Here are the remarks given last week by Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria, president of the Nigerian episcopal conference, at an overnight National Prayer Pilgrimage to pray for the country. The vigil was held in Abuja on the night of Nov. 13-14, with the participation of the nation’s bishops.
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About two years ago, the Catholic Bishops Conference organized a National Prayer Pilgrimage here at the National Christian Centre, Abuja, to beg God to have mercy on our dear nation, create in Nigerians a feeling of strong patriotism and to eject from us the many evils that tend to cripple our progress. We requested God to bless our leaders, inject in them a very high dose of patriotism and selfless service and for security for all. We also prayed for work for the youth, unity among the diverse ethnic and religious groups and politics of sound social justice and development instead of polarization, conflict and acrimony.
We thank God for his mercy and faithfulness. We may not have received everything we prayed for, but by His grace most of us are still alive and we have remained one people and one nation. Today, gauging the general despair and disillusionment in the land, we converge here again to cry on to the Lord for enduring peace and for God to stir strongly in the hearts of Nigerians the spirit to transcend narrow ethnic, religious, and political boundaries so as to always pursue the common good.
Very concerned about the happenings in the country we, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, called on all our families, parishes, Dioceses and Provinces through a synchronized effort in prayer just as Catholics do world over with the angelus to pray for the nation. I welcome you all to this national segment which has brought together our lay people, priests, religious, and bishops in fervent prayers for our beloved country. As Catholics, we believe that Prayer, made with deep faith, can move mountains and calm storms and that prayer is our most powerful weapon as we face the multidimensional challenges in contemporary Nigeria.
Jesus Himself, taught us to pray in thanksgiving and to ask ( Lk 11:1-13). The Apostle Paul is also very clear in his letters on the need to pray continually. In Ephesians 6:18, he says, “pray always with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.”In I Thess. 5:17, he urges us to “pray at all times. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God concerning you.” Col. 4:2, says “be persistent in prayer, being watchful and thankful” while Romans 12:12, says “Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times”.
We further believe that our prayers, whether answered or yet to be answered, draw us closer to God. This is what we seek – to be close to God at the vertical level and to be close to fellow Nigerians irrespective of ethnic, religious, political or social status at the horizontal level.
We are aware that prayer alone without good works is inadequate. Nigerians may pray in Churches and other places of worship, go on pilgrimages in huge numbers, and call on the name of God at every event but without the corresponding commitment to our social obligations, this is tantamount to calling the name of God in vain. Not to do our work well, to wish your neighbor harm or to engage in bitter, hostile, antagonistic political, religious or ethnic struggles that lead to loss of lives and the destruction of property and still claim to be people of faith is mere religious externalism devoid of godliness. Our invitation to prayer is not meant to be a substitute for individual responsibility where we each play our parts to contribute to the welfare of all of us and our nation. With good behavior, good works and fervent prayers, we can overcome all obstacles and rise to the highest heights.
There are still ongoing terrorist activities that are not only causing the loss of lives and so much havoc but are enjoying territorial expansion. Bombings and slaughter of innocent Nigerians, especially in the North East, have become regular. These cruel acts have not yet found counter active security solutions and are seemingly yet to truly touch or move the hearts of our elders (in and out of government), to explore avenues to bring sanity and order, rather than using the unfortunate situation as a political weapon.
Our darling innocent school girls from Chibok are still being held over six months since their abduction. Only God knows the psychological and physical trauma they are going through.
Apart from sectarian clashes here and there, there are already signals and indications that the impending 2015 elections will create a political situation that will be explosive. There are indications that the “do or die” politics of mud-slinging and character assassination still prevail. The political aggressive quest for power already being exhibited makes us wonder if Nigerian politics is truly about improving the lot of the common people. Resources which belong to the people are spent in a reckless manner. To seek to be a counsellor, chairman, commissioner, minister, legislator, governor, or president is no doubt a laudable aspiration because it is about service, but in our country seeking these offices are considered the quickest access to enjoying our patrimony. No wonder, kidnapping, either for ransom or as an expression of political discontent and forceful conversion, are very much with us.
