Hope Is Not Lost: Finding Mercy In Maiduguri Diocese

HOPE IS NOT LOST: FINDING MERCY IN MAIDUGURI DIOCESE
BY FR. POLYCARP MBLARAWA

BRIEF HISTORY OF ISLAM IN NIGERIA

Islam was in existence for more than 200 years before the advent of Christianity to Nigeria. Islam came to Nigeria in the 9th century. By the 11th and 15th centuries, it spread fast to Borno-Maiduguri.

At the beginning of the 19th century, a jihad was fought across much of northern Nigeria. Under the leadership of Uthman Dan Fodio, the leading Fulani Islamic scholar of the day, this sought to spread a purified form of Islam as well as established the Fulani dominated Sokoto caliphate. (Seat of power) The caliphate ruled most of the northern Nigeria for the next century. Kanem-Bornu caliphate was established in the 15th century. This is the base of Boko haram in Nigeria.

CHRISTIANITY IN NIGERIA

Christianity made its first appearance in Nigeria in the 15th century when the Portuguese missionaries introduced the Roman Catholicism. Unfortunately, it extinguished for a long period of time until it resurfaced in 1800s. Since then the Catholic Church has grown and now claims approximately 25,000,000 followership based on 2010 data.

THE ADVENT OF CATHOLIC FAITH TO MAIDUGURI DIOCESE

It was difficult for Christianity to penetrate the northern parts of Nigeria because of Islam.  Muslims vehemently resisted Christianity because they regarded it as foreign, an intrusion, and religion of the “whites.” or the religion of the people of the book. It was extremely considered as a rival religion to Islam.

Roman Catholic Church came to the north in 1904. It finally came to Maiduguri diocese in the early 1940. Through medical ministries, much of the Islamic north opened up to the gospel. Small clinics were established in some of the areas occupied by the Muslims. They received medical treatment free of charge. This made them to tolerate the missionaries to a great extent.

As time went on, great efforts were put forth by the missionaries to evangelize the non-Muslims especially those who subscribed to the African Traditional Religion (ATR)

From among those who embraced the catholic faith, few were taught the use of English. They were trained to interpret homilies and catecheses to the new converts. Slow and steady, the church grew to where it is now amidst resistance and persecutions.

The life of the church in northern Nigeria, both catholic and protestant churches, has been all about threats, violence and persecution. But despite all the turmoil, the faith is on the increase.

DIOCESE OF MAIDUGURI

The diocese of Maiduguri was formally created a diocese on June 7, 1966. It covers 132,000 kilometer square (51,000 square miles). The largest in land mass among the dioceses in Nigeria. It has 40 parishes, more than 350 outstations, and 2 chaplaincies. It has 5 convents for female religious, over 40 elementary, junior and senior high schools, 5 clinics and a diocesan pastoral center. Also, it has 55 active priests, 20 nuns and over 200 catechists and volunteers. The catholic population is more than 125, 000.

THE PRESENT STATE OF MAIDUGURI DIOCESE

Before now, that is, during the raid by Boko Haram, more than 100,000 Catholics were displaced

  • 7,000 married women became widows
  • 10,000 children became orphans
  • 20 religious sisters –Augustinian sisters were displaced and Novitiates and convents destroyed
  • 5 clinics destroyed
  • 20 priests were displaced
  • More than 200 catechists and volunteers displaced. Most of them lost houses and properties worth millions of dollars.
  • 32 out of the 40 elementary, junior and senior high schools destroyed
  • More than 100,000 homes were destroyed
  • Government structures and roads, police stations and others were reduced to mere ruins

EMERGENCE OF BOKO HARAM

Haram Boko Haram emerged as a dreaded Islamic Sect Known as “Jama’atul Ahlil Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad” meaning that a group of people who committed themselves to the propagation of Jihad and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessing be upon Him) Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” meaning that anything that comes from West is not allowed and is sinful according to the propagation of its members

The Boko Haram was founded by Muhammad Yusuf in 2002 in Maiduguri with the vision of establishing Islamic law (Sharia) under governorship of Ali Modu Sheriff. He built mosques and Islamic schools whereby parents from Nigeria and other neighboring countries fetched their children especially poor parents and put them in the school, and soon the centre transformed from Islamic school to a jihadists recruiting centre “Many students from technical colleges in Maiduguri and Damaturu torn their educational certificates and discarded their studies. They joined the Qur’anic lessons and preaching of Muhammad Yusuf” (Danjibo 3)

He influenced the students through his teaching and propagating Jihad on Nigerian government in particular northern part that must adopt Islamic law, if not he would launch attacks on both humans and institutions.

