By Constaincia Uruakpa
To deepen Christian formation and cooperation of the lay faithful with the Church hierarchy in carrying out the mission of the Church in addressing issues, especially as regards to welfare, governance, political participation, as well as other aspects affecting the life of citizens and the Nigerian nation, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos inaugurated the Catholic Action Nigeria (CAN), Lagos Chapter, on 13th December, 2020 at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos. The Catholic Action, which is an organized movement within the Catholic Church globally, and established by Pope Pius XI at a time the Church felt threatened by different currents of ideologies and tendencies in the contemporary world, cannot have come at a better time when the Nigerian State is experiencing myriads of problems and tragedies that have continued to affect the nation and people adversely.
Expressing delight at the kick off of the movement in the Archdiocese, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev. (Dr.) Alfred Adewale Martins affirmed the need for the lay members to work with the Church hierarchy for the advancement of faith based interest which supersedes all other interests, for positive change in the polity, as he urged leaders of the umbrella bodies to know that a lot is expected of them, as they will be the ones that will drive the movement to ensure that this initiative comes to fruition and yields fruit. The Chaplain, Catholic Action, Lagos Archdiocese, Rev. Fr. Raymond Anoliefo in his address noted that dedication and Christian formation is important because when the people are well equipped with the right information and mentality, they will go out and vote conscientiously, in the 2023 elections. Speaking on the Church’s attempt to bring political parties together to inculcate Christian values to help them serve the people better, Archbishop Martins said: “I am truly delighted that this kind of forum is finally available.
We had tried at different times to bring together people for this sort of idea. We have tried to bring people who are politicians or the different political parties together as Catholics in our Archdiocese here, to create a forum for them in order to ensure that we are able to inject some values of the Catholic Church in it, and therefore, see how we can actually also begin to get our people to be interested in politics and how they can help us to do that. But obviously, for different kind of reasons, it didn’t fly as high as we had wanted it to. So, I am truly delighted that this is happening. This is what to do, and I am truly happy that we are here where we are. “I am delighted too that they have been able to linkup with the major associations of lay faithful in the Archdiocese; the umbrella bodies, and I hope and believe that this is already a major step in the right direction.
That’s why one can only also ask that the leaders of the associations, the leaders of the umbrella bodies should please know that a lot is expected of them. And indeed, the expectation is that you will be the ones that will drive the movement to ensure that this initiative comes to fruition and bear fruit. So, I want to just say again, that you leaders of the association, we rely on you more than any other thing to ensure that what we are talking about here, does not just stay here, but rather it goes down the ladder to everyone.” On Priests being major factors in the success of the movement, he said: “Yes, indeed, the priests are major drivers, major factors in this, but you are also major factors in this. You need to catch the bug as it were and ensure that others down the line catch the bug.
The Priests of course, will always give the leadership as is required, and I can assure you that we will continue to have this discussion with our priests and all the parishes, so that this initiative will get the right push from their own level as well. Speaking on various interests arising and affecting the progress of the country, the Archbishop said: “Well, there have been talk about interests; different interests, and indeed that’s a valid point to raise, interests. Interests arising from the ethnic factor, interests arising from political party factor, interests of different kinds. And I think that this is one of the problems that we have had as a nation, maybe as Church in Nigeria really. We have allowed other interests apart from our faith interest to be the thing that guides us. We have allowed our ethnic affiliations to help us to decide what to do, rather than the interest of our faith and the interest of the kingdom, and I think that if we are able to just form ourselves to that point, to that level of recognizing that our faith should mean much more than any other thing.
“If they say that blood is thicker than water, the blood of Christ as we always will remind us, is even thicker than the blood that runs in our veins because that is the blood of Christ that washed us clean of sin, that is the blood of Christ that would ensure that we have a place in Heaven. The blood that runs through our vein, when we die, that’s about it, but the blood of Christ will ensure that we are not only united here, but also up above there for eternity. And that is why we need to really work in such a way that will make our faith, our Catholic faith the primary motivation for whatever it is that we decide to do and how we do it. When we are able to reach that level, am sure all these other interests that we are talking about will become non-issue. “So, it is therefore for each of us really more than any other person to decide that the interest of the faith, the advancement of the kingdom, the name of Jesus and the continuous impact of the Catholic faith in our country remains. It is for us to ensure that it does by letting other interest be set apart. I mean if there’s a Priest for instance, who has gone far out of line, the only way he can go far out of line is if he begins to go partisan politics.
