Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Rt. Rev. Monsignor (Dr.) John Kanebi Asuquo Aniagwu, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Lagos in this interview with the Acting Editor, NETA NWOSU speaks on the significance of Solemnity, uniqueness of Christ’s kingship, the need for the lay faithful to match it with action and other contemporary issues.
Today, Sunday, November 22, 2020, Catholics in Nigeria join their counterparts in other parts of the world to mark the Feast of Christ the king. We would like to know, how the Church came about this feast, and why the Church celebrates it?
Honestly, I cannot tell you how the Church came about the celebration. The title of the feast is Solemnity of Christ the universal King, the king of the Universe. I believe that the reason is that it is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It concludes the liturgical year. The following Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, that’s the new liturgical year. So, I want to believe that the reason is that to close the Church’s year, we have to give honour, praise and glory to Jesus who is the King of the Universe. And He is not only King of Catholics or Christians; He is the king of the Universe. So, it is the closing ceremony for the liturgical year. I believe the reason it is celebrated on this Sunday, is to conclude the liturgical year, in order to prepare for the beginning of a new one.
You hear Christians calling Christ, our king! Our king!! Our king!!!What does it really mean to call Christ our king?
Well, to call Christ our King; we know what all kings do. Real kings; they are rulers and govern their domain. They govern and rule everybody that is within their domain. In the case of Christ, as I said earlier, He’s not just King of any geographical territory, He is not king of any particular group of people, He is King of the entire Universe. And that means that His kingdom even extends beyond this earth, to cover the entire Universe. He is King not only on earth; He is king also in heaven. The Book of Revelations portrays Him as the King of not just earth, of heaven and earth; the Universe and everything that exists. Jesus Christ is King, everywhere is His domain, and every creature is His subject, and He is the King over all of them. Now, one of the things that kings do, if they are truly kings, is that they make provision for their subjects.
They take care of their subjects. So, Christ as the universal King, makes provision for the entire universe, for the entire domain; not only for human beings, but even for the rest of the animate world i.e. animals and plants, and even inanimate; the entire universe, the climate, the environment. The kingship of Christ covers all. It is a bit difficult to imagine because when you talk about kings here on earth; we are immediately thinking about a geographical entity that the king rules over. For instance, the Queen of Great Britain only rules her country, Great Britain and other territories that are subject to Britain. Time was before our independence, she was our queen, but after independence, she’s no longer our queen. Here in Nigeria, the Oba of Lagos has no jurisdiction outside Lagos; he only rules over Lagos. But in the case of Christ, that’s why it is difficult to contextualize. It is not a physical kingdom, it’s a kingdom that covers the entire universe.
We would like to know the significance of this feast to nations such as Nigeria, and the entire universe?
Well, the significance is exactly what I have said that at least we who are Catholics who observe that day, acknowledge Jesus Christ as our King and our Lord and Master, and we are all subjects. I want to believe that all Christians will say the same thing; they will always say that Jesus is their sole Lord and Master. Although they do not join us in celebrating his Lordship on this particular day; they probably do that other days. Maybe, they do it at Christmas or at Easter. But we Catholics are the ones who jubilate on this day precisely. When we do it, it is first of all, an acknowledgement that He is our Lord, and we are His subjects, and because we are His subjects, we have to follow Him, and follow His directives, His dictates; live by the rules and regulations that He lays down. And then, in return, we look up to Him, to provide for us, to take care of us all our needs, both spiritual and temporal needs. So, it’s both ways; we acknowledge Him, we honour Him, we pay Him homage, we submit to His kingship, and He in return, provides for us.
How would you rate the realization of God’s kingdom in Nigeria, taking cognizance of the social ills in the country?
Well, most Nigerians, even non-Christians will acknowledge Christ as their King, as their Master anyway. They might not call Him king, but they will call him Lord and master; all Christians in Nigeria will say that. Christians generally will say that. At least they admit it; they say it verbally. Now, the problem is that we often do not match our words with action, which is quite common. It’s not only Christ that we disobey; we even disobey the laws of the land. I have this theory that we Nigerians, unfortunately, are notoriously lawless, even when it comes to obeying the laws of the land. It is the same thing with obeying Jesus, obeying Christ, submitting to Christ, our King. That is, we mouth it, we say it by word of mouth, yes, ‘Oh Christ is certainly my King.’ But when it comes to showing that we are truly His subjects, that is a different matter; most of the time we are not doing that. That is what I believe is responsible for the problems that besiege us as a nation. If we as a people were truly subjects to Jesus, as king, and doing what He demands, even if only when Christians do it, Nigeria will be a completely different place all together; a far better place for people to live in, and survive in. So, we do not match our words with our actions. Unfortunately, that is a big problem that we have.
Although we will not be processing this year, but we would like to know why Catholics process along major streets, with the Priest carrying the monstrance. Is this part of evangelization? How has the procession impacted on Catholics, residents of the streets and the onlookers over these years?
