LAGOS, Nigeria, FEB. 24, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Nigerian Catholic bishops´ conference dedicated its plenary assembly to the theme of “curing the nation´s wounds,” which an archbishop said are largely self-inflicted.
The assembly began last Tuesday with a Mass at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral in Abuja, during which Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, conference president, made an impassioned analysis of the country´s situation.
Papal Nuncio Osbaldo Padilla and 43 other bishops concelebrated the Mass along with 22 priests. Numerous religious and lay faithful attended.
Archbishop Onaiyekan in his homily stressed that “the theme of the conference presupposes that the nation is wounded.”
“There are many of our countrymen and women who are literally nursing serious and grievous wounds — received in communal clashes, inflicted in bomb explosions in Lagos, received in careless motor accidents, caused by attacks from armed robbers,” he said. Hundreds and thousands are already dead, he noted.
Archbishop Onaiyekan said the nation also needs healing from the psychological and moral wounds that are inflicted through “despair, anger, frustration and inability to achieve a minimum of dignified self-fulfillment.”
He posited that Nigeria´s wounds are largely self-inflicted, arising from “our inability to manage our social conflicts. They come from insecurity to life and property, greed and corruption of those who ought to manage better the affairs of the nation, from a misguided concept of political power, which leads to the pursuit of political office as a matter of life and death.”
He attributed these malaises to selfishness, lack of love, and lack of concern at individual and group levels. The archbishop, who called on all to an examination of conscience, charged that the poor and the weak are the hardest hit.
The prelate also suggested that Nigerians must place the priority of the common good over sectional and personal interests. “Pursuing personal good at the expense of the common good is, in the long term, not in the interest of anyone, not even the greedy and the selfish persons who do so,” he said.
The bishops´ conference president also called for peace between religious groups. “Whenever Muslims and Christians are thrown against one another in useless battles, neither Christianity nor Islam wins,” he said. “It is the poor, Christians and Muslims, who die on the streets while the rich on both sides are often safe.”
Archbishop Onaiyekan also declared during the formal opening that “the Church “cannot forget that there are many people who are still displaced as a result of the problems occasioned by the Shariah. There are those who are hoping we would resign ourselves to this injustice. I believe it is our duty not to acquiesce in a situation that is clearly unjust.” Shariah is Islamic law.
The bishops´ conference president also noted that the political climate in Nigeria is chaotic. “We need to seek ways of being relevant in the processes that are now being forged,” he said. He urged his brother bishops to find a way of ensuring “pastoral attention to our politicians, while maintaining a safe distance from their possible manipulations.”
In his message, the papal nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Osbaldo Padilla, commended the theme of the conference.
“It is a theme dealt with, on a universal scale, by Pope John Paul II in this year´s World Day of Peace Message, in which he asks for spiritual healing through justice and mutual forgiveness,” the nuncio said.
Explaining that there is “No peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness,” the nuncio recalled that the Holy Father wrote: “Forgiveness is above all a personal choice, a decision of the heart to go against the natural instinct to pay back evil with evil.”
In his message to the conference, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo thanked the bishops for their support of his government and for their work to satisfy the educational, health, moral and spiritual needs of the nation. “That we continue to have problems is not due to any fault of yours but our refusal to utilize the opportunities you have offered,” he admitted.
Obasanjo called on fellow Nigerians to examine themselves. “This is the time to assess our relationship with one another and with God,” he said.
He commended the discipline and austerity of the bishops´ lives, which he said “have enabled you to leave all else and follow the way of the cross.”
The president then challenged the Church to call upon its members to give up the proceeds of corruption and to itself avoid those practices which appear to encourage the fraudulent rich to hope that “once they can share their illicit wealth with the Church their sins are forgiven.” Obasanjo´s message was read by Kanu Agabi, Minister of Solid Minerals Development.
ZENIT asked the Nigerian Embassy to the Vatican about President Obasanjo´s religion. During his recent visit to Rome, the Italian press described him as a Catholic. Embassy sources, however, said that he is an evangelical.