Last Sunday, January 24, 2021, was a ‘The Sunday of the Word of God’. Pope Francis through his Apostolic Letter “Aperuit illis” issued a ‘Motu Proprio’ on 30 September 2019, the Feast of St. Jerome, instituting the annual observance of the third Sunday of Ordinary Time, as ‘Sunday Word of God’ devoted to the ‘celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God’. What necessitated this ‘Special Sunday’? How can Catholics fully optimize this liturgical event to deepen their understanding of the ‘Word of God’? The Acting Editor, NETA NWOSU speaks with the pioneer of the revolutionary WhatsApp-based Mass, Very Rev. Fr Julius Olaitan, Dean of Lagos Island and Parish Priest Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, Victoria Island, Lagos on matters bordering on ‘Sunday Word of God’ to reawaken awareness of the Sacred Scripture and enhance dialogue with God.
Pope Francis Apostolic letter, Motu Proprio “Aperuit illis” published on 30th Sept. 2019, established the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time to be devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God. What do you think necessitated this declaration?
I see this from the perspective of the Holy Father who inspired by the Holy Spirit is calling the faithful to a better appreciation of the Word of God. He wants us to do this in a spectacular way to remind everyone that we should not just relax and think that everything has been said that we can possibly hear. After years of reading the Word of God at our Liturgical celebrations and of course most of our prayers beginning with the Holy Mass are scripturally based, the hymns and our common celebrations are drawn from the scripture— we have become so accustomed to the Word of God and it takes a reminder of this sort to get back to the basics that we still need to listen and make sure that our lives reflect the Word of God that we have received.
What does this celebration entail? What programmes and projects has the Archdiocese of Lagos put in place to implement this liturgical event? What are the objectives? How are Parishes expected to mark this Sunday?
The Archdiocesan instruction requires an enthronement of the Bible at the beginning of the Mass and the blessing of bibles for the faithful. The Priest has a duty to lead the people to understand the reason for this celebration and to make the most of it to help them appreciate the Word of God.
What spiritual opportunities does this ceremony present to the lay faithful?
The Word of God is alive and active. When people learn to listen to God they grow in their appreciation of their neighbours and everything God has created and given to them. If I can apply the words of St. Jerome, I will say, Ignorance of the Word of God is ignorance of God himself.
What is the ecumenical value of this celebration?
All believers in Jesus hold the Bible as the Word of God handed on from one generation to another. God speaks to us in many and different ways, but the Bible is a special and privileged collection of God’s relationship with his people and the many ways by which he has communicated with them particularly in the history of salvation. All non-Catholics are therefore welcome to celebrate the Sunday of the Word of God.
Considering the situation of Nigeria, do you think the Nigerian populace truly understand the Word of God and are living it?
It is a mixed situation. Just like the parable of the sower, people have different approaches to the word of God. Even the seeds that fell on good soil did not produce the same way. 30% will be considered poor in every situation and 60% is barely into the pass territory in many schools. There are those who have heard the word and in spite of their understanding have chosen to follow the dictates of their own mind by doing the very opposite of what the word tells them. That is however not enough to discourage us. The devil was even using the scriptures to persuade Jesus to depart from his mission.
The Pope’s letter listed 10 guidelines for marking this liturgical event. Please explain these guidelines in layman’s language.
The guidelines invites us to read the word of God, to cherish it and to consider how we associate with the word. In our liturgical celebrations, what sort of place do we accord the word? The reader’s preparation and even the place where the word is proclaimed from be it the book of the proclamation or the lectern used. How prepared are the preachers of the word in leading the people to a deeper appreciation of the Word. All of these are important.
The primary residence of the youth is the social media. How do you think the Church can utilise the social media to engage the youths in the study and dissemination of the Word of God?
One of those ways by which the Church can continue to engage with the young people is to make a home on the new platforms where they are constantly engaged. This is one of the reasons for the Directorate of Social Communications in the Church. It is this Directorate that should identify these areas and if possible have people assigned to deliver the message in a way that is presentable to the generation it is intended to reach.
One of the essential tools in our walk with God is hearing His voice. Without the ability to hear God, we are stunted in our own walk with Him. There are many voices competing against God’s voice. How can Christians hear and discern God’s voice?
My mother used to say, ‘when you’re in the market place you do not look at the noise but face the person you are trading with.’ There are competing voices for our attention— from the radio to television, the internet and even the people around. We were created free by God and must use our freedom well. That includes making the right choice to listen to God in spite of the competing voices of every day.
How can Christians negotiate their Christian identity and social responsibility with the context of complex relations of religious and socio-economic currents of contemporary Nigeria?
The truth is that Christianity remains the most persecuted religion in modern history. This is largely because Jesus encourages his disciples to be peaceful and to shun every form of violence. The more the persecutions however, the greater the number of saints. Every challenge on the way is an opportunity for a Christian -staying close to Jesus as they navigate through the difficult terrains.
Nigeria has been rated by the World Culture Score Index as one of the countries with the lowest reading culture while available statistics from the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal education shows that 38% of Nigerians are non-literate as four in every ten primary school children cannot read for comprehension. More so, the daily struggle for economic survival provides little or no time for people to cultivate a good reading culture. How do you think the Church can address these issues to enhance the study and dissemination of the Word of God?
The reading culture affects everything about us. It is even said that the best way to hide something from a black man is to write it in a book, because he is not likely to read. That is however a bit different when it comes to the Bible. Many who have never bought a novel before have their bibles. This is sometimes even seen as a form of protection as it is placed on the bed and on the dashboard of cars. We just need to do a bit more to encourage people to read what is in the book they already possess so that they can possess not just the physical book but the knowledge that truly empowers which comes from God.
What is the common ground between the Church and the nation?
The common ground between the Church and the State is truth. You can only question how far that exists.