A Pastoral Statement by the Catholic Bishops Conference, Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, Issued at the End of their First Plenary Meeting held at the Assumpta Pastoral Centre, Owerri, from the 21st to 22ndJanuary, 2020.
We, the Catholic Bishops of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, held our first Plenary meeting of the year at the Assumpta Pastoral Centre, Owerri, from the 21st – 22nd of January, 2020. Having deliberated on a number of pastoral and social issues affecting our people, we issue the following pastoral statement.
Concern for the Present State of Affairs in Imo State
- In these trying times of uncertainty, confusion, anxiety and tension in Nigeria and Imo State, in particular, we recall the weighty words pronounced by the Council Fathers at the Second Vatican Council held in Rome, from 1962 – 1965: “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well... That is why they cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 1). In the same spirit we, the Bishops of the Province, deeply feel the concerns, questions and frustrations that agitate the minds of our people. Last year we prayed for credible and peaceful general elections in the country. It is regrettable that the painful reverberations of a good number of those elections have not died down in Imo State and in some other states. The recent judgement of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on the last gubernatorial election in the state has continued to elicit varied reactions from different segments of the state and even beyond.
- As people of faith who put their trust in God’s providence even in the most difficult circumstances of life, we urge our people not to take laws into their hands; to be law-abiding; not to make inflammatory statements and spread unfounded rumours that could create more bad blood;and not to allow our states to be divided along the lines that will only be damaging to our corporate unity as a people. The issues in question are about equity, the civic rights of the people to elect their leaders, as well as good governance which guarantees their rights, freedom and welfare. We are one people, and we must work together for the growth and progress of our states.
- As faithful members of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church under the Holy Father we stress that the Catholic Church does not engage in manipulative political predictions or in divination about prospective judicial decisions. Any Catholic – whether Bishop, priest, religious or lay faithful – who engages in such idolatrous communications and practices does not speak in the name of the Catholic Church, nor for the Catholic Church. The Bible is very clear about the dangers of resorting to sorcerers and diviners: “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:31; cf. Deut. 18:10-12).
The Church lives on faith in God’s providential care for his people. As a pilgrim Church we ought to put our trust in the mercy of God. For the true Catholic the silence of God is far more eloquent than the unveiling of fortune tellers. If we knew everything that lay ahead of us Christian witnessing will be impossible, Christian initiatives will be paralysed, and we will be robbed of our joy of living. We warn pastors of souls to guard against the abuse of the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, against the abuse of the altar, and against the abuse of the pulpit and the Church, for predictions that can endanger the faith of the people, especially in the so-called Adoration centres.
Warning against violence and destruction among our people
- We, the Bishops of the Province, are alarmed at the present level of insecurity in parts of Imo and Abia states. In some of our communities, armed gangs and cult groups are engaging in intimidation and disruption of community life and the destruction of properties. The violence, brutality and callousness with which people are abducted, maimed, and even killed, has assumed a frightening dimension. Many have been forced out of their ancestral homes and reduced to the status of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Sometimes there is report of collusion by security personnel, government agencies, and even community leaders in perpetrating such atrocities. We call on relevant government agencies and community leaders, as well as ordinary citizens, to feel concerned and take actions against this unfortunate state of insecurity. We challenge the government, no matter the party affiliation, to recognize and work for the security of the citizens of our states and lands. Threats to life and property coming from such violent bodies in Nigeria, whether the Fulani herdsmen or armed criminal gangs, should be vehemently resisted by the government.
Gratitude to God
- Even in the face of these confusion, uncertainty, anxiety and tension, God has not abandoned his people. We give thanks to God for the success, last year, of the Provincial Silver Jubilee celebrations. We remain grateful for the many graces and blessings we received during the celebration in September 2019.
- We rejoice with Archbishop Anthony J. V. Obinna for the successful celebration of his 25th year as the Metropolitan of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province. Through his guidance and pastoral leadership the province has continued to witness growth in structures, personnel and pastoral development.
- We are particularly grateful that within this year of celebration the Lord blessed the province with New Bishops: Most Rev. Moses Chikwe, the Auxiliary Bishop of Owerri Archdiocese, and Msgr. Augustine Ndubueze Echema, the Bishop-Elect of Aba diocese. We thank the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for exercising his pastoral solicitude for the flock of Christ in our province.
- We extend our heartfelt gratitude and sincere thanks to the Priests, Religious and Lay Faithful in our dioceses for their commitment and contributions in furthering the Kingdom of God in our province.
Conclusion: Call for Prayers
- In the face of these trying times in our nation and states, God - in his fidelity - has not abandoned his people. Conscious of the power of prayer especially in times like these, we call on all Catholics, other Christians and people of goodwill, to fast and pray for a new beginning for our states, as we approach the Lenten season. We direct all Catholics in the province to pray specially for the nation and for our people on Sunday, the 2nd of February 2020, the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. As God’s fellow workers “We urge you not to let your acceptance of his grace come to nothing. As He said, ‘At the time of my favour I have answered you; on the day of salvation I have helped you; well, now is the real time of favour, now the day of salvation is here’” (2 Cor. 6:1 - 2).
We entrust you all to the maternal protection of our Lady, Queen of Peace, Queen of Nigeria, and the Patroness of our province.
Most Rev. Anthony J. V. Obinna Most Rev. Augustine T. Ukwuoma