1. We, members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, held our First Plenary Meeting for the year 2009 at the Divine Love Retreat and Conference Centre (DRACC), Sabon Lugbe, Abuja, from March 9 to 14, 2009. The theme of our Plenary, “The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church in Nigeria”, gave us an opportunity for prayerful reflection on the state of the Church and on the state of our country. We now present our communiqué to the Church and to the nation.
GROWTH IN OUR CHURCH
2. We thank God for the continued growth and vitality of the Church in Nigeria. Since our last Plenary in September 2008, the Holy Father has appointed Most Rev. William Avenya as Auxiliary Bishop of Makurdi. He was ordained Bishop on January 24, 2009. The Pope also appointed Right Rev. Msgr Callistus Onaga as Bishop of Enugu. He will be ordained to the episcopate on May 2, 2009. While we rejoice with our new Bishop and the Bishop-elect, we felicitate Most Rev. Anthony Gbuji who is retiring as Bishop of Enugu after many years of dedicated service to the Church in Nigeria. As he takes his retirement, we pray the good Lord to continue to bless him with good health.
3. Our venerable brother, Francis Cardinal Arinze, after many years of meritorious service to the Church in Onitsha and to the Universal Church at the Vatican, attained the status of Cardinal-Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. We thank the Lord for the gift of this great pastor.
4. We rejoice with the Diocese of Umuahia on her golden jubilee which was celebrated on December 6, 2008. May the Lord continue to be with the Bishop, priests, religious and lay faithful of the diocese.
5. We thank God profoundly for the holy life of Most Rev. Michael Eneja, Bishop-emeritus of Enugu, who returned to the Maker on November 15, 2008. His exemplary life is a sign of blessing to our Church. May he taste unending happiness in the kingdom of God.
6. After our recent visit ad limina, a sign of our communion with the Successor of St Peter, Pope Benedict XVI, the growth in our Church was beautifully captured in these words of the Holy Father: “I was able to see the life of the Church in an important African country, the largest, in fact, with 140 million people, and a large number of Catholics, and so touch the joy and sorrows of the Church. This obviously brings me spiritual peace, since here is a Church as we find in the Acts of the Apostles. It is a Church where there is fresh joy of having found Christ, of having found the Messiah of God. They have vocations, and so can give “Fidei Donum” priests to various countries of the world. To see that there is not only a tired Church, as one often finds in Europe, but a young Church, full of the joy of the Holy Spirit, is certainly spiritual refreshment” (Benedict XVI, To Priests of Rome, February 27, 2009).
OUR SEARCH FOR NATIONHOOD
7. We thank the Almighty God for the resilience, potential and enterprise of the people of Nigeria. This country is blessed with men and women, young and old who can lift her up to a nation we all can be proud of. As the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI once remarked: “the size, population, economic resources and generosity of your people make Nigeria one of the most influential countries on the continent and give her a unique opportunity to support other African countries in achieving the well-being and stability they deserve. The nation has contributed to the many efforts to bring social reconciliation to other lands through its peacekeeping forces, material aid and diplomatic efforts” (Address to Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Holy See, May 29, 2008).
8. While there are many reasons for which we Nigerians must thank God, we must not fail to recognize that the journey to nationhood is still long. It is the journey to nationhood. For us, nationhood is a gift and a task. We are yet to build a nation where people dwell in security. Life and property are constantly exposed to danger: the Niger-Delta crisis in the south; the religious conflicts in the north, and ethnic conflicts in different parts of the country. Corruption and theft of public funds, which have largely remained unabated despite our call for prayers, have brought our country to its knees. This is noticeable, for example, in the collapse of infrastructure in the land, in the lack of basic amenities, and in the increasing number of unemployed, in the ever-rising crime wave. The fact is evident that we still have a lot of work to do so that we, our children, and our children’s children can have our legitimate aspirations fulfilled and our potentials actualized.
9. We regret lost opportunities for nation building in Nigeria. We are saddened by the recent riots in the cities of Jos and Bauchi, despite our emphasis on dialogue as veritable means of resolving crisis. Each time we witness ethnic and religious conflicts, each time we hold elections lacking in credibility, we lose opportunities to build a nation. Each time the people of our richly endowed land are impoverished through acts of violation of fundamental human rights, each time we make or fall victims of injustice, bribery and corruption, we lose opportunities to build a nation.
CREDIBLE ELECTORAL REFORMS
10. A nation is not just a geographical space. It is an aggregate of people who live a common life rooted in and inspired by common ideals and core values, a common life in which the dignity of every human person is respected. A geographical space where people are forced to live together at gunpoint may be called a state, but it cannot be properly called a nation. For us to be a nation, a credible electoral process is imperative. Ongoing attempts to reform the electoral process need to be transparent and thorough. Nigeria needs a truly independent electoral commission and efficient security agencies to secure the electoral process.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS
11. In a world that has become a global village, Nigeria cannot be isolated from the current global economic crisis. For us, in concrete terms, working to build a nation and resolving our own share of the global economic crisis must go hand in hand. Long before the presence of this crisis was acknowledged, Pope John Paul II already warned the world when he said: “Our world shows increasing evidence of another grave threat to peace: many individuals and indeed whole peoples are living today in conditions of extreme poverty. The gap between rich and poor has become more marked, even in the most economically developed nations. This is a problem which the conscience of humanity cannot ignore, since the conditions in which a great number of people are living are an insult to their innate dignity and as a result are a threat to the authentic and harmonious progress of the world community” (John Paul II, World Day of Peace, 1993, quoted by Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace, 2009). We therefore renew our commitment to fight poverty as a way to peace in our land.