That is way out of line, and will not be tolerated, and therefore, will be given the right sanction so to say. Then, there are lots of bored values such that it will now create the kind of problem that we are talking about. “And so, I wish to say that let us just put interest in the faith first and foremost, other things will fall in line. That is what I believe. I was glad that the part about the Vapid Echo was mentioned. I don’t know how many of us have an idea of what is this Vapid Echo what kind of animal it is? I don’t know how many of us know it. Maybe it is not your fault; it’s because it has not been circulated as well as it should. But now that we have this forum, let this Vapid Echo circulate; let people take interest in reading it. In fact, I would say that after your prayers, after your meeting, if it is even one paragraph of it that you will read at meeting, it will be well worth it because in my own understanding, the directions that are given in that Valid Echo with regards to elections and electoral practices, those will be very useful. I believe that leaders of associations that are here, leaders of umbrella bodies, please, take this. It is not the gospel, but, it is next to the gospel as far as elections is concerned.
I think this is important for us to keep in mind. On mobilizing for political action, such as federal character and electronic voting, he said: “I think it’s a good thing to do, but I believe too that the Catholic Action Nigeria would be the best in position to kick start or to bring up those thoughts and ideas. And I am sure that when they are well packaged and presented, the hierarchy of the Church will key into it, and even the hierarchy have been trying to do this all this while. Getting us to protest about insecurity the other time in Abuja, here in Lagos, all over. We have been trying to do similar things. So, if such things arise from the lay people, it will even make them to be a lot happier, especially, if it is not directed for party political purposes, but rather guided by principles that are acceptable to the Church. So, I think that that’s a good thing to do and I believe that CAN, that is our own CAN so to say, I believe it will not be hijacked. You heard them doing an oath this morning that they will ensure that they follow principles of the faith and in obedience to the hierarchy of the Church; they made that promise this morning before God and before you. Therefore, I believe that they will not compromise themselves in such a way, and if by any chance there are signs and symptoms of compromise, I am sure that it will begin to come out.
And that’s why we have the Chaplain and others also being part of it, and we will, by God’s grace be able to. So, I think we should not nurse the fear of hijacking, at least not at this point. It is good to sound the warning, but let us not nurse fear that that will be a problem. Speaking on #EndSARS, he said: “I think it is important to recognize that the #EndSARS was an activity that the young people themselves put together. It was not an activity that was constituted by any institution or any group, but everybody keyed into it. At least, most people keyed into it and supported the ideas behind it. And therefore, we provided spiritual support for the young people who were there at that point in time.” He charged the CAN to look into the #EndSARS issue and advice the Church on what to do. “Maybe CAN can inform us about what to do. I mean reflect on it, if there is anything we need to do about it, give us advice and we will see. However, I think more than any other thing, the lay faithful have a strong voice or should have a strong voice. The hierarchy; the Bishops, the Priests give leadership.
They give their own support, but it is not out of place if thoughts and ideas arise, and they are brought up for discussion and then we see what to do in order to bring them to light”, he said. On the things expected from the lay faithful, he said: “You work in the offices. You work in the banks, you work in the ports, you work all over different places. In the education sector, you work there, and therefore, you have a good idea of what is going on in those places. The Bishop is not there in any of those places; unless you inform and bring information about whatever is going on that is anti-faith for instance or that is prejudicial to our faith. Unless you bring it up, they will just continue to be there, and perhaps the Bishop will not even know about it. For instance, we were talking recently about some aspects of our faith that were undermined by a curriculum that was developed. There are Catholics in those offices where those things are being developed, but I think not many, if anyone at all brought it up. A textbook that was written, developed by one of our Archbishops, they injected something that is contrary to our own faith in it and they were selling it that this is the Church that brought it about.
Talking for instance about our teaching in regards to Mary, they injected into the textbook that Mary’s first child was Jesus, but there were other children, and put pictures and the rest of it in the textbook. Until the man who authored it now said no, this is not me, I didn’t write this. These books go to classrooms, and there are teachers who are Catholics, they see these things. Most of them work in the Ministry of Education. So, the point am just making is to say the Church depends on you also to defend and protect the faith by when you think there is any danger to the faith, bring it up, so that they can be addressed. Also Speaking on the occasion, The Chaplain, Catholic Action, Lagos Archdiocese, Rev. Fr. Raymond Anoliefo called for healthy collaboration among groups in the Church, so as to ensure the aim of the CAN movement is achieved in the Church, Lagos State and the country in general. He said: “let us ensure that there is a healthy collaboration. Catholic Action is an assemblage of a whole lot of other societies and groups and organizations in the Church do well to collaborate.
