marking the conclusion of the Year dedicated to the consecrated life. We are aware that many parishes, families and individuals as requested by the CBCN havebeen praying the rosary, doing Eucharistic adoration and offering Masses in a special way for Nigeria from October 2015, to end April 4th, 2016. God bless Nigeria.
At a time when Christianity seems to be reduced to market place prophecies, visions and charismatic display of talents and wealth, Catholics must try to preserve spiritual sanity, sobriety and fidelity to our Catholic identity, culture and traditions. Catholic priests should not succumb to the temptation of importing elements into our Church that promote personality cult for pecuniary advantages or favoring a Christianity that is cheap and focuses on material salvation, prosperity, progress and detests the cross which is the foundation of authentic Christian spirituality. People must not be frightened into believing in God of “now, now”, cajoled by mouth-watering material attractions or ostentatious living of ministers of God. We should emphasize the need for a sober Christianity, without tricks, rhetorics, fanfare, and the craze for social media publicity, and aim at helping people to interior conversion and attitudinal change. Christian religious leaders should admonish our people to pray ceaselessly, to evangelize through genuine witnessing and not by wooing people with material things or any form of moral coercion. St. Paul cautions about the syndrome of sounding brass and clanging cymbals (cf. 1Cor 13:1). We must avoid in our Church melodramatic displays that resemble modern broadway shows. Those priests who tend to compete with so-called trendy pastors to dream dreams, see visions and utter prophecies are reminded that not all dreams, visions and prophecies are revelations from God; they are sometimes the product of one’s psychological disposition, brain waves or even as a result of mental fatigue and should not be confused with absolute reality. We Catholic priests should avoid a flamboyant spirituality and noisy liturgy and teach our people the value of contemplative/ internalized prayers; simple spontaneous prayers from the heart as well as prayers such as the angelus, rosary, divine mercy, stations of the cross and the meditative reading of the word of God rather than the undue emphasis on psychedelic spirituality.
St. Paul appreciates the gifts of speaking in tongues, miracles, prophecies as long as they are genuine, but the greatest of these is love i.e charity towards the neighbour. This, I believe is why Pope Francis is calling our attention to a more practical Christianity in the Year of Mercy from 8th December 2015 to 20th November, 2016. The Holy Father urges action in favour of the poor, sick, sinners, etc. His encyclical LAUDATO SI is also a help to humanity to conquer poverty and the degradation of the human condition by caring for the environment and using science and technology for integral development and narrowing the yawning gap between the rich and the poor. It is only when we engage in works of mercy in favour of the unemployed, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the imprisoned, the sick, the old, the dying, etc., that we can hope to have a stable, peaceful and safe world.
At this plenary, we have decided to have an interactive period preceding our official deliberations and we have asked some of our prominent lay people to share with the Bishops to enable us understand and contribute better our quota to national development: Barr. Damian Dodo, SAN, OFR on “Prerogative of Mercy in the Nigerian Constitution”. Hon. Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu Minister of Science & Technology) on “Partnership between Church and State in Education, Health Care and Poverty Alleviation”. Dr. Mrs. Beatrice Omolara Akanji on “Governance Issues and the Way Forward”. Mr. Philip Oduoza (CEO, UBA Bank) on “Collective ownership of Veritas University of Nigeria Abuja (VUNA):The Way Forward”.
I sincerely thank you for your presence and kind attention. I ask the Lord to grant the Bishops a happy and fruitful conference for the good of our nation and our beloved Church. May the Holy Spirit direct our sessions as I now declare our Conference open.