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A Pastoral Statement of the Catholic Bishops ofOwerri Ecclesiastical Province

Preamble

We, the Catholic Bishops of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, held our Second Plenary Meeting for the year 2019 from Tuesday 6th to Wednesday 7th of August, at the Sacred Heart Pastoral and Retreat Centre Orlu. We prayed and deliberated on a number of pastoral issues concerning the Church in our Province which is made up of the Archdiocese of Owerri and the Dioceses of Umuahia, Orlu, Okigwe, Ahiara and Aba. While we met on a note of joy, the fears, harrowing experiences and general insecurity to life, movement and property afflicting our people across Nigeria were very high on our agenda. In response to these concerns, we hereby issue the following Pastoral Statement.

Gratitude to God

  1. God, in his inexhaustible mercy and goodness, has continued to “spare our nation from chaos, anarchy and doom”. In the dark clouds of Nigeria’s present uncertainties, God has this message for us: “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4). It is with this confidence, in spite of all the odds, that we are celebrating the Silver Jubilee of the creation and inauguration of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province (1994 – 2019). As we gradually approach the Grand Finale of the celebrations, from Monday the 2nd to Saturday the 7th of September, 2019, we pray that the Jubilee becomes for us a veritable moment of thanksgiving and joy, and a welcome stimulus for deepening and strengthening our faith, hope and love.

Our Provincial Silver Jubilee Celebration

Owerri Province Silver Jubilee.

  1. By divine grace we have come quite some way since the establishment of our Province twenty-five years ago. A Jubilee is a time of conversion from our evil ways, in order to return to our roots, to uphold and re-embrace the cherished values of uprightness, resourcefulness and diligence. Such a spiritual exercise is necessary in the face of graces received as well as in the face of threats and challenges facing our people.
  2. The Jubilee is indeed a time of soul-searching for all us in parishes and dioceses, in families and communities. While we are generally perceived to be God-fearing and religious, the craze for material wealth and the inordinate pursuit of worldly power and fame are eroding our Christian and traditional spirit and sense of honesty, hard work, cooperativeness, justice and accountability. It is for this reason that all of us are challenged to celebrate the Jubilee as a Kairos moment.

Present Day Challenges

  1. Our people are currently undergoing unbearable threats from some of our political leaders and even from our security agents. The situation has been compounded by the marauding, so-called Fulani herdsmen and other bandits. The situation is equally compounded by government’s apparent silence over infringements at various levels and by shady land deals by certain community leaders. Every day, and across our States, we hear heart-breaking tales of kidnapping, raping, maiming, extorting, land-grabbing, killing and destroying of people’s sources of livelihood. We continue often to hope in vain for our elected public officers and security agents to protect our citizens as expected and as enshrined in our Constitution.

The unemployment situation is causing grave concern to the society as governments fail to provide jobs and factories they promise, and as so many youths look more for quick money-making ventures even at the cost of their lives and other lives rather than pursue creative, innovative and gainful jobs. Unpaid pensions and gratuities of retired people continue to be a source of worry; a good number has died without collecting what is due to them, while those who are alive are still not sure when they will be paid. Contractors build substandard roads that cause our people untold hardship and trauma. Those in charge of public utilities like hospitals, schools, electricity, pipe-borne water, etc., allow them to decay or malfunction. Our teachers in the schools have grossly failed to impart the right quality of knowledge. Today some of our spiritual leaders are abandoning the sheep to wolves and marauders (cf. Ezekiel 34).

Charting the Way Out and Forward

  1. There cannot be any meaningful development without recourse to perennial core values as found in our Christian principles and teachings, and in our tested traditional wisdom. Now is the time to draw from these noble sources of virtues for our daily living and sustenance, and for the survival of our society and nation into the future. We recognize and appreciate the contributions of modern science and technology in the various spheres of life. We will continue to use their techniques and products in ways that will promote and expand our core values. In that way, peace, progress and joy will be palpably felt across our communities.
  2. The family, as the cradle of human life and development, must rediscover and cherish its divine mandate to be the first school of virtues and values. Parents must therefore uphold and be helped to uphold the ideals of a disciplined, good, productive and honest life. The pursuit of wealth and career must continue to be guided by these virtues, values and ideals. The institutions of school, Church, society and State must do their best to complement the basic efforts of the family in order to furnish society with responsible and hardworking citizens who respect elders, value honest work and contribute caringly to the common good.

God has blessed us with abundant natural resources, and our ancestors have bequeathed to us rich cultures. We can and must creatively tap into these resources for our development and future.

Strengthening our People with our Cherished Values

  1. Our strong faith in God and our reliance upon Him constitute our foremost source of strength as we chart our way forward in the midst of difficulties, possible despondency and resignation. That is why “Even if we are troubled or worried, or being persecuted, or lacking food or clothes, or being threatened, or even attacked …. these are the trials through which we triumph by the power of him who loved us” (Romans 8:35 – 37).
  2. The times in which we live call for vigilance and defence in the face of forces threatening our lives and core values. Indeed, the Christian humanist vision of life promotes love, justice and peace in favour of every human person; this open friendly disposition of Christians must not be abused or taken for granted. The Nigerian government and its leaders must rise to their constitutional obligation to protect and defend every Nigerian citizen irrespective of his or her religious or ethnic affiliation. Otherwise, the sense of oneness, unity and nationhood in Nigeria becomes meaningless and useless. Where government fails to protect and defend the people, the citizens would be constrained to defend themselves with necessary measures available to them. While we continue to urge our Christians to pray and watch, we equally remind them of their duty to project the Christian humanist vision in order to counter the brutal ideology of hatred, wickedness and violence promoted by certain Islamic radicals.
  3. It is in this vision and spirit of love that we invite all our Catholics and others in our Province and in the various Dioceses of our Province to come forth in solidarity and participate in the Special Programme of Prayer scheduled for Friday the 30th of August, 2019. The heart and thrust of the programme include Rosary Procession and Holy Mass for Peace and Security in Nigeria. Parishes, organizations, sodalities, groups, families and individuals are called to continue and sustain this prayer programmme thereafter in their various places.

Conclusion

  1. As servants of God, Shepherds and Leaders in Church and Society, we invite and challenge everyone to follow the love-way and embrace the peace-thrust which our Lord and Master Jesus Christ bequeathed to humanity. We therefore exhort you our beloved people and fellow citizens: “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

We commend you and all our efforts to the kind intercession of Our Blessed Mother Maria Assumpta, the Patroness of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province and the Queen of Nigeria.

Signed

Most Rev. Anthony J.V. Obinna

Archbishop of Owerri


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