By Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua

As the elections are approaching, the volume of hate speeches is reaching the peak. Mutual trust is giving way to mutual suspicion. Religion is being politicized as if the political parties are Christianity and Islam. Religious fanaticism has become a strong point to campaign against an opponent. One would have expected the political candidates to rather defend their political manifestoes instead of using religion to condemn the opponent. It could be more edifying for a political candidate and his supporters to tell the electorate hiscapacity and what hehas on the table to offer. While attending the caucus meeting of the African Council of Religious Leaders in Dar El Salaam, Tanzanian, a friend sent me a scan copy of a document that contains the agenda of the Muslims to Islamise Nigeria. Another flier I saw was that we should not vote for somebody who have completed plans in Saudi Arabia to Islamize Nigeria. Some audio messages with the same messages are flying in the social media like skyrockets. The most amazing argument is that Arabic being taught in public schools is an Islamic agenda. Among the questions to ask are: (1) Where is the source of this document? (2) How come that this document has to wait till the eve of elections before circulating if not to score a political point with religion? (3) Is there a Christian strategic blue print to carry out the mandate of Jesus Christ to preach the gospel to the whole world and baptize those who believe?

Arabic is a language like English, Italian, French, Greek, Hebrew etc. Some Catholic priests are experts in Arabic language. My friend even confirmed that his priest friend from Iraq celebrates mass in Arabic. Both of us agree that Arabic is not synonymous to Islam. These few days before the elections are very challenging hence Religious leaders must caution their followers not to be used to destabilize Nigeria. The communique issued after the meeting of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) of January 28, 2019, called on Christians and Muslims to a dialogue of social engagement as this can change the society. Religious actors can and must work across sectors to build fair and efficient governance systems that respect human rights and promote robust forms of pluralism (Katherine Marshall, Georgetown University). The 2013 Religions for Peace (RfP) emphasized the need for a just and harmonious societies. The Commission argued that religious communities must and can promote a “robust principled pluralism that yields courteous candor and genuine mutual respect.” That ideal and goal remains valid and central (Katherine Marshall, Georgetown University). In working for social change in the society, the Christians and Muslims must understand that material things undermine traditional and religious cultures.

We must never forget that various forms of religious extremism that threaten human rights, social harmony and human welfare have some political undertone. This is why the Churches and Mosques; Pastors, Bishops and Imams must never sell their calling, in exchange of lustful nakedness, political positions and appointments. Religious leaders must tell their followers that inordinate quest for luxuries and empty pride does not lead to salvation. Religious preachers must tell their followers not to promote hate, religious bigotry, tribal sentiments, disunity, financial irresponsibility and laziness in the lives of their flock. Instead of selling immoralitywith global trend, they must preach truth, love, patience, dignity of labour, peace, forgiveness and zero tolerance of immorality. Religious leaders cannot wait for the President of the nation, Governor of a state or any of the political leadersto enter the Church or Mosque to preach decency and what it takes to grow a better society where we could experience the joy of heaven on earth.

We all have in our different capacities and callings what it takes to make a better world if we do not allow ourselves to be distracted by religious differences. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states thatthe lay faithful, who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ and integrated into the People of God, are made sharers in their particular way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ, and have their own part to play in the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the World” (385 CIC, Can. 204 para 1; Cf. LG 31).”By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are closely associated that these may always be affected and grow according to Christ and maybe to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer” (385 CIC, Can. 204 para 1; Cf. LG 31).Coincidently, the politicians who are Christians enjoy this mandate hence they must be true ambassadors of Jesus Christ in their political career.

Number 899 of the Catechism states that, “the initiative of lay Christians is necessary especially when the matter involves discovering or inventing the means for permeating social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life. This initiative is a normal element of the life of the Church: “Lay believers are in the front line of Church life; for them the Church is the animating principle of human society. Therefore, they in particular ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but of being the Church, that is to say, the community of the faithful on earth under the leadership of the Pope, the common Head, and of the bishops in communion with him. They are the Church” (385 CIC, Can. 204 para 1; Cf. LG 31). This is why a political leader who does otherwise betrays Jesus Christ and the Church. This is because the Catechism in number900states that “Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth.

Saint Pope John Paul II dedicated to the laity his “Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation ChristifidelesLaicito teach clearly the vocation and the mission of the lay faithful in the Church and in the modern world. This document came out twenty years after the Second Vatican Council” at the 1987 Synod of Bishops. The laity is compared to the labourers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 20, 1-2). The vineyard of the laity is the whole world (Matthew 13, 38) which is to be transformed according to the plan of God in view of the final coming of the Kingdom of God. Since Christians and Muslims are creatures of God with Abraham as a common father; and given that politicians do not remember religious differences when they are sharing money even though some innocent people die in the cause of campaigning for them, every Christianand Muslim must understand the mission and vision of salvation. After elections, the winners may not remember the families of those who sacrificed their lives using religion to campaign for them. We must therefore remain alive through Inter-religious co-operation change the world instead of dying for those who would not value our lives when they are in power. No government can resist the combined action of Christians and Muslims in the joint demand for social justice, education, health care delivery, good roads, portable water, freedom of religion and dignity of the human person. Let us go then and use religion to change the society in trust and love.

Rev. Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council

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