A MESSAGE GIVEN AT THE END OF THE 3RD NATIONAL PASTORAL CONGRESS ON THE THEME: TOWARDS A SYNODAL CHURCH: COMMUNION, PARTICIPATION AND MISSION WHICH HELD AT BISHOP KELLY PASTORAL CENTRE, AIRPORT ROAD, BENIN CITY, 8–11 NOVEMBER, 20221
The Church in Nigeria represented by the Bishops, the Priests, the Religious, male and female, and the Lay Faithful gathered in the ancient city of Benin, known for her very rich cultural heritage, to review our evangelization mission for the last 10 years and to chart a new path for the future. Having sought the face of God in fraternal atmosphere of prayer, engaged in genuine discussion borne out of creative and attentive listening, we hereby issue this Message to the Church and to the Nigerian State.
- Gratitude to God
We continue to give thanks to God Almighty, the One who was, who is, and who will always be for his benevolence to us as individuals and as a people. Our collective destiny as a Nation has been threatened in more ways than one. Oftentimes, certain nations have been cynical about our corporate existence but the Lord in his wisdom and might has kept us going and together. While we remain to grateful to God, we should not take Him for granted by abdicating our role in building a state that is God-fearing, egalitarian, safe and prosperous.
- The Power of Listening and Dialogue
The Synod on synodality has listening and dialogue as essential components. Faith comes through hearing (Rom. 10:17). Listening, therefore, is a necessary prerequisite for faith development. It is an integral part of synodality, for it is only by hearing that we discern properly as a Church. At the different levels of the Church, the pastors and the people are to cultivate an attitude of patience, attentiveness to and respect for the views of others. This attitude paves the way for genuine dialogue. We call for a well-represented pastoral council in all parishes as a way of creating space, more room for dialogue and participation. In a synodal Church, ways must be devised by which those in the periphery such as the non-literate, materially poor and the quiet members of the Church can be heard. No doubt, wars, dissension, bitterness and acrimony can be avoided by embracing the power of listening and dialogue.
- Continuous Catechetical Formation
Catechetical formation, which is an ongoing and dynamic process, is at the heart of the growth and development of the Christian life. There is no gain saying that we should be constantly formed in our faith. To achieve this, a well-developed programme, which should include a curriculum on catholic education for mission schools, should be designed for catechetical formation should be such that it does not end with the reception of the sacrament but initiate a process that should accompany the catholic all through life. This is not only desirable, but a necessity for effective Christian witnessing. In pursuance of this ideal, all hands must be on deck. Bishops, Priests and Religious are to take the lead in the catechetical formation of the faithful. As their immediate collaborators, catechists are to be adequately trained and justly remunerated, while parents, on their part, are to ensure the initial catechetical formation of their wards backed up by exemplary Christian lifestyle.
- Towards an Inclusive Church
The Church is an inclusive society. She continues to draw all segments of the Church to be active members of the Church family including youths and people with disability.We recognize that Nigeria is a nation with a large population of young people and hence needs to harness their potentials for growth and development. They are an asset. The high rate of joblessness amongst youths creates restiveness and may contribute to aggravating the insecurity plaguing the nation. Government should devise ways to create jobs for her teeming youths both in the formal and informal sectors. Creation of jobs can expedite if the enabling environment is guaranteed such as stable power, stable currency, support for medium scale industries, supporting innovation and innovativeness. We call on Government at all levels and captains of industries to pay particular attention to these. On their part, the youths are called to be responsible citizens shunning indolence, violence, political thuggery and other vices.People with disability are full members of the Church and society. Their place, presence and participation are invaluable. Many people with disability still suffer from discrimination (social, psychological, material). We, as a Church, are committed to working to ensure that people with disability are able to worship in our Churches without hindrance. Government, on her own part, should make adequate provisions for the infrastructure that supports people with disability in places such as schools, banks, hospitals, parks, supermarkets, shopping malls, cinemas, amongst others and also create the enabling environment that makes it possible for them to be meaningfully engaged.
- Unity of Purpose among all Believers
We as a people are ardent believers in the one God, creator of heaven and earth, who has the earth to us as our common heritage, who expects us to relate to him in deference and obeisance, respectful of one another. As a Church, we continue to promote dialogical relations with other faiths such as Muslims and practitioners of the African Traditional Religion. Despite our differences in the faiths we profess, we can and should embark on joint initiatives in the service of the common good. In the spirit of cooperation and co-responsibility, we can and should necessarily unite for the common cause of fighting corruption, ethnocentrism, terrorism and banditry, social injustice, poverty, drug abuse; fostering good governance and free, fair and credible elections. Our purposeful unity thus help in promoting security, peace and understanding in our communities and nation; protecting the sanctity of our places of worship in the face of wanton destruction at the slightest provocation; safeguarding the environment and caring for those in need. These, no doubt, constitute an ideal way of putting what we believe into practice; walking forward together on the same path of love and solidarity; and moving forward purposefully in the same direction for the good of one and all. As a people of faith, we continue to pray and work for a better future for ourselves and the coming generations.
