The Intervention of Bishop John Ayah at The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith

An intervention of His Excellency Rev. Mons. John Ebebe AYAH, Bishop of Ogoja (NIGERIA) at The Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith

CHRISTIAN WITNESS IN THE FACE OF TERRORISM (BOKO HARAM): THE NIGERIAN EXPERIENCE

INTRODUCTION

Greetings to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI and to the Synod Fathers  in this gracious year of Faith!
I
am glad to share with you the joys and anxieties of the Nigerian Church
in recent times as she struggles to witness to Christ in the face of
terrorism popularly known as Boko Haram. The situation of terrorism in
Nigeria challenges the Nigerian Christian to a particular and deeper
reflection and commitment in his or her faith. It demands the Nigerian
Christian moves beyond Church attendance and celebration of the
Eucharist to Practical Christian witness that expresses true faith in
our Lord Jesus who became the saviour of the world through the Cross,
death and resurrection. Generally, this situation of terrorism which we
find ourselves demands from us an appreciation of the value of martyrdom
which the Church holds in high esteem and is also considered as the
highest proof of love which conforms to the image of Christ as the
suffering Master and Saviour. This is an opportunity for us to be better
prepared to confess Christ before the men and women of our time,
demonstrating in practical terms our readiness to defend our Faith and
leaving a legacy for posterity while following Christ along the way of
the Cross through the persecutions and violence which we suffer and must
bear.
Persecution
produces either of two reactions: it sharpens the faith of the believer
to commitment or it threatens the faith of the believer to withdrawal
from witnessing to the Christ (Truth) publicly. In the circumstances of
Boko Haram (An Islamic fundamentalist group in Nigeria which accuses
Western Education to be evil in need of elimination) constitutes one of
the challenges that Christians in Nigeria, especially those in the
Northern part that has this monster (Boko Haram) as its birth place,
have continued to face. The undaunted spirit of Christians, the
unwavering faith and witnessing which these Christians display in the
face of threats to life and property is a sign of their ardent faith.
This is real witnessing which the gospel calls for. The pews in the
Church have not been left completely empty.  Unity which Christians are
known has been strengthened because all Christians without
denominational prejudices have come to recognize the necessity and
urgency to defend themselves against their common enemy: Boko Haram.
As
the Universal Church celebrates the year of the faith, the Catholic
Church in Nigeria considers it, as the Pope hinted, the period of
‘grace’ to withstand and deepen her faith and witnessing even the more
in the situations of terrorism. It is the concern of the Catholic
Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria that, “the declaration of the year of the
Faith and the celebration of the Synod on New 
Evangelization
provides the opportunity for renewal of faith in the lord Jesus,
invigorate the enthusiasm to proclaim the Good News through personal and
communal conversion and grow in holiness.” The task of every Christian
which the Sacrament of baptism imposes can be summarised by: witness,
ministry and fellowship; these are strongly supported in biblical
context as the Greek New Testament indicates; Martyrion, diakonia, and
koinonia. From the Nigerian perspective, we can say that the New
Evangelization we inaugurate and in this special year of the Faith, the
Nigerian Christians are called in a special way to be bold to express
their Faith.  
The objective of this terrorist group is claimed to be an agitation for the Islamization of Nigeria. 
Nigeria,
blessed with the population of over 160, 000, 000 has roughly equal
percentages of the two major religions: Christianity and Islam. The
leadership of the Catholic Church in Nigeria has had course to appeal to
the consciences of good men and women in Nigeria to combat the “enemy”
called terrorism by true Christian witness. In her report for this
Synod, she notes that, “… as a local Church, we are challenged to live
the Christian witness of selfless and forgiving love of our Divine
Master. We are working together with men and women of goodwill to embark
on the process of healing and reconciliation.”  In fact, the government
of Nigeria appears helpless to tackle terrorism. No doubt, it has given
its citizens the impression that, all shall be over because there are
concerted efforts to stem the tide of this violence and persecution.
 There
are insinuations to discountenance the claim that Boko Haram is an
Islamic sect. Although the Sect has vehemently pronounced war on
Christians but Muslims too have not been spared in this crisis. While
the leadership of the Islamic religion in Nigeria continues to
disassociate itself from this terrorist group, the sect insists that it
is doing a legitimate, religious duty in the name of Islam and for
Allah. Because this Militancy does not spare even the Muslims, it has
been seen by many analysts as a Socio-political arrangement using the
vehicle of religion. Be that as it may, one thing is inevitable
Christians and Christian institutions have been their main targets.
Hence, it is a form of persecution on the Christians.
Generally,
the Catholic Church in Nigeria has refused to maintain that Boko Haram
is an instrument used by Muslims to incite Christians to religious war.
Although, some religions are more prone to fundamentalism and extremism,
it is the submission of the Catholic Church in Nigeria to emphasize the
urgency of this New Evangelization through dialogue, proper Catechesis
and education in order to have a balanced faith. This will help in
imbibing the values of conversion, brotherhood, service and
reconciliation. It is also our hope that, we would aspire to explore new
approaches to evangelization. The new approaches will touch the
horizons of new communication technologies where many of our youths
spend most of their time. We hope to meet them there bringing the Good
News of Salvation that Christ offers. Considering this medium for
evangelization is very relevant because the modern man seems to be
dominated by technology. It is important to meet him there to liberate
communication technology of its odds and rescue man from its grip so
that everything will be worthy of being offered to the glory of God and
the sanctification of humanity. 
Given
our peculiar situation of political leadership which is accused of
corruption and selfishness provoking criminality and violence in high
and low places, the New Evangelization must truly as the Supreme
Pontiff, Benedict XV1 proposes, calls one and all to Reflection,
Conversion and Reconciliation. The New Evangelization which necessarily
begins with Christ and through Him calls for cooperation, dialogue and
prayer. The Catholic Church in Nigeria needs peace to grow and flourish.
To overcome terrorism and foster a just and peaceful coexistence in the
human community, we need to constantly dialogue with political and
traditional leaderships as well as leaderships of other religions and
religious groups. We, the Christian leaders in Nigeria are willing to
support initiatives and programs that encourage peaceful coexistence and
religious tolerance and respect for human life.
Furthermore,
to foster peaceful coexistence in our local communities and assure
everyone the confidence of security, this New Evangelization, we pray
and hope, will include the urgency of security of human life and
property which God bestows on us in His gratuitous love. The desire to
be security conscious is borne out of the desire to defend and promote
life which terrorism undermines. This aspect of security which we seem
to have neglected is more urgent and will only be fruitful if there
exists in us the desire to love God and serve Him in our neighbour,
making ourselves our ‘brother’s keepers.’ 
Finally,
we believe that a good family upbringing leads to a good community
life. The many violence and actions of terrorism which we face maybe a
conglomeration of many causes but the basic cause is disconnect in
family morals. Obviously, this Synod on New Evangelization demands that
we take evangelization to the family which is the Cell of the Society.
This can help in no small way to imbibing the Christian values in a
manner that last and can help to face the challenges of the faith.
Indeed, we are passing through a turbulent period that needs prayer,
hard work and reconciliation. 

