A message from Nigeria for us

Back on Oct. 18, 2012, during a meeting of the Synod of Bishops discussing the New Evangelization, Bishop John Ebebe Ayah of Ogoja, Nigeria, said that he was “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.” Most Americans have only become aware of Boko Haram in the last few weeks due to the news coverage of the scores of girls who were kidnapped from their school by this terrorist organization (whose name is often translated as meaning “Western Education is Sin,” although the official name is “The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad”), but the people of Nigeria have long been aware of the sorrow which it brings. Nonetheless, Christians there also see the opportunities which God always gives us to bring good out of evil situations.

Bishop Ayah said, “This situation challenges the Nigerian Christian to a deeper reflection and appreciation of the value of martyrdom which the Church holds in high esteem. As against the gospel of prosperity, the Nigerian Catholic, in particular, has come to understand the true meaning of the cross as a sharing in the sufferings of Christ. And life in itself is translated as a pilgrimage of faith with the Lord Jesus to Calvary. Being a Christian within the Nigerian context, therefore, goes beyond ordinary church attendance on Sunday.” What a thing for all of us to meditate upon! We are nourished by Our Lord every Sunday at the altar (or more often, should we so choose), not so as to build up a mountain of riches which will eventually rust and corrode, but so as to have the strength we need for the journey to climb Calvary together with Jesus.

The bishop also mentioned that it is “interesting to note the fact that not only Christians have lost their lives from the bombs and bullets unleashed by Boko Haram, but even a good number of Muslims too, as some statistical data show. It is not every Muslim who cherishes what Boko Haram is seeking to perpetuate in Nigeria. Many admire the Christian virtues of love and peace, which they claim are equally enshrined in the Koran. Many of our Muslim brothers and sisters long to convert to the Christian faith but cannot achieve this, for fear of losing their lives.”

This fear in Nigeria is one which is shared in many majority Moslem countries (Nigeria’s population is almost evenly split between Moslems and Christians). Recently two members of the Concilium (the highest level of the international Legion of Mary) visited Boston to share with New Englanders hopeful news about the New Evangelization. They said that the Legion has been very active in Pakistan, a country where conversion to Christianity often is followed by death (either by the government or by a mob). On the Facebook page of the Legion in Rawalpindi, Pakistan is a quote from St. Teresa of Avila, obviously meant to encourage Catholics in such a hostile land. “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God — lacks nothing; God Alone suffices.”

Back in 2012, Bishop Ayah said, “As the Universal Church celebrates the Year of Faith, the Nigerian bishops call on their flocks to observe the following: (a) That we Catholics exercise patience in our dealings with those who oppose and fight against our interests as well as not resorting to violence, [even] more so, as a retaliatory measure; (b) 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; (c) 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; (d) That we promote sound catechesis at home, schools and small Christian communities; (e) Finally, we commend our every effort for lasting peace into the hands of our Blessed Mother, the Mediatrix of all graces.”

The goals which the Nigerian bishops laid out for their people are valid ones for us, too, both as we pray for those kidnapped girls and for the souls of the many killed in that war and in so many other wars and as we live our own Christian lives in a society more and more hostile to belief in Christ and His Church. As the Nigerian bishops said, we need to lay a foundation of solid catechesis, trusting in Our Lady (as Pope Francis says on page two), and realizing that true strength comes from imitating the Crucified One, always full of love. 

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