Your Eminence, Your Graces, My Lord Bishops, dignitaries of Church and state and my other brothers and sisters in Christ, I welcome you all and I thank you for coming to celebrate with us the triple events of today. The events are so aligned that it cannot but be divine providence that made it possible that we can gather to celebrate them in one occasion. We have the celebration today of the ordination of nine new priests for the Archdiocese of Lagos on the same day as we mark the 65th Episcopal ordination of the 2nd Archbishop of Lagos and the 10th anniversary of the installation of the 4th Archbishop of Lagos.
Tributes Down Memory Lane
On such a happy day like this, we must pay warm tribute to our ancestors in the faith who laid the foundation for the thriving Church in the Archdiocese of Lagos. I begin with the men and women who planted the seed of the faith in Popo Aguda, the lay faithful led by Padre Antonio having returned home at the end of the slave trade, came back with the treasure of the Catholic faith along with so many other skills that became the solid base for entrepreneurship and manufacturing in Lagos. These men and women of faith reached out to the SMA Missionaries who were carrying out their ministry in nearby Dahomey, what is Benin Republic of today inviting them to come to Nigeria. We pay tribute to the many SMA priests who came and watered the faith and gave the word and the sacraments to people such that the seed of faith could grow into what we have today. We pay tribute to the sisters of Our Lady of Apostles who laboured right from the beginning alongside the SMA priests to minister to the many needs of the faithful, especially in the areas of education and health. Six of the SMA priests became Bishops and played the role of Vicars Apostolic before the sixth of them, Archbishop Leo Taylor, was consecrated the first Archbishop of Lagos.
Dawn of History with Archbishop Aggey
He was succeeded in 1967 by late Archbishop John Kwao Amuzu Aggey as the first indigenous Bishop to be installed as Archbishop of Lagos. Today, August 4, 2022 marks 65 years since his Episcopal ordination. A wonderful coincidence that the 4th Archbishop of Lagos was installed as Archbishop exactly 55 years after the Episcopal ordination of the first indigenous Archbishop and the second substantive Archbishop of Lagos. So, as I celebrate the 10th anniversary of my installation as the Archbishop of Lagos, we also celebrate and rejoice in the legacies of this trail-blazer, my illustrious predecessor, Archbishop John Kwao Amuzu Aggey who gave me the sacrament of confirmation in 1968. He died 50 years ago on March 14, 1972. In commemoration of his 50 years of death, we have decided to name the Technical Institute that we plan to establish after him, especially because the Institute would take off on the site that hosted the now defunct Archbishop Aggey Memorial Secondary School. The plan for its beginning is at advanced stage and we hope that we shall get the kind of help and support that we need in order to get it in operation sooner than later. May the soul of Archbishop Aggey, and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.
I have had the privilege of standing tall, even if I say so myself, because I have had the good fortune of standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before me. As the song says, I am stronger for their courage and wiser for their words, their words of wisdom and the vision with which played their parts in the continuous evolution of the Archdiocese of Lagos. I am grateful that one of the giants who came before me is still present among us; the only one among them who rose to the rank of a cardinal, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie. Your Eminence, we give thanks to God for the role you have played over the years. May you live much longer in good health of mind and body. The labours of our heroes past and present are responsible for the growth that we experience. Priestly Formation One index of growth is the number of priests ordained for the Archdiocese. We thank the Lord for the deacons that we have just ordained priests for the Archdiocese. With these nine, it means that we have had a total of 62 priests ordained for the Archdiocese in the last ten years. We congratulate the new addition to the fold as well as their biological families and we praise the Lord who provides for the needs of His Church at different points in time. We are eagerly looking forward to more young men answering the call with a genuine desire to serve God and his people.
We use this opportunity to thank all those who have assisted us in financing the formation of these new priests and the others still in formation. The number of those who have taken on the task of supporting the formation of seminarians have increased and we are thankful for their understanding of the need that we are experiencing. However, the cost of formation has gone up and so we ask those who are already in the process of paying the fees not to relent so that we can continue to admit as many candidates as the seminaries would permit. May God reward the generosity of our benefactors a hundred-fold and bless their endeavours with success. With the ordination of today, needs have arisen for a limited transfer of priests. As soon as this is concluded, we shall inform those who would be affected.
Gratitude to God
May I confess to you all that I took up the mantle of Archbishop of Lagos with fear and trembling! I had no illusion about the enormity of the tasks that the Lord called me to. So, I remember praying to God that he should give me the shoes that were my own size because I simply knew that I could not fit in or walk comfortably in the big shoes that my predecessors had left behind. Ten years after, I testify today that God has been good to me, He has treated me well and given me grace in much the same way as he treated the lowly handmaid of Nazareth, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and strengthened her to play the role assigned to her. I testify also that the people of God of the Archdiocese of Lagos have been truly wonderful in rising up to all that we must do for the kingdom of God to grow in our time.
Admirable Growth; Amazing Clergy, Religious and Lay Faithful
We thank God for the Clergy and Religious of our Archdiocese, together with the lay faithful; you have all been amazing. The priests and religious have been amazing in the way they have been providing pastoral care for the faithful entrusted to their care; the faithful have also been amazing in the way they have been responding to the services of the priests and religious. That is why it has been possible to create new deaneries, new parishes and new quasi parishes. The number of those who are receiving the sacraments is very encouraging; from Baptism to Confirmation etc. such that when we have only 250 candidates for confirmation, for example, we are surprised that it is so few. That is a testimony to the synergy that exists between priests, religious, catechists and other agents of Evangelisation among the lay faithful. Together, we have witnessed the solemn dedication of not less than 40 Church buildings and blessing of numerous Fathers’ houses within the last ten years. We hope that with the grace of God, we shall be beneficiaries of even new ecclesiastical jurisdictions, in not too distant a future, as a fruit of the growth that the Lord has made to happen among us. This is not to say that there are no problems here and there. There are and we are not ashamed to admit because we know that it is only in heaven that there would be no modicum of problem to contend with.
