The theme for our 16th General Assembly is:
“Revival of Catholic Traditions and Etiquettes in the Contemporary Nigerian Church: the Catholic Archdiocese of Jos in Focus”, in a speech to be delivered by Fr. Peter Uchu, PhD, a lecturer at the Catholic Institute of West Africa. The sub-theme is “The Social and Pastoral Responsibilities of Catholics in Public and Civil Service”, a speech to be given by the Hon. Boniface Gwotbit, Chairman, Mikang Local Government Council and immediate past Chairman of the Laity Council in the Archdiocese of Jos.

At this period of fast and dramatic changes, one can say, “tsunamic” changes in our world, we have a very great need to return to the roots of our Catholic faith and identity which have served us so well for over 2,000 years.

Ephesians : 4 : 14 urges that we should not be disturbed and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the wickedness of men, and by the craftiness which deceives into error.
Similarly, Eph. 4:15 admonishes that “Instead, acting according to truth in charity, we should increase in everything, in him who is the head, Christ himself”.

We believe in the Divine origin of the Catholic Church as founded by Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour, the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6).  On Pentecost Day the Church was born through the action of the Holy Spirit. Jesus left us Sacraments as efficacious signs of grace for the Church and for our personal sanctification (cf. CCC 1131).

The sign of the Cross made by Catholics at the beginning or end of events signifies grace and reminds us of the redemption of Christ. The attributes of our Church are: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. One: because as Eph 4:4-5, says, “…we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all…..”. Holy, because the Most Holy God is her author and calls us to holiness (cf. Lev 19:2). Catholic, because she is universal, found in all parts of the world. Because of this, for over two thousand years, many Catholic priests, religious, Catechists and lay people have offered their lives for the faith or suffered grievously more than in any religion. Apostolic, because she is rooted in the faith of the Apostles which cannot be compromised.

The earthly spiritual leader of all Catholics today is Pope Francis, who is the 266th successor of St. Peter the Apostle. We have a long history, a long tradition, and since the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 our Church has gone through various Councils to deal with early Church heresies such as Adoptionism, Arianism, etc., which denied the divinity of Christ and claimed that Jesus was only a perfect human being on whom special graces were bestowed. The heresy of Nestorius claiming that there are two distinct persons in Christ, one human and one divine, and denied that Mary could be the mother of a human being conjoined to God, was condemned by the ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. Since the early period, various ecumenical Councils including Vatican I and Vatican II have brought about definitions of certain Church traditions, doctrines and dogmas.

Because of our long history and as a result of the Protestant reformation as well as the upsurge of new ecclesial movements said to be Pentecostal or Charismatic, the Catholic Church draws all manner of uncomplimentary  and even hostile remarks or reactions against our beloved age-old traditions. It can be correctly said that the Catholic Church is the most misunderstood Church attacked, ridiculed, persecuted and deliberately demonized (in the world) because of her sheer size (1.3 billion), her uniform ways of doing things, her unquestioning loyalty to the Pope, the Successor of St. Peter, and because of her constant insistence on scriptural correctness on matters like abortion, homosexuality, suicide, etc.
While we humbly admit that our Church is a Church of saints and sinners and we cannot deny that unholy things have taken place and still take place among us, we however tenaciously cling on to  the merciful Jesus, who said that he came to call sinners and not the righteous (cf. Lk 5:32).

The contributions of the Catholic Church to world Christianity and even to world social order, no matter the demonization that the Catholic Church suffers today, cannot be wiped out. Is it Christmas? – it was first celebrated in 336 under the Roman Christian Emperor Constantine and declared by Pope Julius I to be celebrated officially on 25th December. Is it Easter? – it was established by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Is it Pentecost? – it was celebrated fifty days after the Resurrection. We believe that the Bible is the Word of God written in human language (cf. 2 Tm 3:16). “The very first Christian Bible was produced by the Catholic Church – compiled by Catholic scholars of the 2nd and 3rd century and approved for general Christian use by the Catholic Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397). The very first printed Bible was produced under the auspices of the Catholic Church – printed by the Catholic inventor of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg” (cf. Paul Whitcomb, The Catholic Church has the Answer, 1986 by TAN Books and Publishers Inc., Illinois., pg. 20).

Popes throughout the centuries have issued encyclicals of spiritual, pastoral or social significance. Various prayers have been formulated to facilitate our spiritual journey: at morning and at night, the Angelus prayers, the liturgy of the Holy Mass, Hours, Benediction, Eucharistic adoration, lectio divina, retreats, etc.

We encourage our laity to pass on the faith in the family and those who can to write books or pamphlets on our doctrines or traditions. Some Catholics like Sir Augustine Aigbangbee, William Benedict and Benedict O.A.C. Ngwu have tried in this direction recently. Many Catholics should study basic theology and even advanced theology, volunteer to be Catechists, choir members, Church wardens, and teachers of religious doctrine, especially in a world which seems to be allergic to God matters and where today man prefers his or her ways because we foolishly think we have made so many advances in science and technology.

To reinvigorate our Church every member should strive to be a member of one or several church organizations, not a passive consumer of religious goods, not to be just an indifferent or seasonal Catholic.
Louis Pasteur – the Inventor of Pasteurization – was once praying the Rosary on a train when a young man criticized his devotion as a manifestation of scientific ignorance. Pasteur simply had to introduce himself to dispel this spurious charge of superstition.

“A little science takes you away from God but a lot of science takes you back to Him…

The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator.

Others are: Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, an Augustinian monk;

St. Giuseppe Moscati, a pioneer in treating diabetes with insulin, who said, “Only one science is unshakeable and unshaken, the one revealed by God, the science of the hereafter!”

Henri de Broglie, who earned the Nobel Prize for his landmark achievement in the realm of quantum mechanics, a devout Catholic;

Fr. Georges Lemaître, the father of the Big Bang Theory
Dr. Jerome Lejeune, who discovered the genetic defect that causes Down’s syndrome. He was very pro-life. St. John Paul II appointed him as the first president of the Pontifical Academy of Life. His cause for canonization has opened in Rome.

Galileo Galilei was the father of modern astronomy, and even though he suffered for stating his solar theories as indisputable fact, he remained a practicing Catholic until the day he died. His own daughter became a nun.

From the above examples, we know that everyone can contribute his or her quota. You may not have to win a Nobel Peace Prize but your good works will surely touch others positively.

In this regard, I thank all the various Commissions, Church societies, the cleaners, the altar servers, the cadets/scouts, the dedicated priests and religious who offer selfless service to our Church and the society in the educational, health, social and pastoral fields.

Our concerns today should be more in the areas of a deeper spiritual life and greater commitments to ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, justice and peace issues, care for the poor, especially the internally displaced people, care for the environment, upholding and promoting the sanctity of life and doing our official duties with dedication, and freedom from bribery and corrupt practices.

We need to interiorize our faith and make it more practical. There should be a difference between being merely baptized and living a practical Christian life. Let our acts of devotion be visible, so that when you pass the front of a Church you make a sign of the cross; go to confession regularly; fast at least for one hour before receiving Holy Communion; kneel at consecration during Mass ( if not sick); wed in church; baptize your kids early; pay tithes; attend Mass on a Sunday and if possible daily. Have a small prayer house at home integrated into your building.

At this juncture, permit me please to acknowledge your sacrifices made towards our cathedral project. The idea of a new cathedral was to mark the 100 years of Catholicism in our Archdiocese in 2007. The contribution of one block per Catholic and one bag of cement per family started in 2016. All parishes were to submit their total income from tithing, seed sowing, and harvest and bazaar. In 2015, we had a formal fund raising activity where former Governor Jonah David Jang was the Chairman and the Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi said the opening prayer. We have a modest income but many pledges haven’t been paid up till now. Senator Ibrahim Mantu, a Moslem, donated the sum of five hundred thousand Naira in cash. The incumbent Governor, a Catholic, like any other Catholic continues to pay his levy. Let no one be deceived that because the Governor is a Catholic, he will mobilize government funds for our Cathedral project. Those who think that way are terribly insulting Catholics in the Archdiocese of Jos and rubbishing the enormous sacrifices being made by them to build the house of God. It is not the first time that Catholics are embarking on a big project since its existence in Jos in the past 111 years without any government support. The secret of our success lies in our unity of purpose and mission and the judicious use of funds realized. The project will take us time but we are determined to continue building by the grace of God, and the generosity of your toil and sweat. God bless you richly.

Pope Benedict XVI in his 2005 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) asserts that:

“The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible …. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice….”

Defection has become a much used word in the lexicon of contemporary Nigerian politics. Many forget that it is a negative word. How I wish it were all about a new breed of leaders who put people rather than themselves first. How I wish it were a sudden realization that those entrusted with political offices and politicians have dashed the hopes of most Nigerians. After sixty years of independence and even with the years of our democratic practice, Nigeria is struggling to provide adequate social security, food security, and patriotic national identity.

Nigerians are being consumed by violence, especially violence generated by hunger and youth unemployment. I should be happier if defection could bring about healing the wounds of ethnic, political, religious and terrorist acts, or bringing about sincere reparation as in the case of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8 who, having realized he had cheated the people he was meant to serve, confessed to Jesus: “…I will give half of my belongings to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much”.

Our politics should be about forging a bridge of national unity rather than providing a means to a buoyant financial power and prestige. Good attention should be given to the deteriorating roads and the increasingly nefarious activities of kidnappers, militant herdsmen and armed bandits who seem to outsmart the security agents. All our politicians care about now is to protect their own geopolitical, religious or ethnic landscape.
I pray that this time around our politicians all over Nigeria will be kind enough to engage in only those things that can bring genuine development and socio-economic improvement to the lives of Nigerians and above all, peaceful coexistence despite political differences.

As we pray for the success of our General Assembly, we commend to our daily prayers, the souls of those who have been violently killed, injured or displaced. May the Lord grant a change of heart to those who do such evil things whether for political or economic reasons. May peace flow in our land again, and may the sanctity of human life be upheld by each and every one of us.

With this opening speech, I hereby declare our 16th General Assembly open, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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