12. Unbridled materialism has largely contributed to this global economic crisis. We cannot fail to remind ourselves and the nation that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mat. 4:4). Materialism cannot be the sole foundation on which we build our nation. Our nation must be built on spiritual and moral values. Such values will inspire good governance. They will foster the discipline required of leaders and the led. Therein lies the need to acknowledge the relevance of the word of God in our lives as individuals and as a country.
THE WORD OF GOD AND OUR NATION
13. We remain hopeful despite the ups and downs in the history of our country. We believe that the word of God is a light to guide us on our path to nationhood. We believe that “In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4). Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (see Col. 1:15, 1 Tim. 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to human beings as friends (see Ex. 33:11; John 15:14-15) and lives among them (see Bar. 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself. This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them. By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of human beings shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation (Vatican II, Dei Verbum. On Divine Revelation, n.2).
14. God speaks his word to bring all human beings to live in friendship with him and with one another as one family. The word of God proclaims a God who, in his sovereignty, conferred dignity on every member of the human family, irrespective of gender, language, race, tribe, colour or religion. That is why the word of God should be the light for our path to nationhood. That is how the word of God educates us on nation building. We believe that what Nigeria urgently needs is a radical transformation. The word of God can transform our land and its peoples. The word of God transforms the nation by transforming individuals starting in the family which is the nucleus of common life, the domestic Church, the first place where the word of God is to be read, taught and preached so that its members can be good disciples and good citizens. The word of God brings about interior conversion to the truth, to goodness and to love. This interior conversion takes the form of profound attitudinal changes which will be felt in every sector of our life as a nation
THE WORD OF GOD AND OUR CORE VALUES
15. Given the fact that there can be no nation where there are no shared core values, the word of God teaches those core values necessary for building a nation. Christ, the Word made flesh, has redeemed every race and elevated what is good in every culture. The Incarnate Word of God sheds his light on core values that are inherent in our traditional African cultures. These values, shared by Nigerians irrespective of their ethnic affiliation, can serve as common ground in our quest for nationhood. The word of God teaches us that a core value which we in Nigeria must have is respect for the sovereignty of God in the respect for the dignity of every human person. An overwhelming percentage of Nigerians profess belief in God. But this profession of faith must show itself in the respect of the dignity of every Nigerian as a human being and as a citizen.
16. Our path to nationhood necessarily passes through the way of education. Education for nationhood is education of the whole person. The mind, the character, and the hands of the citizen are to be formed. The error and injustice of taking over schools from religious bodies largely contributed to the current state of our nation. Nigeria urgently needs to return spiritual and moral values to her curriculum of education. It is for this reason that we commend those state governments that have returned schools to their owners. We renew our call, to those states that have not done so, for the return of schools to religious bodies. We ask for cooperation in the education sector between government and religious bodies so that the poor especially can have access to good education
RELIGION AS INSTRUMENT FOR PEACE
17. Religion has been blamed for many conflicts in this country. But, contrary to a certain opinion, religion is not a threat to nationhood. Abuse of religion is. It is not religion that threatens our peaceful coexistence. It is the misreading and misuse of sacred texts of venerable religious traditions by preachers who are either inadequately formed or not at all formed for the preaching ministry in a multi-religious entity such as Nigeria. Ours is a country full of places of worship, of churches, mosques and shrines. But this is nothing if we do not heed the word of God, and worse still, if the same word is misinterpreted and abused through incompetent and or mischievous preaching. These sacred texts can and should be used to form religious adherents to respect and promote the dignity of every human person and the sanctity of other people’s belongings.
18. We acknowledge, commend and encourage the initiatives undertaken by the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) towards a peaceful coexistence, particularly between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. The Council has been able to bring together not only Christian and Muslim religious leaders, but also Christian and Muslim youths. We support the Council’s plans to bring together Christians and Muslims. We see in these initiatives proactive measures against violence, and a strong foundation for peace and stability. It is our hope that these initiatives will have reverberating effects throughout the length and breadth of our country.
ELECTION OF CBCN EXECUTIVE
19. The Conference elected its executive for a three-year mandate. Most Rev. Felix Job, Archbishop of Ibadan was re-elected President; Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos, was re-elected Vice President; Most Rev. Alfred Martins, Bishop of Abeokuta, was elected Secretary; and Most Rev. William Avenya, Auxiliary Bishop of Makurdi, was elected Assistant Secretary. We pray for their successful tenure.
20. This season of Lent is a time for renewal of each person, of our nation, and of the Church in our country. It is a time for more attentive listening to the word of God. May our spiritual exercises during this season bring us into better relationship with God and with one another so that we may become the type of people and nation the Lord wants us to be. Our problems are many. But the Lord God is Almighty. If we cooperate with Him our country can be great. We encourage and challenge our public office holders in the executive arm of government, in the legislature, in the judiciary, and indeed Nigerians in every sector of our nation to draw light from the word of God.
21. As we approach the end of the year of St Paul, we call on every Christian family to intensify devotion to the word of God through devotional reading, daily meditation, Bible sharing, celebration of the liturgy of the word, and witnessing. May St Paul, the Great Apostle to the nations, intercede for us that our faith be stronger, and that this faith manifest itself in the dedicated service of each and all to the common good.
May Mary, Queen of Nigeria, who obediently received the Word in her heart and conceived him in her womb, pray for us that we too may receive the Word in our own hearts and become better disciples and good citizens.
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps 94:7-8).
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