Most Rev. (Dr.) Alfred Adewale Martins, Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos on Tuesday urged Nigeria’s Priests to refrain from private ministries, dictatorship leadership and adhere to the sacred duty of teaching. Delivering his homily at the Opening Mass of the Nigeria Catholic Diocesan Priests’ Association (NCDPA) 2021 Annual General Meeting, at St. Leo Catholic Church, Ikeja, Lagos, the Chief Shepherd charged all Priests to be faithful to God and be loyal to the Mother Church as he also implored them to be leaders and not dictators.
“I call on you dear brother priests to reject the temptation to what is called “Private Ministries”. It is becoming more rampart and often times we see those involved carrying out strange practices and teaching doctrines that are foreign to the life and practices of the Church.
“Very often too, those practices are carried out in disobedience to the instruction of their Local Ordinaries. Let us be aware always that we become priests and are ordained not for vain glory, not for the acquisition of personal wealth, not for fame or popularity. Those who want to be celebrities, needing fame and popularity with wealth should not be found in the Presbyteries or Father’s houses.
“Dear brother priests, please let us always have before our minds, the counsel of St. Peter in 1Pet. 5:2-3: “Be the shepherds of the flock of God entrusted to you, watch over it not simply as a duty but gladly, because God wants it; not for sordid money but because you are eager to do it. Never be a dictator over any group that is put in your charge but be an example that the whole flock can follow. When the Chief Shepherd appears, he will give you the crown of unfading glory”.
According to him the theme of the meeting, ‘The Foundational and Holistic Reorientation of the Nigerian Person: An urgent imperative for the Church and State’, reminds all priests of the need to work assiduously as Church and leaders of the Church to ensure a proper orientation of the citizens for a well-ordered society.
“We must do this by finding ways and means of educating the faithful on the Social Teaching of the Church. This will give them the tool to get the right values to live by and to engage with others in the nation. Our country is more divided than ever before and so we need to re-establish the values of unity, harmony and mutual understanding among the people. The Social Teaching of our Church is a ready tool which we can use to achieve our goal of building a new Nigeria.
“Suffice it to say here that if priests are the leaders of the Church, needed to spearhead re-orientation, whether they are Bishops or not, it is important that we use an opportunity such as this to remind ourselves of the dignity conferred upon us by the grace of ordination and also of the duties and obligations that we bear as priests.
“Hebrews 5:1 says; “Every High Priest is chosen from among men to represent them in the things that pertain to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin”. That is to say that each of us priests called to leadership in the Church were chosen from among our brothers and sisters, fellow pilgrims, fellow sinners who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. We are neither saints nor angels; we are mere mortals subject to all the vagaries and challenges of human life in the world.
“If we are so favoured by God as to call us to be ordained ministers, men about whom St. John Mary Vianney says: … the priest has the key of heavenly treasures; he is God’s steward and administrator of His goods. If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I should salute the priest before the angel. The latter (angel) is a friend of God but priests stand in His place.
“Dear brothers, the enormity of the dignity bestowed upon us is such that each of us is a link in the chain that goes all the way to the Apostles. We stand in the company of such great men as St. John Mary Vianney, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Xavier, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. John Paul II, Blessed Michael Iwene Tansi and very many other distinguished ancestors in our faith.
“We must always remember that the dignity that we bear by far outstrips us as individual persons and so we must never take for granted that it is grace that brought us to the position of honour and service that we occupy. Were it not for the grace of God and the will of Mother Church, we would not be what we are and so we must be faithful to God and loyal to our Mother, the Church. We must continually remind ourselves that God is the source of all honour and dignity and so we must serve in humility and obedience to God and His Church.
“We are ministers of the Word and the Sacraments; the Word of God and the Sacraments of the Church. That means that we are not at liberty to proclaim our own version of the word or our own personal interpretation. The message that we are called to teach is not ours. It is a message entrusted to the Church, which the Church in turn entrusts to us. We have a duty to hand on the message as it was handed on to us. None of us must presume that he is more knowledgeable that the Magisterium of the Church.”
He decried the situation where foreign doctrines are taught. Archbishop Martins said teaching doctrines that are alien is disobedience, as he reminded the Priests to guide their flock against fetish and superstitious practices.
“My dear friends, those words of the letter of St. Peter were written early in the 2nd century, but it has a ring to it that speaks very loud in our time. This is because even in the 21st century, 19 centuries after, we still have those who are tempted to feed themselves rather than feed the flock; those who operate for sordid money with hardly an interest for the welfare of their flock. There are those who steep the flock in what amounts to fetish practices and hold them bound in superstition and superstitious practices rather than help them to enjoy the freedom of God’s children. There are those who exploit the simplicity of the faith of the people and use their credulity to exploit them.
“My dear friends, none of us should be found or should be counted in the number of those kinds of pastors and priests. It is below the dignity of a Catholic priest to be found in that company.
Delivering her goodwill message, Dr. (Mrs.) Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, First Lady, Lagos State represented by Mrs. Ola Ibitoye, noted that strategic annual meeting is a reputable and veritable platform to deliberate on the Ministry of Priests in the Church and in the civil society.
“The role of priests in the church cannot be trivialized. Priests teach the gospel, baptize, administer the sacrament, visit the members, assist in missionary work, and work assiduously to advance the Body of Christ and move the church forward, among others.
“In view of the germane duties of priests, it is, therefore, important that there should be an avenue to review their activities from time to time, update them with relevant and up-to-date information and see how they can contribute to the efforts to support the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and also make the society a better place for the people.
“The theme of this year’s AGM: “The Foundational and Holistic Reorientation of the Nigerian Person: An Urgent Imperative For the Church and State,” is apt and timely coming at a time the Nigerian state is undergoing a series of challenges.
“It is a fact that Nigeria today faces series of challenges ranging from kidnapping, banditry, terrorism, rape, civil unrest, among other social ills. There is no better time than now to go back to the basics and address the moral decadence that has continued to give impetus to the anti-social acts.
“A kidnapper, for instance, was given birth to by a parent; he or she must have been raised in a community; attended a religious organization, and so on and so forth. If we are able to tackle the menace from the foundation and raise God-fearing children; then we can be sure of having a society free from the aforementioned challenges or at least one in which the occurrence of such heinous acts are greatly minimized.
“This is why I commend the vision of the Church in coming up with this year’s theme. Both the government and the religious institutions have a great role to play to address the fundamental challenges confronting us today and secure a greater future for our children”, she noted.