COMMUNIQUE AT THE COMPLETION OF THE FIRST 2022 PLENARY OF THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF NIGERIA.

HUMAN FRATERNITY: PATH TO BUILDING SUSTAINABLE PEACE IN NIGERIA

A Communiqué issued at the end of the First Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria Resource Centre, Durumi, Abuja, 5 – 11 March 20221. PREAMBLEWe, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, held our First Plenary Meeting for the year at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria Resource Centre, Durumi, Abuja, from 5 – 11 March 2022. Having prayerfully reflected on issues affecting the Church and the Nigerian State, we now issue this Communiqué.

2. WE ALL ARE BROTHERS AND SISTERS

On 4 February 2019, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, published a joint document, Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together. Following that publication, on 4 October 2020 in Assisi, the Holy Father issued the Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti (FT), On Fraternity and Social Friendship. Inspired by these two documents, we invite all to a sincere acceptance that we are brothers and sisters and embrace the things that unite and bond us together irrespective of differences.

By virtue of our being created by One God and our descent from a common ancestry (Gen. 2:4), we must go beyond sophistry and rhetoric and work towards a tradition of love that transcends the barriers of race, nationality, culture, ethnicity, religious or political affiliation and geographical distance. We call on our fellow countrymen and women, as well as all persons of goodwill to recognize that our common humanity is a gift and a challenge.

We earnestly join millions of Catholics around the globe to pray for unity and peaceful dialogue between nations and communities, without which the deeply divided world cannot find the much-needed healing. We continue to pray especially for peace in Ukraine and Russia and other war-torn regions of the world. We, therefore, call for fair and equitable treatment of all those displaced by this avoidable conflict, regardless of their origin, race and nationality.

 3. THE STATE OF THE NATION

Promoting Fraternity through Good Politics and GovernanceWe note that politics is a noble vocation for the common good. We equally affirm that political office holders have a fundamental role to play in providing good governance. Although political parties are the platforms through which political offices are sought in Nigeria, elected officials should build fraternity among all citizens irrespective of differences in creed, ethnic group, sex, and political opinion. In our nation today, we observe that there is no evident fairness in the distribution of social amenities or in making appointments to offices despite the Federal Character principle enshrined in the Constitution.

There is also no functional, stable, qualitative and affordable educational system that should be the bedrock of development. Currently, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is on strike with the consequent closure of our public universities, thereby leaving our young people roaming the streets. We urge the Federal Government to quickly and permanently settle the dispute in the interest of human and national growth. We observe a gross lack of job opportunities, equity, gender balance between male and female, good moral standards, an adequate justice system, transparency and accountability.

We, therefore, call on governments at all levels to respect and protect people’s fundamental rights and shun all forms of ethno-religious favouritism. We also urge political office holders to embrace a better kind of politics by proper application of the principles of equity and subsidiarity for programmes of development; and by “promoting an economy that favours productive diversity for job creation” in the interest of respect for human dignity (FT 168 & 175). We encourage all citizens to participate in the forthcoming national population census exercise to help Government have the data needed for proper policies that will aid development.

Constitutional and Electoral Reforms: Recipe for Peace and Development

We are aware that the Constitution of any nation is the primary law that provides for the organization and direction of the actions of governments about the welfare of citizens. We also know that a faulty Constitution can breed rancour, discontent, and maldevelopment. We thank the Government for initiating processes towards reforming our national Constitution handed down by the military Government. We urge the legislature and the executive to exercise their relevant roles to give the nation an adequate Constitution that reflects our common aspiration to live in unity, justice, and peace.

We commend the efforts of the National Assembly, the President, and all who made it possible for our country to now have a reformed electoral law, the Electoral Act 2022. If well and sincerely implemented, we believe that this law will engender a better democracy in which there would be free, fair and transparent elections, through which people choose their leaders who would serve the common good. We gladly welcome the adoption of modern technology to improve the quality of our electoral process. However, in and of itself, technology may not necessarily guarantee free and fair elections.