The aim of Catholic action is to deepen Christian formation and cooperation of its lay members with the Church hierarchy in carrying out the mission of the Church. So, that dedication is important. That Christian formation is important, so that by 2023 when you are asking people to go out and vote their conscience, you will already know you have helped to form their conscience. If not, some will have deformed conscience, ill-informed conscience, dead conscience, malformed conscience if you don’t form it now, and that’s why this formation and collaboration is very, very important.” In his address, the President, Catholic Action Nigeria, Lagos Archdiocese, Sir Godwin Nosa Ehigiator, Knight of St. Mulumba, Nigeria, revealed that Catholic Action is an organization of the Laity in the Catholic Church that was established as an official Catholic institution by Pope Pius X1 (1922-1927) at a time when the Church felt threatened by different currents of ideologies and tendencies in the contemporary world. According to him: “Catholic Social teaching, which reflects the love and concerns of Christ for all His children, is capable of offering the principles that can guide the continuing welfare reform efforts.
Yet, this body of teaching and its principles need to be promoted, taught, explained and forcefully presented in a public and persuasive manner especially in the era where leaders and those at the helms of affairs in the public space only see governance from the point of view of taking care of only themselves, families and friends at the detriment of the larger society. “A closer observation of the events in Nigeria shows that all of the tendencies that made Catholic Action inevitable at the earlier times are all evident today. When we consider the #EndSARS protests and its accompanying consequences of looting, vandalization of public and private properties, as well as untold numbers of deaths, it will be an understatement that there is a tragedy of less concern for the general public. There is hunger and malnutrition, underdevelopment, unemployment and large scale gaps between the extremely rich and the extremely poor.” While lamenting the continued exploitation of the poor masses, Ehigiator noted that there seem to be no plan on how to make things better for the people in the nearest future. “There seems not to be any sense of history of where we have journeyed from as a country nor a compass for the immediate future on how to make things better.
Within the context of elections, there is the evil of winners take it all; The electorate are left to wait for unending promises, they are milked dry and those in authority only show little concern for the poor during electioneering. We have leaders that don’t have genuine compassion for the larger society that is in need. Leaders in Nigeria have no plans to capture the real essence of governance but instead, they create and perpetuate government dependency, social conflict and covetousness. Therefore, there is every day increment of poverty in our land as a result of greed of our capitalist leaders who make their wealth on the backs and pains of the poor masses. “In the Nigeria situation, poverty of the Nigerian populace is largely as a result of the exploitation of the poor or ordinary Nigerian by the very few rich who have found ways into state wealth and have enshrined themselves permanently in the wheel of sharing of public wealth and usually between them and their political cohorts, family members and friends. The only absolute truth is that most of the characters that parade themselves as leaders in our land are those who have enriched themselves at the detriment of the average Nigerian people”, he said.
While urging the Church to call Nigerian Leaders to order, Ehigiator assured that Catholic Action Nigeria will ensure it educates the electorate on the process of electioneering, and also bring to an end the era of ballot snatching and god-fatherism. “Catholic Action Nigeria in the Archdiocese of Lagos will pursue with vigour the fact that power belongs to the people and indeed to the electorate by educating them and ensuring that they all get their voters card and that they are all available to vote when the need arises. The Nigerian voters must be made to determine who governs them. We would ensure that the era of ballot snatching and god-fatherism will be a thing of the past by steering the effects and power of the voters. “We will educate and enlighten our members and all who will join us in this crusade on the need to avoid politicians who have nothing to offer them.
We will endeavour to encourage our members to avoid like a plague vote buyers and mouthy propagandist who have nothing to offer other than to steal away our collective future. We will pursue electronic voting and reforms in the electoral system with a view to reducing or eliminating rigging in elections and associated electoral frauds. From now on, we will ensure that only persons of good track records of goodwill and desire to serve are voted for, as against the current crop of leaders whose ambition is to incubate public positions only for what they can take from the public till. We will ensure that only those who bring to governance more than they will take will be voted for and occupy leadership position”, he said.