PROBABLE CAUSES OF BOKO HARAM

  • Insecurity: Political, economic and social insecurity
  • Youth unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Monumental corruption

BE THE LIGHT OF CHRIST SHINING GOD’S MERCY IN THE WORLD

The Christians in the diocese of Maiduguri do not only preach love with mere words,     but also with their actions. I am proud to state here that despite the heinous attacks on them by Boko Haram that led to the loss of thousands of life, properties and structures worth millions of dollars; there was no single instance of reprisal attacks from Christians.

  1. It may interest you to know that among the thousands of Christians that took refugee in our sister diocese-Yola, hundreds of them were Muslims. The bishops, priests and the lay faithful of the dioceses of Yola and Maiduguri proudly took care of both Christians and Muslims in their camps. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt 5:7).
  2. Hundreds of people that have returned to their various towns and villages are now living together with Muslims. They preach peace, love and tolerance with their words and actions. The persecution has awakened both Christians and Muslims to the fact that they are brothers and sisters, children of one father. Pastors, priests and Muslim clerics have embarked on serious education on the need to recognize religious diversity in Nigeria. They now try to speak with one and strong voice to condemn violence, intolerance, bigotry, and any form of religious practice that will undermine the relative peace they enjoy for now. They preach forgiveness. Jesus has made clear that, “if we forgive others their transgressions, our heavenly father will forgive us. But if we do not forgive others, neither will our father forgive our transgressions” (Mt 6:14-15).
  3. The bishop of Maiduguri, Most Rev. Oliver Dashe Doeme since the beginning of 2016 embarked on pastoral visit to the affected areas, strengthening the hope of his flock. “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). This hope sustained the priests and faithful since they began to co-exist with Muslims many decades ago. The same hope continues to be our strength and our food.
  4. Christianity is all about love because God is love. “He who loves lives in God and God lives in him” (1 Jn 4:16b-17). It could be hard to continue to love those who do not appreciate it. But when you hate those who hate you, what do you stand to gain? Two wrongs cannot make a right. Jesus admonishes us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, so that we can be children our father in Heaven (Mt 5:44). Yes, we have lost church buildings, convents, schools, clinics and lives, but we have not lost God. As long as God exists, we fear no evil. He is our shepherd, shield, and refuge (Ps 23). Even if we walk through the valley of darkness, we fear no evil. The Boko Haram can only succeed in killing the body but “cannot kill the souls”.
  5. The persecution in the words of Bishop Oliver has “purified” the faith of the people. When Boko Haram began to attack Christians, burning homes and churches, young men and women often run to churches to protect the priests and church buildings. For them, the Boko Haram could destroy their homes, but let them spare the churches and rectories.
  6. Before Christians finally fled the affected areas. They risked their lives to attend Masses and Sunday services as their communities had fallen prey to violence from the radical extremists. “There were a lot of bomb explosions, but did not seem to deter people from coming to church.” One of our priests once said, “It was a very humbling and edifying experience for him to see many people at Mass.” He also heard some of his  parishioners said that, “if the attacks would worsen they would rather die in church than somewhere else.” During one of his Masses, the priest told the faithful that attended Mass that there was no need for him to preach, their presence in such large numbers was a homily itself.
  7. We must try to live as our heavenly father. “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” ( Mt. 5:48) “By your love for one another the world will know that you are my disciples” (Jn 13:34-35).  Love one another as I have loved you. Christ’s love for us led to his death on the cross. Our love for one another must resemble that of Christ in order for us to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. “Let your light shine before men so that seeing your good works, they will give glory to your father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).

Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy

Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy
Converting Sinners
by: Rev. Polycarp Mblarawa
6th in a series– Diocese of Gaylord

In our world today, the sense of sin seems to be lost. People attempt to set freedom in opposition to truth, and indeed to separate them radically, is the consequence, manifestation and consummation of another more serious and destructive dichotomy, that which separates faith from morality. This separation represents one of the most acute pastoral concerns of the church amid today’s growing secularism, wherein many, indeed too many, people think and live ‘as if God did not exist” (Veritatis Splendor, 88)

The very life of the church is affected by this loss of the sense of sin, as St. Pope John Paul II indicated; “Even in the field of the thought of the church certain trends inevitably favor the decline of the sense of sin. For example, some are inclined to replace exaggerated attitudes of the past with other exaggerations: from seeing sin everywhere they pass to not recognizing it anywhere; from too much emphasis on the fear of eternal punishment they pass to preaching a love of God that excludes any punishment deserved by sin; from severity in trying to correct erroneous consciences they pass to a kind of respect for conscience which excludes the duty of telling the truth. (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 18)

Pope Pius XII in a radio message to the United States National catechetical Congress, October 26, 1946 commented that “the sin of the century is the loss of the meaning of sin.” It is true because many people refuse to acknowledge sin as the source of evil’s presence in the world, in the family, or in their personal lives. Many have little notion that sin involves the disruption of God’s providential care for man and thereby harms the person. Others cannot overcome the sense of sin, which ultimately leads to misery, and so choose to reject the idea of sin or even God himself in their lives

Modern man has continuously turned away from the things of God by an excessive preoccupation with the things of this World. We are to arouse in them once again the desire for the love and truth which have been revealed to us by God through Christ. Through sincere and patient dialogue and a life of witness, we will be able to illuminate their hearts with the light of the gospel, set them free, and bring them once more under the dominion of God our father.

“All Christians by example of their lives and witness of the word, wherever they live, have an obligation to manifest the Christ which they put on in baptism, and to reveal the power of the Holy Spirit by whom they were strengthened at confirmation, so that others, seeing their good works, might glorify the father who is in Heaven (Cf Matt. 5:16).” The principal duty of Christians is to bear witness to Christ, and this they are obliged to do by their life and their words, in the family, in their social groups, and in the sphere of their profession. Christians are to spread the faith of Christ among those with whom they are connected by social and professional ties and this obligation is all the more urgent.

In this Jubilee year of Mercy as always, I wish to add my own voice to the many voices out there to encourage us Christians to tighten our belt of commitment to a life of witness in our families, places of work, neighborhood, communities and churches. We are to bear witness to Christ with our words and deeds. We are to match our words with actions. We must show and tell the truth always and everywhere in love. In order to stimulate conversion in the lives of our brothers and sisters who choose to deliberately live in perpetual mortal sin, we must reach out to them wherever they are. We must not wait until we stumble over them or see them during celebration of weddings, funerals, birthday parties and the like. We are to seek for them. They are found in our immediate families, places of work, and communities.

God does not wish that anyone should perish, he has called you and I to carry his message of love, forgiveness and mercy to everyone especially to those who have lost the sense of sin. One of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is to admonish the sinner. To do this, it is important to note that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23). Therefore, if we must succeed in convincing a sinner about the danger of sin to his life, we must let him know that we too are sinners like him. We are sinners who always seek for forgiveness from the Lord whenever we realized we have sinned. In love and humility, we try to let him realize how bad sin is. We try to lead him to the sacrament of reconciliation and also, try to keep him out of an occasion of sin.

We may meet resistance from him but we can let him know directly or indirectly, especially by our exemplary life style, that God, the church and we do not approve of his actions. We should avoid displaying the “Holier than thou” attitude.  Instead, we should put on the attitude of Jesus full of love, humility and truth. We should avoid sounding judgmental in our approach.

Also, there are Christians who come to church for Mass or attend Sunday service regularly but still live in mortal sin. They perform certain acts that lead them to commit mortal sin. Sometimes in their interaction with people, they share with them what they do and boast of the pleasures they derive from them. The feedback they get sometimes shock and offend them. They may be ignorant about what the church teaches regarding such acts. It is our duty to reach out to them to educate them so that they can learn the truths they need to know to save their lives. This is extremely pertinent today when so many people are confused by what the church teaches on issues like contraception, abortion, homosexuality, pornography, masturbation, invitro fertilization, and etc.