We, therefore, draw attention to the need for sincerity and vigilance over the accuracy and objective use of the technology being adopted. We encourage good and qualified people with the right intention to vie for political offices. We ask all eligible citizens to secure their voter’s cards and come out en masse to vote for those who can lead our people to a better life. We demand that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) register only qualified people and ensure that people’s votes count and their mandates are respected.

We also urge the electoral commission and other relevant bodies to organize and promote appropriate voter education.Need for Dialogue and Friendship to Counter Violence and InsecurityWe have in our past Communiqués, press releases, and other relevant documents condemned the spate of violence and insecurity in our land. Yet, violence and insecurity have continued to rise unabated to our greatest disappointment.

We are deeply saddened that kidnapping, abductions, armed robbery, assassinations and other incidents of shedding innocent blood have continued often without prompt and adequate response from the Government and the security agencies. We condemn these killings and call on Government to bring these to an end. In addition, we request the Governments at all levels to do more, especially by exploring the path of dialogue even with those opposed to its policies. For dialogue and friendship in society is “the desirable mean between selfish indifference and violent protest” (FT 203).

4. THE MEDIA: GOD’S GIFTS TO HUMANITY We firmly acknowledge the role and power of the media for influencing and creating a fraternity of humanity and serving as tools of positive social friendship. The media in themselves are gifts from God for the good of society. However, the media are sometimes manipulative and destructive. In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis calls for the use of media in a manner that not only connects people but also builds bridges, develops authentic interpersonal relationships and therefore builds community.

He nevertheless cautions against the inappropriate use of digital media platforms. Today’s realities call for a new media approach, which can help people listen to one another and resolve differences and conflicts. The willingness to listen to others is foundational to the readiness to accept and welcome those who are different from us. Together, therefore we must seek the truth in dialogue, for “the process of building fraternity, be it local or universal, can only be undertaken by spirits that are free and open to authentic encounters” (FT 50).

We, the Catholic Bishops, have instituted Communications Week (COMWEEK) to facilitate the attainment of the above objective of the media. We call on the different segments of the particular Churches in Nigeria, the media organs and pastoral agents to work closely with the National Directorate of Social Communications, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, to ensure that the media literacy programme scheduled to run in our Parishes from 22 to 29 May this year is successful (comweeknigeria.com). All Catholics and non-Catholics are also requested to log on to the Nigeria Catholic Network (nigeriacatholicnetwork.com) for synergy and pastoral guidance.

5. THE SYNODAL JOURNEY, AN EXPRESSION OF FRATERNITYWe are once more grateful to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for convening the Synod on Synodality. This Synod is a dynamic process of convergence that calls for listening and dialogue, leading to greater collaboration, a more profound sense of communion and participation in Church life at various levels. As a Church, we are committed to making the sacrifices that foster genuine encounters and seek convergence by listening to one another, thereby making room for everyone.We firmly believe that if the synodal journey is faithfully undertaken, there will be a resurgence of faith and a more profound commitment to the Christian ideals and values.

We are equally convinced that the ingredients of listening, dialogue and collaboration that flow from the Synod are the bedrock of building human fraternity and a world that will enjoy sustainable peace.The Church in Nigeria is of one mind and heart with the Holy Father on the Synod on Synodality the conclusive celebration of which is scheduled for October 2023. The experiences so far at the local levels have been very refreshing and pastorally enriching. Therefore, we request all Catholics to participate actively in the various phases of the Synod.

6. EVENTS IN THE CHURCHWe are grateful to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for the appointment of Bishop Jonas Benson Okoye as the new Bishop of Nnewi Diocese. Likewise, we rejoice with Bishop Hilary Okeke on his retirement and thank him for his dedicated service to the Church and humanity. Similarly, we received with great joy the news of the appointment of Bishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Owerri. His installation ceremony comes up on 23 June 2022.

