THE WORD OF GOD: A LAMP TO MY FEET AND A LIGHT TO MY PATH” (Ps. 119:105)
A Communiqué issued at the end of the First Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Resource Centre, Durumi, Abuja, 29 February to 6 March 2020
1. PREAMBLE We, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, held our First Plenary Meeting for the year at the CSN Resource Centre, Durumi, Abuja, from 29 February to 6 March 2020. Having prayerfully reflected on issues affecting the Church and the Nigerian State, we now issue this Communiqué.
2. THE WORD OF GOD: OUR TEACHER AND GUIDE We give thanks to Almighty God, who has not left us alone, unassisted as we journey through life. He has instead given us his abiding Word, both as teacher and guide to salvation. In Psalm 119:105, we are given a beautiful promise and an eternal truth that God’s Word will continue to be a gleaming lamp that will guide our feet in our journey through the darkness of this broken world. This promise holds true in good times but has even a greater force in challenging times. We know from the history of our salvation that God’s people are no stranger to tribulation. In spite of this, they are always invited to remain loyal to the Word of God. We extend the same invitation to all Nigerian Christians in these difficult times. 3. HOLDING FAST TO THE WORD OF GOD IN DIFFICULT TIMES As pastors, we call on all Christians to hold fast to the Word of God through diligent sacred reading, careful study and a coherent application to life. We enjoin all Priests, Deacons, Catechists and all other pastoral agents to be always ready to share the abundant wealth of the Divine Word with the faithful committed to them. The special place of the Word of God, especially in the sacred liturgy, must be respected, and when proclaimed, everyone must listen with rapt attention and a prayerful disposition. This must be done in order that none of us will become “an empty preacher of the Word of God outwardly, who is not first and foremost a listener to it inwardly” (Dei Verbum 25). However, in as much as we encourage the faithful reading of the Word of God, we urge our faithful to avoid a selective citation of the Word of God in a way that is disconnected from the overall Christian message of love and salvation. Holding firmly to our faith in the Word of God and all the teachings emanating from it, by internalizing and living them faithfully day-by-day, we will not only be embracing our true identity as members of Christ’s body, but we will also be able to evangelize our troubled environment by a heroic life of witnessing.
4. THE WORD OF GOD AND THE SANCTITY OF HUMAN LIFE IN OUR NATION The Word of God proclaims the God, who in his sovereignty, conferred dignity on every member of the human family. The Word of God is the revelation of the Mind and Will of God to human beings. This Word is also manifested to us through God’s decrees, ways, precepts, statutes, commands, ordinances, and promises. One of such commands is ‘Do not kill’ (Ex 20:13; Deut. 5:17). We regret that this commandment is highly disobeyed in our nation today, especially through the brutal killings of innocent persons by different categories of terrorists and criminals. For many, security of life and
property is now only a wish. The culture of death, which devalues human life, defaces religion as a force for common good in our nation. We earnestly urge our government to do all it legitimately can to root out terrorism completely. We continue to pray for our leaders to have the wisdom, courage, sincerity of purpose and political will to do what is good and protect and enhance the life of every Nigerian, irrespective of tribe, religion, or political affiliation.
5. THE WORD OF GOD AND THE CARE FOR THE EARTH This year, precisely between 16 and 24 May, the Church celebrates the 5th Anniversary of the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Laudato si’, On the Care of our Common Home. The Holy Father, upholding the vision of an integral ecology, summons humanity to a profound interior conversion, a renewal of our relationships with God, one another and the created world. The Church in Nigeria seeks to contribute to the global debate on the care of the environment and develop concrete plan of action to save our environment through an International Conference to be organized and hosted by the Catholic Institute of West Africa (30 March to 3 April 2020) and the Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (24 May 2020). This is in keeping with the Word of God, which commands us to be humble stewards of God’s creation (cf Gen. 1:28; Wis. 11:26).
6. EVENTS IN THE CHURCH Pope Francis with his Apostolic Letter, Aperuit Illis, established the Sunday of the Word of God to be celebrated annually on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This Sunday focuses the entire Christ’s faithful on celebrating, studying and spreading the Word of God, thereby making the Word part and parcel of our everyday living. We, the Catholic Bishops, on behalf of the people of God, pledge ourselves anew to the daily reading of the Scriptures and living by its dictates and injunctions.
