An Open Letter to the Bishop

Respecting the Rights of Igbo Speaking Congregation During Masses

By Ereodichukwu B. Anulunko

The motivation to write this piece derived from the article I read titled, ”Do we have faith in Priests or in God?’ written by Jude Atupulazi on the 19 -25th January edition of the Fides newspaper. The thrust of the article was on how some Priests of Awka Diocese were displaying their pictures at their various praying grounds, making their followers to almost venerate them instead of God in whose name they are preaching. The author hence reported how the Bishop of Awka Diocese banned such display of personal pictures by priests of the Diocese. It was this action of His Lordship that reminds one of the power which the Bishop has over his priests with regard to controlling their official conducts.

This article is thus intended to draw the attention of His Lordship to the need to monitor our priests more closely with a view to ensuring that their conducts are in line with Vatican Council guidelines. Of particular concern to this writer is the observed violation of the Vatican Council principle which states that Gospel should be taken to the people in their own language. The reason for this directive is simple: to ensure proper understanding of the gospel message by the faithful. These gospel messages certainly come in form of sermons, songs, prayers, etc. It was this Vatican Council directive that made it possible for Catholic Priests to begin celebration of masses in the different native languages across the world, including the Igbo speaking region of Nigeria, instead of in Latin, as was the case earlier. In furtherance of the injunction, the Catholic Bishops of Igbo Land laboured to translate the English Bible into the Igbo Language for easier application.

Observation has however shown that many priests in the Diocese today violate this rule: thus, rather than conduct their masses entirely in the Igbo Language for the Igbo congregation as a matter of their right, they instead choose when to use the Igbo Language. Some end up using English Language while adding Igbo Language in between. This therefore means that they share the right and opportunity given to Igbo Language speakers with English Language speakers. Meanwhile, it has been observed that when a mass is to be conducted in English, the native language is not usually brought in. Using a designated language for a particular congregation certainly ensures proper understanding of the message by the audience it is meant for. But in the case of these priests of the Diocese under reference, it does not seem to matter to them whether the congregation understands their message or not. It does not seem also that they want to know if their congregation wants the mixed language arrangement or not. They also do not seem to know that they are oppressing the people’s language by what they are doing. They do not also believe that their practice amounts to abuse of the privilege granted them by the Church preventing the congregation from questioning or challenging them while in the pulpit.

Igbo Language masses should not be an occasion to test the people’s understanding of the English Language, occasion for teaching them the language or that of showing them the priest’s capacity to speak the language.

Some priests may justify their action by saying that there are some members of the congregation that are not Igbo speaking people. If this logic is true, and the people cannot learn the language of the local community, then creating time for English Language mass is a better alternative.

At this juncture, it is important to remind our priests and, indeed, everyone, that our various indigenous languages have a divine foundation (Gen 11:2-9), thus anyone denying a person the right to receive or give out a message in his God-given mother language cannot claim to be doing the will of God. Hence, if anyone should be violating this divine injunction, it should not be men of God like our priests.

I feel pleased here, however, to remark that His Lordship, the Bishop of Awka Diocese, certainly understands this because his sermons and speeches for the congregation during his pastoral visits to our local parishes are usually presented in the people’s language: Igbo.

Therefore, since His Lordship, as Leader of the Catholic faithful in Awka Diocese observes this principle, it is difficult to understand why some of his subordinates should not do likewise.

Having observed this behavioural trend from our priests, it is my considered view that our priests need special training on relationship between language, evangelization and development. This is very essential because the culprits in this subject under discussion simply do not understand the import of what they are doing. After conducting this training and a priest still chooses to violate this principle, the Bishop should issue an appropriate sanction to him because, as such a priest continues with the practice, he not only fails to communicate the gospel message effectively, he also annoys his audience, while causing grievous harm to the God-given language of the people.

God certainly has His plans for creating different languages for different people and He will certainly be happier and better disposed to respond when people preach, sing, and pray to Him in that language which He gave to them.

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