We congratulate him while we wish Archbishop Anthony Obinna a happy retirement. We equally thank the Holy Father for the appointment of Bishop Emmanuel Badejo as a member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.We thank God for many other joyful events in the Church in Nigeria. The Diocese of Umuahia celebrated the Centenary of the Catholic faith in the land and the celebration of the Centenary of the foundation of Legion of Mary in Nigeria took place in Ikot-Ekpene Diocese. Likewise, the Diocese of Port Harcourt celebrated 60th Anniversary of its canonical erection, while the Diocese of Kafanchan celebrated the Silver Jubilee of its creation. May God be praised both now and forever. Amen.

The National Pastoral Congress is scheduled for 7-11 November 2022 in Benin City. Immediately after the Pastoral Congress is the National Eucharistic Congress with the theme: “Becoming the Eucharist we Celebrate: A Call to live as one and serve the Weak”, which holds in the Archdiocese of Benin City between 11 and 12 November 2022. We encourage all Catholics to participate actively at the various levels of the celebration while we pray for a renewed love of and firm belief in the Eucharist. Prior to the Eucharistic Congress is the National Bible Week, which holds from 18 to 25 September 2022 with the theme: Proclaiming the Word of God: Gift of Life for a Fragile Nigeria.

We urge all Dioceses and our Catholic institutions to celebrate this week in a befitting and profound manner.We, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria have recently published a Book of the Prayer of the Faithful for the Church in Nigeria. This is to facilitate and promote the Christian faithful’s active, conscious, and full participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy. We admonish all parishes, chaplaincies and other Catholic institutions to avail themselves of the opportunity this book of prayers provides.

We are happy to announce a smooth change in the leadership of our Conference: Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, the newly appointed Archbishop of Owerri, has been elected the President, while, Most Rev. Matthew Man-Oso Ndagoso, the Archbishop of Kaduna, is the Vice President. Similarly, Most Rev. Donatus Aihmiosion Ogun, OSA, the Bishop of Uromi, is the Secretary and Most Rev. Peter Odetoyinbo, Bishop of Abeokuta, is the Assistant Secretary. We wish them and the other elected officers a successful tenure.

We thank Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, Archbishop Lucius Ugorji, Bishop Camillus Umoh, and Bishop Charles Hammawa and other officers for their years of dedicated service to the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria.With sadness but with a firm belief in the Resurrection, we note the passing on of Bishop Paul Olawoore. We are indeed grateful to God for the time he served as the Chief Shepherd of the Diocese of Ilorin. May God grant him eternal reward in His Kingdom. May he rest in peace. Amen.

7. LENT, A PERIOD FOR INTERIOR CONVERSIONThe message of Lent is straightforward: “repent and believe the Good News”. The Season is a privileged moment for interior examination and conversion as we intensify our prayers to purify ourselves and for our spiritual rebirth. It is a period of internal renewal and service. We urge all Nigerians, especially our young people to eschew corrupt acquisition of wealth, and violent pursuit of power.

More than ever before, we seek healing and reconciliation in this period as we open ourselves more readily for dialogue to achieve lasting peace. As we engage in prayer, fasting and almsgiving, may the swords, clubs, guns, bombs and knives used to maim, kill and destroy our brothers and sisters be beaten into ploughshares (Is. 2:4). Let us remember that prayer and hardwork remain the keys that open the gate to success.

8. CONCLUSION

As we conclude this Communiqué, we recall the incisive admonition of Pope Francis: “Let us dream then, as a single human family, as fellow travellers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her beliefs and convictions, brothers and sisters of all” (FT 8). Through the intercession of Mary, Queen and Patroness of Nigeria, may we experience lasting peace and restored social friendship in our land. Amen.

Most Rev. Augustine Obiora AKUBEZE, Archbishop of Benin City, President, CBCN

Most Rev. Camillus Raymond UMOH, Bishop of Ikot-Ekpene,  Secretary, CBCN

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