Well, strictly speaking, the procession itself is not part of the celebration of Christ the king. The procession is an observance that was transferred from the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, which occurs around June, to the Solemnity of Christ the King. So, it used to take place in June. Corpus Christi usually occurs on a Thursday in June, and then, the procession used to hold the following Sunday. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, June is very wet season altogether. So, in the past, rain used to disrupt our procession so very often. On that Sunday, there would be very heavy downpour, and we will not be able to process. So, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria in their wisdom, decided to transfer the procession to the dry season, and then they chose the Solemnity of Christ the king, which is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. We said well, on that day, let us process with Christ, our King.
And then, we go round the city or village or whatever showing Jesus Christ, our Eucharistic king. Everybody can see the Blessed Sacrament. We Catholics believe that the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of the whole Christian life. It is the greatest treasure of the Catholic faith. So, we go around, display it to the whole world, for them to see what we Catholics believe and hold dearest. Now, it certainly evangelizes us Catholics because evangelization is not only what we do to outsiders, it’s also what we do to ourselves. We talk about evangelization at the intra, and evangelization at the extra. So, at the intra, we evangelize ourselves procession. They can see it, and they realize it that the Holy Eucharist is not something that Catholics toy with; it is the centre of our faith. Take away the Holy Eucharist, we don’t have the Catholic Church anymore.
We will be like any other around. It is the Eucharist that makes us the Catholic Church. So, we evangelize ourselves first of all. Then, at the extra, others may be touched by what they see, and from there, you can win souls for Christ. Indeed, it has been said that one founder of an indigenous Church in Nigeria was evangelized by seeing Corpus Christi procession. That was what made her become a Catholic, when she saw this procession, and said this is wonderful. And I myself, in the course of the procession, I have seen young Catholics, I have seen white garment Church people coming back from their Church, and seeing the procession, on one occasion, the woman went flat on her face, when the Blessed Sacrament was passing. So, others get to know that we have this thing that is so precious to us Catholics; that it’s a pinnacle of our worship. So, to that extent, we also evangelize those outside also because they ask questions, ‘What is this thing that you people are holding in a procession, not just in one place, but every Parish is doing it on that same day, across the whole country.
For your information, Corpus Christi procession doesn’t take place on the Feast of Christ the King all over the world. In other countries, where the weather is suitable, like in Europe and United States of Americas, the Northern Hemisphere; they hold their own procession on the Sunday after the solemnity of Corpus Christi, which is in June. I have given the reason why our own Bishops transferred the procession from June to November. So, we are the ones doing our own in November, at the end of the liturgical year. Am not even sure that other African countries are doing the same, but it’s certainly the case for us here in Nigeria. So, when we do it, people see us, non-Catholics see us, and they learn something, that this is something that means a lot to Catholics. And as I said earlier, it is quite possible that some people will be moved by what we are doing, to want to become Catholics. I gave you an example already.
The Feast of Christ the King calls for examination of conscience, in respect of leadership. I would like you to advice our current leadership, the Buhari government, in respect of having to emulate some characteristic traits of Jesus, as a leader?
I don’t think those people can be educated. (Laughs). They cannot be advised, so it’s the complaint we are stuck at. They cannot be advised, so, I won’t even bother. But perhaps, we can talk to our own Christians who are in the corridors of power, and that includes traditional rulers who are Christians to emulate Christ. I have already said that it is a two-way thing. The subjects look up to the sovereign, the king, and give him his due as king. He must pay them back by providing for them. And that is what our so called leaders are not doing. They want us to be subservient to them, but when it comes to providing for the needs of people, they don’t. See what happened during the #EndSARS upheaval that people were discovering warehouses containing foodstuff that was meant to be given to the people, and the leaders, the rulers did not give the foodstuff to the people.
They made no provision for the people. So, Christian leaders must understand that leadership is a two-way affair. You demand loyalty, obedience, subservience from the followers. And you as a leader, must reciprocate by providing for them, then, taking care of their needs. At least, their basic needs of food, of shelter, of education, healthcare, these needs are their rights; their fundamental human rights. And that is what the leadership in Nigeria is not providing. Even in the forces; will you say the leadership of the Nigerian Army is providing for the rank and file of the military? Will you say the leadership of the police is providing for their men? So, it cuts across the whole country.
We are in a desperate situation in Nigeria. We have rouges in leadership in this country. I refuse to call them leaders, I call them rulers because leaders don’t behave the way they are behaving. Look at the enormous allocations they make to themselves in the annual budget, and then, the paltry amount that they give to the general population. You are voting that in this year’s budget, you are allocating 40 billion to health, to cater for 200 million people. In that same budget, you are allocating 48 billion to education, to cater for 200 million people, but you are giving 125 billion to the National Assembly, 465 people. Does it make sense? It doesn’t make sense. So, that was why I said we are dealing with leaders who are rogues.