From 22-26 October 2019, the Church in Nigeria had the National Mission Congress in Benin City with the theme: “Baptized and Sent: The Church of God in Nigeria on Mission”. The Congress focused on ways that baptized Christians can be more committed and effective in fulfilling the obligation to preach the Word of God in its entirety. As part of the fruits of mission, the Universal Church presented 25 persons as models of sainthood to the world, two of whom, we are proud to announce, are Nigerians. These are: Blessed Michael Iwene Tansi and Vivian Ogu. As a Church, we continue to pray for the canonization of Blessed Tansi and the beatification of Vivian Ogu, a 14-year-old girl who sacrificed her life for the sake of the gospel rather than gave in to sexual assault by a gang of armed robbers who wanted to rape her.
We are grateful to God for a number of developments in the Church since our last plenary. We thank the Holy Father for the creation of Ekwulobia Diocese on this day, 5 March 2020, and for the appointment of Most Rev Peter Ebele Okpaleke as its first Bishop. We congratulate him and wish him a successful apostolate. We are indeed thankful to God for a successful retirement of John Cardinal Onaiyekan as Metropolitan Archbishop of Abuja and congratulate Most. Rev. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, the new Metropolitan Archbishop of Abuja. He was installed at a liturgical ceremony on 5 December 2019. We equally congratulate Most Rev Matthew Ishaya Audu for his appointment, by the Holy Father Pope Francis, as the new Metropolitan Archbishop of Jos and the Apostolic Administrator of Lafia Diocese. We look forward to his Installation on 31 March 2020.
We continue to thank God for the appointments and ordinations of Most Rev. Moses Chikwe as the Auxiliary Bishop of Owerri Archdiocese, Most. Rev. Augustine Echema as the Bishop of Aba Diocese and Most. Rev. Julius Yakubu Kundi as the Bishop of Kafanchan Diocese. May God fructify their episcopal ministry among the people of God entrusted to their pastoral care. We equally congratulate Most Rev. John Oyejola and the entire faithful of Osogbo Diocese for the silver jubilee celebration of the erection of the Diocese. We sympathise with the Diocese for the loss of a priest and eight young people in a road accident on their way back from Oke Maria pilgrimage Centre, Otan Ayegbaju. While we pray for their peaceful repose, we also pray for more abundant blessing on the Bishop and his people. We commiserate with Most Rev Matthew Hassan Kukah and the faithful of Sokoto Diocese for the loss of their seminarian, Mr. Michael Nnadi who was gruesomely murdered by criminals. We condole with the Good Shepherd Major Seminary Kaduna, his grandmother and the immediate family and pray for his eternal repose.
With sadness in our hearts but gratitude to God, we announce the death of Most. Rev. Peter Adoboh, late Bishop of Katsina-Ala, on 14 February 2020. Bishop Adoboh will be buried on 11 March 2020. Our condolences go to the entire Diocese and his immediate family. May his soul rest in perfect peace, Amen. Our prayers are equally with Most Rev. William Avenya, who assumes the leadership of the Diocese as Apostolic Administrator.
7. CONCLUSION: LENT AS A SEASON TO REDISCOVER GOD’S WORD AS THE WELLSPRING OF CONSTANT RENEWAL Behold another golden opportunity of the season of Lent; a season to deepen the Word of God in us, and seek his face anew. As Christians we are constantly called into a renewed encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of his Word, which is a lamp to our feet and brings light to our path. This light dispels darkness, gives assurance and restores hope. We thank all the faithful for their good response in participating in our recent Prayer Processions for the repose of all who lost their lives due to the activities of criminals and other forms of violence in our country. In the spirit of the same solidarity, we ask all Parishes and Dioceses to, on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, organize an appeal for donations to assist Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria to respond to emergencies.
The Lord in his Word invites us Christians to be people of hope amidst the vicissitudes and vagaries of life, especially in these trying times. Hope indeed encourages us to work for that future we envisage. In this ambience of creative hope, we hold on to the Christian principle of loving even the enemies and extending this love beyond confines of ethnic and sectional leanings. We invite all to hearken to the words of St. Paul: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another…” (Col. 3:16).
May the Blessed Virgin Mary our Mother and Patroness continue to intercede for us and our dear country Nigeria. Amen.
Most Rev. Augustine Obiora AKUBEZE Most Rev. Camillus Raymond UMOH President, CBCN Secretary, CBCN Archbishop of Benin City Bishop of Ikot-Ekpene