CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FOR 2019 BY MOST REV. IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA, CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF ABUJA
Greetings of peace to my beloved family of the Archdiocese of Abuja and to all people of goodwill, as I mark my first Christmas as the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja. Kindly accept my heartfelt gratitude for the gracious welcome and assurance of support to me and my pastoral ministry as demonstrated during the 5th of December Eucharistic celebration in Abuja, when I formally began my pastoral work as the chief shepherd in the Archdiocese. I wish to use this medium to convey my deep sentiments of appreciation to the many Archbishops, Bishops, priests and religious with the laity, who came from far and near in huge numbers to pray with and for me and to witness my official taking possession of the See of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Abuja. Warm regards to the political, civil and traditional authorities led by His Excellency, the Vice President of Nigeria. I must also mention and appreciate the leaders of other Churches and the presence of many Muslim dignitaries including the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Nigeria, for their generosity of time and the fraternity shown. May God bless you all for your edifying presence and for making the day a successful and memorable one. I look forward to a wonderful family in my new home, Abuja Archdiocese, working together with all, not only in the spirit of collaboration but also of co-responsibility.
CHRISTMAS – GOD’S DIALOGUE WITH HUMANITY
The coming of Jesus in human history which we celebrate at Christmas had been foretold centuries earlier by the prophets in Palestine. Isaiah had spoken that ‘a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and she will call Him Immanuel’ (Isa 7:14), a name which means ‘God with us’ (Matt 1:23). Christmas is that divine occasion that God became man in order to restore fallen man to its divinely intended purpose. The Son of God voluntarily took initiative in His grace to condescend and come down from heaven (cf. Jn 3:13) to meet man where he was, that the sons of men could become once again, the sons of God (cf. Jn 1:12) and the world might be saved (cf. Jn 3:17).
The divine incarnation of Jesus was not a result of a holiday trip from heaven, an excursion to earth, or picnic, but a journey of love, a redemptive and restorative mission. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). “He did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Rom 8:32). The will of God is to bind mankind together in love and that the world might live through Him (cf. 1 Jn 4:9).
The self-revelation of God as Jesus Christ “the visible image” of the invisible God reminds us that God has not given up on man. He came to give life that we may have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10). Where God is born, grace is born. The power of the child Jesus is not based on might and wealth, but love. It is a power which gives new birth, pardons transgressions, brings about reconciliation and transforms evil into good. It is the power of service which inaugurates the kingdom of God in our world, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of light and truth. This season therefore is an invitation for Christians everywhere to volunteer to share this life and love that Christ brings at Christmas; to restore the lost joys and hopes of those around us and our nation.
CHRISTMAS AND SOCIAL CONSIDERATIONS
As we celebrate the very festive and colourful period of Christmas, sometimes the social preparations or engagements are so intense that they seem to eclipse the required corresponding spiritual preparations or dispositions. How I wish that our gorgeous celebration of Christmas can be translated into a Christ-like love, by our imitating the mission of Jesus Christ who made the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor evangelized (cf. Mt. 11:5).
The prevalent social vices, greed and corruption have forced our nation almost to a social cul-de-sac; resulting in social injustice and violence which have brought about many needless deaths, internally displaced persons, starvation, poverty, hatred, ruined environments, forced migration of young people; widened the gap between the rich and the poor, and caused prolonged misery and trauma for the most vulnerable people in our society. Let us seize the opportunity of the Christmas season to reach out to others in a new friendship, as brothers and sisters of a common Father, to build new bonds in love beyond individual interests and group affiliations.
I call on all leaders, political, religious, traditional and civil, to use their positions of authority in selfless service to our people especially those at the grassroots; to narrow the rich and poor divide and to help break the high walls of prejudices, superiority complex, polarization, political insensitivity and reckless financial spending of public resources that rob the poor of a dignified existence. These attitudes sometimes force our nation to its knees.
I also encourage groups, NGOs and indeed all Nigerians to build on what unites us, to explore our rich diversities, talents and opportunities to yield multi-dimensional growth and development that can be felt even at the grassroots. With all hands on deck, we can renew the hope for a greater and more prosperous nation for ourselves and future generations. Enemies could become friends, and friends become brothers and sisters. It is also in this light that I plead with all those who are either already engaged in violent conflicts or are on the relentless march to armed conflict in different parts of our nation to beat their swords into ploughshares and dwell more on what can unite, heal and reconcile us into a formidable nation by way of honest and peaceful dialogue.
TOGETHER IN LOVE
The love of Jesus is without conditions and barriers. That is what he has come to teach us. Our two major religions in Nigeria teach us how to be kind, gentle, patient, forgiving etc. But we seem to tend so much towards narcissism, concentrating so much on ourselves that we forget the common good that impacts all of us. We are suffering as a nation not for lack but because of greed. When we refuse to see the brother or sister in the eyes of another Nigerian, we can inflict severe pain and social deprivation; we promote our ethnic or religious interests, divert given opportunities to the benefit of our tribe, political constituency, religious fellow worshippers, etc.
We can collaborate in many concrete ways to bring about a just and free society that replaces manipulations of the masses and go beyond our narrow barriers and unhealthy divisions. We can stand together against our brand of local colonization or imperialism to fight corruption, hunger, poverty and disease and to focus on strengthening the capacity of our institutions for the common good.
We can together bail our nation and our people from the shackles that restrain our common growth and development, when we see in each other, a brother and a sister, forgiving past mutual hostilities and conflicts and embracing new beginnings, which the birth of Christ affords us. Once again, let us rise up to the occasion with our voices and actions to give witness to solidarity and peace.
THE POOR MUST BE AT THE HEART OF POLITICAL, RELIGIOUS AND SOCIAL ENGAGEMENTS
Pope Francis reminds us of our obligations to the poor by initiating the World Day of the Poor. We have the poor with us parading in many forms: widows, beggars on the streets, hawkers at railway crossings or street light stops, unemployed youths, street children, pensioners, the aged, orphans etc. These poor are to be celebrated, encouraged and supported rather than ridiculed and further dehumanized. They form the bulk of our population and one wonders if a special Federal Ministry and State Ministry for the poor and needy will not be a step in the right direction. Let us surprise the poor with such a national recognition which translates into the provision of a sincere social security system for them without it being messed up by our characteristic bureaucratic as well as “roadside” corruption.
May the grace of the birth of Christ permeate every corner of our lives, families and nation to allow a new dawn of honest interpersonal relationship and fraternity to prevail among us.
I heartily wish us all a merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. Let us not despair. The Lord is great!