- State of the Nation: Political Engagement of Citizens
The country is again in the season of elections. Political campaigns have already begun in preparation for the 2023 General Elections. Government should provide the enabling environment for citizens to exercise their franchise devoid of violence, intimidation, vote buying and vote selling. These electoral anomalies harm the democratic process as they contribute to depriving citizens the freedom to make informed choices at elections, by making the process less credible. Unfortunately, elected officials who emerge from such a defective electoral process, have the additional moral burden of credibility while in office. Citizens should use their PVCs to vote candidates of credibility and integrity who have demonstrated the capacity to pilot the affairs of this nation in a responsible and corrupt-free manner. The electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), should ensure that the electoral process is just, transparent, open, free, fair and credible.
INEC, as a genuine umpire, must be neutral and objective and not favour any parties but apply the laws and principles to all in a fair and equitable manner. Government should provide adequate security to enable the citizens come out and exercise their franchise.In addition, campaigns should be idea-based devoid of bitterness and unhealthy rivalry. Political candidates for the election should avail citizens of their electoral manifestoes including strategies for achieving set goals and objectives.
The practice of promising the electorate lofty objectives to be pursued by political office holders that look good on paper but only to be jettisoned after such candidates win election has become the common experience of many Nigerians. It is hoped that political office holders would support their manifestos with strategies to achieve set targets and actually pursue those goals when elected to office. Holding political office holders accountable is the collective responsibility of all citizens.
On this, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) should play active roles through advocacy and enlightenment.As agreed by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at the last meeting in Orlu, Imo State in September 2022, that at the end of this third Pastoral Congress a prayer will be composed for free, fair, credible and peaceful elections in our country in 2023, the bishops have composed the said prayers which should be said in all dioceses, parishes and families from now to the time of elections.
Despite several efforts by Government, the economy is not in good shape. Citizens are not seeing much improvements in their daily lives but a decline in their purchasing power. The costs of staple food like rice, yam and garri have skyrocketed. Power supply is still epileptic. Fuel is sold at far above the official pump rates in many parts of the country. This should not be happening in a country that is the 6th largest producer of crude oil in the world. Government should devise a strategy that makes fuel and other petroleum products available, accessible and affordable.The new Government policy of Naira redesign, aimed at curbing inflation and fighting corruption and terrorism, is a lofty idea. In any case, Naira redesign alone cannot provide the needed reprieve in the economy and confront the hydra-headed problems of corruption and terrorism. A redesigned naira must necessarily be accompanied by strong institutional frameworks and laws such as an effective policing system, tracking and timely prosecution of corrupt persons and strengthening the security agencies to properly police Nigeria’s borders to prevent the influx of armed bandits from other countries.
Ecological Concerns: Flooding and Other Environmental Hazards.
We, as a people, should take advantage of the ongoing 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt and replicate the positive recommendations in Nigeria. This is because there are still serious ecological concerns in our country, for example, the monumental flooding, which has caused untold hardships on the people leading to the destruction of lives and properties is largely as a result of lack of care for our environment. We call on Government at all levels to take concrete steps in responding to these challenges. We advocate for a more effective and efficient emergency response strategy, the construction of more dams all over the country while overhauling and expanding the capacity of the dams available at the moment for better water management. We earnestly urge all Nigerians to embrace healthy lifestyle and environmentally friendly attitudes in disposing of wastes arising from human activities.
In God We Trust.
God is always faithful to his people and calls us to be faithful to Him as well. Let us continue to put our trust in the Lord who never abandons his people. Let us not yield to despair and cynicism which would eventually lead to indifferentism and lethargy that breeds hopelessness and despondency. Trusting in God’s help, let us continue working towards the Nigeria of our dream as we turn to God in prayer: Merciful Lord, we plead for mercy and pardon for our many failings and shortcomings. Strip us of greed, corruption, and impunity. Cause your Holy Spirit to expel from us all unjust tendencies and fraudulent practices. Rid us of the all the evils that plague our nation and grant us your lasting peace, joy and hope always. Amen. Glory to God in the highest and peace to men and women of good will!
Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru UGORJI
Archbishop of Owerri
Most Rev. Donatus Aihmiosion OGUN, OSA
Bishop of Uromi