Futhermore, some Christians choose to stop practicing their faith either because of the loss of loved ones or ill-health. Such people grieve in pains. They feel that God does not love them anymore. They find it difficult to come to terms with the reality of death or ill-health. So they get mad at God for their loss or ill-health. Such people choose to withdraw from anything to do with church and even interaction with people.  They resolve to abandon God and seek for comfort and consolation elsewhere or in some things not helpful for their spiritual wellbeing. You and I have the duty to reach out to such people and help bring them back to Christ.

It is true that priests and lay faithful are very guilty of not giving much attention to the care of widows, widowers and the orphans among us. We hardly make time to find out how the bereaved in our parishes, families, neighborhood and communities are coping with grief. We, most of the time only show our solidarity with the bereaved when we try to attend the funeral Mass or service of the deceased. We hardly make phone calls after the funerals; the bereaved could easily be forgotten. Those among them who cannot understand why people die, they turn their backs at God and say he does not love them again. You and I are to be another Christ to them. So let us wake up from our slumber of “nonchalant attitude” and help bring back our brothers and sisters who have lost hope in God. Why not begin today by doing this-“Hello, I am  … I called to check on you, I hope you are OK. Try and locate where they live and reach out to them. There should be no more individualistic life instead a community life is to be promoted.

Visit the sick at home or hospital. You may be surprised to meet those who have lost hope in the healing touch of God or they are upset because they have terminal illness. They feel that God is not there for them. Seeing you by their sickbed and praying with them could restore their hope in God and possibly get healed. This could stimulate conversion in their hearts. Little gestures of pure love speak in volume of God’s love, care and mercy to people.

Another area where we do not seem to do so well is forgiving those who have wronged or injured us. If we must convince those we think live in mortal sin to repent, we must continuously lead by example.” By the fruits we bear, the World would know that we are Christ’s disciples.” We must be prompt to forgive those who wrong or injure us. This is the way to show those who live in sin that God our father is very prompt at forgiving those who sin against him. When we forgive people their wrongs, our relationship with them strengthens and we make peace with them. This will give us the confidence to talk about God’s forgiveness to those who seek him.

Use personal stories of forgiveness when helping people to repent of their sins. Use also the gospel stories of forgiveness such as the prodigal son in the gospel according to Luke which expresses in a simple but profound way the reality of conversion.  Forgiveness is also exemplified by the narratives of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, the adulterous woman, the Good thief, the Samaritan woman, and the public sinner who is forgiven much because she loved much. (Cf Elk. 19:1-10; Jan 8:1-11; Elk. 23:42-43; Jan 4:4-42; Elk. 7:36-50). There are, then, no lost causes for Christ who came to seek and to save the lost.

The call to conversion is a key in Jesus’ public ministry. He began his public ministry by calling people to repentance, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of god is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. It should be our theme every blessed day as his disciples sent to help others come back to him. (Lk 19:10)

People should see us promote justice and peace by living out daily. They should be able to see the genuineness of our discipleship. Our discipleship should be able to stand the test of our time. As Jesus would say, let our yes always be yes, anything short of that comes from evil.

Our attitude should not be like that of the Pharisee in Luke 7:39 who said to the sinful woman in the city who came to see Jesus in his house, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

Conversion is the radical reorientation of one’s whole life away from sin and evil and toward God. This is the central element of Christ’s preaching, of the Church’s ministry of evangelization, and of the sacrament of reconciliation. This should be our “watch word” every moment of our life and therefore, work toward it.

Finally, today, in a period of history in which the reality of sin is being denied and a general indifference to moral evil prevails, it is particularly important that the Christian strives to be Christ like in his conduct among others. Christians, by virtue of baptism, have a mission to be witnesses to the truth. Sin has always existed, and Christ will always be there to forgive sinners and bring them back. The surest way to evangelize others is to strive to imitate Christ in all actions. Through god’s grace, personal holiness is possible for all faithful members of the church.

However, personal holiness first requires personal conversion to a greater union with Christ and a greater desire and commitment to reject one’s sinful ways. This is what we should help others do, to reject what is sinful.