Youths are languishing without jobs even after University education. What is more disturbing is that when these issues are mentioned or people express worry openly about them, depending on which political party is in control in a State or at the centre, you are termed an ingrate or a member of the opposition. We, in our prophetic roles, mention these not to put down anyone but to encourage selfless social action in favour of the people to whom we are pastors.
Brothers and sisters, there is no better time to storm the heavens with prayers and petitions than now. As we gather here, thousands of our brothers and sisters in parts of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa have been displaced and their villages have been sacked. Many have lost relations and properties and are now internally displaced people. Our brother, Bishop Oliver Doeme of Maiduguri Diocese, can testify that many of their parishes have been closed and the people scattered while many have been killed. Bishop Stephen Mamza of Yola Diocese can also testify that thousands of people from the Borno and Adamawa axis have been displaced and made refugees in their ancestral homes. They have sought refuge and turned to the Church for consolation and support.
We thank Bishop Oliver and Bishop Stephen Mamza for their courageous presence with the thousands of displaced people and for offering them relief through the Church’s limited resources by the well coordinated activities of the Catholic Justice, Peace and Development Commission (JDPC) without any discrimination based on religion. NEMA should be able to collaborate and draw from the experience of the Catholic Church’s JDPC in terms of registration of displaced people and the orderly, effective and equitable distribution of relief. Such collaboration will ensure the real victims of crises are the ones who get the relief supplies.
Our patriotism must be evident. As ordinary Nigerians, do we truly love ourselves and our country? Do our leaders love this country up to the point of not only engaging in hot electoral contests but also being ready to sacrifice their lives for the socio economic upliftment of the people they represent and the unity of all? Many leaders expect others to sacrifice their lives for their comfort and that of their families when all of us should all be sacrificing for the sake of Nigeria and Nigerians.
On the 20th of October we received the heart-warming news that Nigeria has been declared by the WHO to be free of the Ebola disease. This was due to the meticulous and strategic manner the government confronted the disease. We thank God for saving us from the dreaded Ebola disease. If God can hear our collective supplications over the dreaded Ebola, He will surely hear our cry for lasting peace and security and the conversion of the hearts of all those who do evil.
Some people have the wrong impression that Catholic Bishops in their public statements which concern good governance, especially in our communiques, do not appreciate adequately the effort of government. We are trained to be prophetic and objective and not to be led by sentiments. When the government banned gay unions we wrote to Mr. President to commend him. When Ebola was being tackled we commended the government and fully cooperated by issuing concrete directives in Catholic Churches. When lives are being needlessly lost we shout out, sometimes, in anger. When there are defects in our educational or medical programmes, when political injustice and corruption are noticed, we object and some think that this is an action against government. This prayer event is an effort to support our government. We obey authority as instructed by St. Paul in Romans 13:1-7. We may not find political favour because of our style of approach to issues but one thing we know for sure is that we are not disloyal and we do not wish our leaders or our country ill. When it matters we simply speak out for the people without mincing words.
Even though this is a Catholic Christian event, we call on all people of faith to join us in prayer, praying according to their religious tradition. Instead of using religion to cause strife, division and violence, we should unite and cry on to God. 2 Chronicles 7:14 reminds us of God’s consoling words: “if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
I thank the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria for conceiving this programme and the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria for its usual logistic efficiency in bringing this programme to reality.
The Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria informed me that a substantial part of the funds for the programme was donated by Arik Airline through Bishop Matthew Kukah. Kindly convey our profound gratitude. We thank the Archdiocese of Abuja for always being a great host. I thank you all on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria for heeding our call to prayer. May the Lord answer all the prayers we make here and heal our nation. May he watch over us throughout this prayer programme and at the end as we depart to our respective destinations, may the Angels of God protect and guide us happily back to our homes.
Our Lady Queen of Nigeria, pray for us.
Text provided by Vatican Radio.