A CALL FOR PEACE AND CALM BY THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF ABUJA AND JOS ECCLESIASTICAL PROVINCES
…Our Concerns about the Jukun-Tiv Conflict in Southern Taraba and the Border Settlements of Benue State
We the Catholic Bishops of Abuja and Jos Ecclesiastical Provinces are sad, and it is with great dismay that we note the recent upsurge of violence, resulting in the horror and carnage we are experiencing. We are Christians, and we are saddened about the continuous disturbing trend leading to deaths, destruction of homes and means of livelihood in the affected regions, among tribes that should be best of neighbours. As Christians we believe and uphold the sanctity of life from birth to natural death (cradle to the grave). We know that scripture and the teachings of the Church are uncompromising about the sacredness of life.
Since the tribes of our region: Tiv, Jukun, Idoma, Igala, Angas, Berom, Eggon, Alago, Bassas, Mumuye, Kuteb, etc are mostly Christians, the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians are very significant:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile,
neither slave nor free, nor is there
male nor female, for you are all one
in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)
By the same understanding, we are saying that in Christ there is neither Tiv, Jukun nor native, indigene nor foreigner, neither visitor nor stranger. We are all one in Jesus Christ the Savoiur of all mankind. We are all created in the image and likeness of God. He gave us the land to inhabit and improve for our own benefit and development.
We wish to draw the attention of our people to the fact that this embarrassing conflict with attendant mutual atrocities goes contrary to our cherished local traditions, cultural and Christian values. The government should get to the root cause of these recurring conflicts which has caused great set back and obvious hardship in different form for our people.
We would appreciate moderate and reconciliatory utterances from our political, traditional and religious leaders and elders, with more concrete and deliberate actions in favour of peace and not war. Silence during such conflicts is not golden but very unhealthy.
Also, we condemn the unhealthy propaganda and prejudices and stereotyping expressed in the social media and exaggerated media comments and write-up which sometimes are a great influence in fueling the crises. We should not be carried away by unsubstantiated narratives.
As priests, clergy and religious we are agents of reconciliation. We cannot deny what ethnic group we belong but by the virtue of the Sacrament of the Holy Orders, we belong to all, and we are fathers of all and so we cannot be reduced to tribal vanguards or ethnic champions. We belong to all. This is the essence of our priesthood and vocation. By virtue of the gospel we preach and the sacraments we dispense, the Lord Jesus Christ the High Priest wants us to minister to all whom he has redeemed without discrimination. Let us be careful when we listen to our people. We should be able to stand against tribal sentiments and emotions that only contribute to heightening the already charged atmosphere. To do otherwise will mean we are unfaithful to our calling. We should stand above ethnic interests and be seen to preach justice, love and forgiveness for the common good.
As priests, we should be bridge builders at moments of crisis. Let us tell our people that some foreign elements will take advantage of what is happening in our region and we are the ones to lose at the end of the day. We should move beyond our ethnic enclaves. Let us take the lead. We as Christians are facing a rising tide of hatred and intolerance. If we do not take common and urgent action to stop it, we will continue to witness one crisis after another to the detriment of our collective good.
We also appeal to all men and women of faith, and all people of good will, to speak out and take action in favour of peace. With St. Francis of Assisi, we say “Lord make us instruments of Peace”. We have to be on our knees before God our creator through Eucharistic adoration, praying the Rosary, the celebration of Holy Masses for healing and reconciliation. Let us continue to pray for the eternal repose of the souls of those who lost their lives in these crises especially our brother in the priesthood, Fr. David Tanko.
Our prayer is that God will fulfil His promise made in Ezekiel 36: 26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh”. And to add from the words of prophet Isaiah, let us be consoled that this prophesy will come to pass: