Theme: Catholic Church Promoting Mercy, Social Justice and Peace
We, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, held our First Plenary Meeting of the year at the Daughters of Divine Love Retreat and Conference Centre, Abuja, from 13 to 19 February, 2016. Having prayerfully reflected on the issues affecting the Church and our country, we now present our Communiqué.
2. EVENTS IN THE CHURCH
We pray for the repose of the soul of Bishop Emeritus of Port-Harcourt, Bishop Alexius Makozi, who was buried on 28 January, 2016. May the souls of all our departed bishops and all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace, Amen. We congratulate His Eminence, Francis Cardinal Arinze, on his Golden Jubilee of Episcopal Ordination. We also express our sentiments of joy and celebrate with Most Rev. Michael Okoro, Bishop Emeritus of Abakaliki, on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee of Priestly Ordination, with Most Rev Francis Okobo, Bishop Emeritus of Nsukka, on his Golden Jubilee as a Priest and Silver Jubilee of Episcopal Ordination and with Nsukka Diocese on its Silber Jubilee. May the Lord continue to bless and strengthen his ministers and his Church, Amen. The 8th World Meeting of Families Celebration in Philadelphia, USA, and the 51st International Eucharistic Celebration in Cebu, Philippines, ended successfully. We hereby invite all to the National Meeting of Families taking place in the Archdiocese of Lagos from 11 to 14 April, 2016.
3. YEAR OF MERCY IN ACTION
We recognize that mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life (Misericordiae Vultus 10) and a criterion for the credibility of our faith: ‘Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy’ (Matt 5:7). As members of God’s household, beneficiaries of the abundant mercy of God, we must make ourselves credible ambassadors of God’s mercy to our neighbours and to our world. As ambassadors of God’s mercy, we must rediscover the tremendous benefits of the Sacrament of Reconciliation; live out more fully the corporal and the spiritual works of mercy (Rom 12:8); draw men and women to be reconciled with God and among themselves and inspire them to live fully their Christian faith. We urge every particular Church in Nigeria to initiate programmes that will promote living this Holy Year as an extraordinary moment of grace and spiritual renewal. We reiterate the incisive statement of Saint Pope John XXIII to the effect that “there can be no peace between people unless there is peace within each one of them, unless, that is, each one builds up within oneself the order wished by God” (Pacem in Terris 165). We affirm that the human family is fundamental in attaining peace in the society.
4. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
We re-affirm the teaching of the Church that the human being is fundamental to the social order. Over the years, the Catholic Church has been at the forefront of promoting social justice. We commend the Justice, Development and Peace Commission and Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria for the good work they are doing. Given the emerging challenges of our time, we urge them to intensify efforts in promoting human rights, conflicts management, elections monitoring and advocacy for good governance. We are resolved in promoting a better quality of life for all, the right to work and the dignity of labour. We equally advocate integral education, poverty alleviation and health care services.
5. THE STATE OF THE NATION
We recognize the efforts of the Nigerian government, the Military and other Security Agencies in degrading Boko Haram Insurgency, especially in the North Eastern part of Nigeria. Yet, there are strings of attacks in soft targets such as Internally Displaced Persons camps, markets and parks. We encourage the government and security agencies to do all they can to defeat insurgents and prevent further loss of lives. We pray for God’s mercy on all who have died in this war. We equally enjoin government and indeed all Nigerians, to seek alternative strategies towards ending terrorism and thus win them over to our communities. We commend the initiative of the Federal Government towards rehabilitation of the Boko Haram victims. We also urge the government not to lose sight of the destroyed properties of all affected groups including the religious bodies, and request that the composition of relevant committees would include religious leaders in the North East, who are already working hard in this regard.
We appreciate the efforts of the government in fighting corruption. In his Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis says: ‘Corruption is a grave sin which cries out to heaven for vengeance, because it threatens the very foundation of personal and social life. It is a sinful hardening of the heart that replaces God with the illusion that money is a form of power’ (art. 19). We therefore call on the government to use appropriate legal processes to thoroughly investigate the crimes of the past, transparently prosecute accused persons, and hold the guilty accountable in accordance with the laws of the land. Nonetheless, legal efforts are not enough. We enjoin all to seek positive and effective way forward through our common spiritual and religious values, namely, prayers and spiritual/moral rebirth as basis for repentance, reparation and reconciliation.
We note with dismay the glaring inequality in our society. The poor who have equal rights to benefit from the wealth of the Nation have continued to experience lack of basic human needs. We need to diversify our economy and invest more in grassroots economic infrastructure that promote healthy small/medium scale industry and enterprise. We call on public office holders to ensure that resources meant for national development and common good are used accordingly. This indeed is the goal and end of social justice. We are worried by the intractable culture of conflicts and growing criminality in our society. We all have a responsibility to ensure that no member of the society suffers violence, marginalisation and deprivation. We call on individuals and communities groups to be more vigilant and be proactively involved in ending these crises.
6. MERCY, NATIONAL RECONCILIATION AND PEACE
We recognize the dire need, in our nation, for positive thinking and action towards reconciliation, mercy and peace. Tribal, regional and religious sentiments have held us in bondage for decades. We urge Nigerians to work in solidarity to correct imbalances in resource/power sharing. Proper social security and good governance will engender functional education, employment, health-care, social justice and development, and thus curb corruption, violence, and poverty. In the spirit of restitution and healing of hurts, we request the relevant governments at all levels to return and rehabilitate the schools taken over by the governments after the Nigerian civil war, to their rightful owners, including the Catholic Church. Also, in the light of divine mercy, we urge the relevant government authorities to exercise their discretions on prerogative of mercy, pardon and amnesty with which they are empowered by the National Constitution in the interest of the common good. This is consistent with the teaching of Pope Francis: ‘Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe’ (Misericordiae Vultus, 21).
7. PEACE: A TASK FOR ALL
We reiterate the incisive statement of Saint Pope John XXIII to the effect that “there can be no peace between people unless there is peace within each one of them, unless, that is, each one builds up within oneself the order wished by God” (Pacem in Terris 165). We re-affirm that the human family is fundamental in attaining peace in the society. With a renewed urgency, we urge all families, especially Christian families, to live up to their expectations as harbingers of peace by shunning violence, building tolerance, creating an atmosphere of love, harmony, and mutual affection among their members. As a Church we shall continue to promote repentance, reparation, reconciliation, justice and peace by preaching the truth of the gospel, by witnessing of life, by strengthening and sustaining our various structures for conflict management and by advocating right order in the Church and the Society.
CONCLUSION: LENTEN SEASON, A TIME OF GRACE
We invite all Christian faithful and indeed all Nigerians, to seek the face of God who is rich in Mercy (Eph 2:4). We call on all Nigerians, either as individuals or as communities, to repent of their wrong doing (Joel 2:13) with a firm resolution to change for the better, and amend their ways by making reparation and restitution for their sinful conduct. It is only then that true reconciliation can take place in a spirit of forgiveness which leads to peace and harmony. We pray that Mary, Mother of Mercy, intercede for us so that we may be worthy of receiving the mercy of God and sharing same with our brothers and sisters. Amen.
Most Rev Ignatius Ayau KAIGAMA
President, CBCN, Archbishop of Jos,
Most Rev William A. AVENYA
Secretary, CBCN, Bishop of Gboko