Reorganisation of Statutory Councils
I am deeply satisfied with the efforts that we have put into reorganising the structures of the statutory councils in the church; pastoral, laity and finance councils, beginning with the parishes, going onto Deaneries and then Archdiocesan levels. We published the Guidelines for the operation of these councils with a view to ensuring that all of Christ’s faithful; Clergy, Religious and laity, according to their proper charisms and roles are able to collaborate in a spirit of co-responsibility to fulfil the mission of the Church. We are grateful for the work of the committee that prepared the document and transformed into the implementation and monitoring committee.
Leading for Mission
We are grateful for the follow-up training in leadership skills that we named Leading for Mission. The programme began with the clergy working in the Archdiocese and it is ongoing with the training of leaders of Associations of the lay faithful. Let me use this opportunity to say again that those who get elected into offices but fail to complete the programme of Leading for Mission within the period stipulated may have to give up their positions to those who have gone through it. It is that important to us that those who aspire to leadership in the Church must get the skills required to fulfil their roles. Good leadership anchored on the values of Christ and His Church is needed in order to produce the rich fruits of people seeking and striving after holiness of life. As they identify themselves more with the Church for the sake of growth in their spiritual lives, for the sake of evangelisation and winning souls for Christ and His Church, people would attain the holiness of life expected of them.
By the grace of God and our collaboration, with the sense of co-responsibility that have characterised our engagement, we have done so much together as the People of God in the Archdiocese. The much that we have done together have shown us that there is so much more to do. We have established St. Kizito Secondary College, Iju from scratch in the same way as we started Mater Misericordia Nursery and Primary School, Bogije in Epe Deanery with plans in the pipeline for another school at Ilogbo Eremi and Ijede. Land has already been purchased for the proposed school at Ilogbo Eremi in Badagry area while architectural and other building plans have already been prepared for the one proposed for Ijede in Ikorodu area. We hope that the School of Nursing that we also have in our plan to complement the St. Raphael Divine Mercy Specialist hospital at Ijede will materialise sooner than later.
Nigeria’s Multiple Problems
Having said that, it is necessary to acknowledge that these are very difficult times in the life of our country Nigeria. We are all so tired and exasperated because of the many and varied kinds of problems that we are facing. The insecurity has gone so bad that the elite Brigade of Guards of the Nigerian army can be ambushed twice within a couple of months and suffer the loss of officers and men. We are all shocked at the effrontery of attacking Correctional Centres and freeing inmates in order to unleash more mayhem on citizens. The trauma of attacks on villages and reprisal attacks as well as attacks on Churches such as we had in Owo on Pentecost Sunday this year have put people on the edge and left them in fear and anxiety. We are all aware of the sad story of our economy and the value of our naira that seem to be on a free fall. We are witnesses to the future that is being compromised by the unending ASUU strike, a strike that have been occasioned by government constant failure to honour its agreements, with the consequent effects on the teeming population of our youth, especially university students. Banditry has continued unabated with the kidnapping of people for ransom becoming a pandemic.
The Weapon of War
In the light of our present situation, we call on all of you, our people to continue to storm the heavens with prayers for the restoration of peace and security of life and property. There is so much more that prayers can achieve than we can ever imagine. So, we cannot leave God out of the solution to the problems that we are facing in our country even if we cannot leave it in the hands of God alone. After all, heaven helps those who help themselves. We have been encouraging one another to use the weapon of war that our Blessed Mother Mary gave to us. I urge you to continue to pray the rosary daily. The situation of Nigeria is just like a war situation and the appropriate weapon is the weapon that has won battles in the past such as at Lepanto. It is still as potent today as it was at that time. Our God is the same as he was on the throne then and our Mother Mary is still the powerful intercessor that she was at that time. I ask that in addition to praying the rosary, let us also, as individuals and Associations of the lay faithful pray the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The Mother of Perpetual Help is a powerful intercessor.
Power of Your Votes
Secondly, we ask you to take the forthcoming elections seriously and do all that needs be done to use the power of your votes to determine where you want our country to go. Let no one be misled into saying that their votes would not count. Signs are there that they would count. I know that there are many who have sincere doubts that the elections would take place in 2023. The signs are indeed ominous with the pervading insecurities that we are seeing, the signs are indeed ominous but we are a people of hope who anchor their hope on God.
The President needs to address the nation himself
So, we ask government to pay attention to the fears and concerns of the people. The President of our country needs to address the nation himself, not through his spokespersons or Ministers, and tell us the plans government has for ensuring that the elections will go on and reassure citizens that government with all the apparatus of power in its control has the will to change things for the better. It is not enough to look forward to handing over to someone else, it is also important to reassure citizens that the process of elections that will lead to the handover will take place.
Examine Politicians’ Agenda
In preparation for casting our votes when the time comes, we must listen attentively to what the politicians have to say, pay attention to their plans for the future of the country, the future of its young population in particular, especially as it concerns security, education, the economy and the question of Nigeria, unity with equity and fairness to all within the federation, a nation in which everyone feels a sense of belonging. Let us take time to examine the agenda they propose for controlling government expenditure as well as the track records of those seeking our votes for the different positions before we decide whom to cast our votes for. I thank you all again for your presence, congratulate the new priests and I pray the Lord to bless you all and lead you home safely as we bring the celebrations here to a close. Peace be with you all.
+ Alfred Adewale Martins; August 4, 2022