A PASSIONATE APPEAL TO NIGERIAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND RELIGIOUS IN THESE HARD TIMES
By Fr Angelo Unegbu
My dear fellow priests and religious, we are all witnesses to the day to day horrors in Nigeria these days. Who would have believed it few years ago that our country will become a hopeless and suicidal dungeon? Who would have believed that leadership could create this level of poverty, misery and pain?
Who would have believed that a time would come when parents will become afraid of the rising sun because there is no food for the children, no money for school fees, no money for house rent, no job anywhere, no payments for those who have one?
No one would have believed that there would come a time when kidnapping, armed robbery, bribery would no longer occupy the front pages of our newspapers because they have become lesser evils. Prostitution? That one is no longer frowned at.
Day after day, we watch the core values that made us who we are melting and eroding away. We are not even worried about that because the stinking graves of the victims of daily massacres, the unquenchable smoke of burnt down villages, the circulating pictures of butchered kids and slain innocent men and women, the immunity enjoyed by the killers, the fears in the air and so on have made the eroding values irrelevant in our eyes.
In all these, there seems to be no remedy in view. The darkness thickens and the tear widens. Those who are killed by the swords of the invisible herdsmen are nothing compared to the lives wasted by the poor economic policies of our democratic monarchs.
In the face of these, the political elites are only concerned with 2019 elections.
The Catholic priests and religious in Nigeria being the most stable, organised, networked, interconnected and people-oriented group remain the only hope.
If we, priests and religious, would take some time to reflect over the evils of our time we would hear the subtle voice of the Lord telling us: “Do not send them away. You give them something to eat”, “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren…”, “feed my sheep if you love me”, “cast your net on the right side of the boat …”, “do not be afraid”.
Now my humble suggestions/appeal to fellow priests and religious:
1) Let us in our various dioceses and congregations meet as soon as possible in order to find out how we can help the people in our dioceses or regions in these trying times.
2) Let us please channel a greater part of our diocesan and congregations’ resources and attention to fighting the menace of hunger, joblessness and disease. If possible all other church projects should be suspended for at least one year.
3) This is not a time to make unnecessary expences or hoarding of food or having fat bank accounts. Let us take what we need and share what remains among the needy.
4) If anybody comes to you for help, and you sincerely know you can’t help, before you send him or her away make sure you have exhausted all possible avenues.
5) Let us limit the number of collections at mass at least for one year or if they must be maintained let it be for helping the poor directly. Too many collections at this time could back fire.
6) Let us admonish our Church members to look around and help those they can irrespective of their denominational or religious affiliations.
7) People are dying like flies because so many sick people have no money for treatment. I know so many in this situation. Let us not send them away to go and die when they visit our hospitals. We could appeal for funds for their sake.
8) Let us make sure that no politician is allowed to use the pulpit for political campaigns. They are the cause of our problems. Make sure that none of them is given any award of any Kind. 2019 elections is around the corner, let us not fall into their traps. People are watching and making their judgements.
9) In as much as we teach the people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, let us also remind them that self-defence is not just a fundamental human right but a duty towards oneself, the society and God.
10) Use every means available to expose to the world the atrocities of these times and their perpetrators. However, remember that any single case of false allegation can undermine all our efforts. Be sure of the facts before you talk.
11) Discourage your Church members from selling their votes, from being used as political thugs, election riggers and ballot box snatchers.
12) We have all it takes to feed this nation and to be at the fore front of socio-economic revitalisation of the country. Let every parish, diocese, congregation go into food production by owning at least a cattle, piggery, or poultry farm or any other kind of animal husbandry or plantations.
13) No other organisation or group is in a better position than us to pull Nigerians out of the thrash of hunger and poverty. Let us concentrate now in training our youths to learn handwork. Every diocese, congregation or even parishes should establish and equip their own vocational institutes.
14) Parishes that have Water (borehole) should this time allow people fetch free of charge. By so doing the people will know that we feel with them.
15) Hitherto in many parishes that I know parishioners are made to pay through their noses before they could bury their dead, get married in the Church, get confirmed, receive First Holy Communion or baptise their kids. In the spirit of the time let us do what Jesus would have done.
16) It is natural that people turn more to God in times of hardship. When you see the Church attendance increase do not think that it is because of your golden mouth, praying prowess or hard work. No. It is because of the hard times. Our people are hungry, hopeless and shattered. Please let us console them. Let us see how we can help them and not to take undue advantage of their situation.
17)Those of us who live abroad should please not only be supporting members of their families at this time. Let us remember others. There is fire on the mounting.
If only the Catholic priests and religious (Irish missionaries) were able to feed the Biafrans for 3 years during the war, we as indigenous priests and religious can do more for our people today. They are our people, our flock. This is the time to show them how much we love them.
Fr Angelo Unegbu