CONCLUSION: 

At
the concluding Mass of the World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, the Holy
Father, Benedict XV1 spoke to the audience on the relevance of
communicating the Faith. “It is not possible to find Christ and not tell
others about Him…. The world needs the testimony of your Faith.”
These words are profound and make a special resonance in our ears,
because how can we not give testimony with our lives about the Christ
who lives and acts in our midst? We believe that the strength of our
Faith and the grace of God will inflame our hearts to forge ahead in
communicating Christ the Truth of our salvation even in the situations
of persecutions and terrorism which we will not fail to face and which
indeed we face. 
The
Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria prays (with Holy Mother the
Church) fervently for universal peace but more specifically for peace in
Nigeria. As the Universal Church celebrates the year of Faith, the
Conference also calls on the Faithful to observe the following: 
(A) That we Catholics exercise patience in our dealings with those who oppose and fight against our interests.     
(B) That we do not resort to violence (even in retaliation) in the same manner that we are attacked.
(C)
That we continue to talk peace to our detractors, seeking meaningful
and mature ways of dialoguing that can bring about lasting peace and
concord, with time.
(D) That our efforts at
working toward dialogue and peace should not be interpreted as weakness,
but rather as a sign of strength which comes from the Lord Jesus, who
is our Resurrection and Life.
(E) That we promote sound Catechesis at home within the family for proper education and good upbringing of our children.
(F)
That the Faithful engage in prayer programs and frequent the
Sacraments, especially Sacramental Confession and reception of the
Eucharist.        
Finally, we commend our
every effort for peace in the hands of our Blessed Mother, the Mediatrix
of all graces. We pray for God’s blessings on our Holy Father, Pope
Benedict XVI and for success in the Synod proceedings. 
BISHOP JOHN AYAH
CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF NIGERIA

”The truth might be hard to say, painful to bear or even drastic for the truth sayer but still needed to be said”. ALISON.

Nnaemeka, O.M.I

Writer & Blogger

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