‘Look, here God lives among human beings. He will make his home among
them, they will be his people, and he will be their God, God-with-them. He
will wipe away all tears/rom their eyes; there will be no more death, and no
mourning or sadness or pain. The world of the past has gone" (Rev. 21:3).
Dear brothers and Sisters in the Incarnate Word,
Yet again, we celebrate Christmas in our country amidst fears, trepidation and anxiety caused mainly by continued acts of banditry that takes the lives of many of our compatriots on a daily basis, kidnappings for ransom, armed robbery, un-abating farmers/herders conflicts, insurgency ritual killings etc. As if these were not enough, we are now faced with a very high cost of living affecting all aspects of life with more and more people in the land joining the ranks of those already living below the poverty line, in abject poverty.
We all know the culprits: bad leadership that encourages mediocrity, nepotism and ineptitude which in turn breeds corruption and bad governance that have earned our country the unenviable position of the world capital of the poor. If recent statistics making the rounds are anything to go by, it is estimated that nearly half the population of our country today lives below the poverty line. It therefore comes as no surprise that there is despondency and a state of hopelessness in the land with no respite in sight for the vast majority of ordinary Nigerians. The poor and forgotten rightly feel left in the lurch by those charged with the constitutional responsibility of managing our common resources for the common good.
Faced with this self-inflicted suffering in the land it is tempting to think and even believe that God is absent and does not care about the plight of the poor and afflicted.
Yes, most Nigerians are not only anxious, afraid, frightened and traumatized but also despondent and on the verge of losing faith and trust in the leadership of the country.
It is worthy of note that our plight today was the plight of the poorest of the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten and the outcasts at the time of the incarnation exemplified by the poor and lonely shepherds tending their flock out in the cold on that first Christmas night who got frightened by the presence of the angel of the Lord who brought them the Good News of the birth of the Saviour of the world. They were frightened because they were vulnerable and therefore insecure, hence the need for an assurance from the angel: "Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord" (Lk. 2: 9-11).
Dear brothers and sisters, the comforting words of the angel to the frightened and terrified shepherds on that first Christmas night are comforting words for all the impoverished, insecure, terrified, traumatized, confused, worried, troubled, despondent outcasts and hopeless Nigerians. More so, they are also a sign of God's presence among all the suffering anywhere, everywhere and in every situation because he is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He lives among us, makes his home among us and will wipe away tears from our eyes (cf. Rev. 21:3).
Worthy of note in the reaction of the shepherds to the good news brought to them by the angel, was their faith and trust in divine providence which led them to visit the nativity scene in spite of their initial fears. Their attitude and reaction challenge us to trust in God and not to live in perpetual fear even when we do not understand fully what the future portends for us especially as we continue to struggle with insecurity, biting poverty, incessant kidnapping for ransom, killings and anxiety over the 2023 general elections. Like the shepherds we must have the faith and trust to face our future with confidence and determination knowing that our God is with us all time no matter how difficulty and challenging our situation maybe.
Still instructive in the shepherds' reaction to the angel's message was their active response: "Let us go to Bethlehem and see this event which has been made known to us" (Lk. 2: 15). They received the message, took it to heart and acted on it.
When we place our trust in God's providence it does not take away our responsibility. It does not stop us from doing our bit no matter how small." Our hope, faith and trust in God must be active. To do nothing to remedy our predicament in the name of faith or trust in God is a misguided Christian faith. In other words, our faith and trust in God must lead to action. Faith and trust in God that does not lead to action especially for the common good is a dead faith (cf. James 2: 1426). This is because as Pope Francis has said; "Our redemption has a social dimension because God in Christ redeems not only the individual person, but also the social relations existing between men' ... God's word teaches that our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation of each of us: 'As you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me"' (Evangelii Gaudiumm 178 and 179)."
And given that our faith has a social dimension it goes without saying that the active political involvement of the lay faithful whose duty it is to permeate society with Christian values is not only a worthy and demanding expression of the Christian commitment of service to others in line with the church's social teaching but a necessity in the pursuit of the common good. Christians and Catholics in particular engaged in active politics should acquaint themselves with the church's social engagement principles, namely, the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of human life, the pursuit of the common good, care for the poor, the marginalized, the environment and the application of the principle of subsidiarity (devolution of power) in governance. These principles should also be the yardsticks for measuring manifestoes of political parties and individuals seeking public office through the ballot box.
Consequently, those canvassing for our votes must demonstrate by their manifestoes or tract records in public service that they are prepared and committed to working within these principles for the common good.
More so, since ours is a multi-cultural and multi religious society anyone who aspires to lead this kind of society must be one with the capacity to manage these diversities. It goes without saying that no sensitive Nigerian politician would ever contemplate running a same-tribe-ticket at certain levels of our national life because of its implications for our national cohesion. In the same vein one would have thought that given where we are with the fragile nature of national cohesion no considerate and sensitive politician would think of running a same-faith-ticket especially at the national level because of the threat it poses to our delicate national cohesion. One would have thought that prospective national public office holders at this point of our national existence would be people sensitive enough to this delicate national issue and have the foresight and ability that will enable them to harness and properly direct the various gifts, talents, energies and resources of the different regions of the country for the common good of the nation.
But as the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) pointedly said in its communique at the end of its 2022 Second Plenary in Orlu: "While it is not our responsibility as religious leaders to dictate to political parties the choices of their presidential, vice presidential and other candidates, we have the duty to advise the citizenry to bear in mind the implications of these choices while electing the next set of leaders. We, therefore, renew our call on all our faithful, laity and clergy alike, to come out en masse to vote for people of unassailable integrity, who have the good character, capacity and track record to lead our nation out of the present socio-political and economic doldrums, irrespective of party, religious and ethnic affiliations. It is through the right political choices that our current situation can be ameliorated."
In this vein, I wish to reiterate the fact that "the church does not prefer any political party or candidate over others but encourages her members to exercise their right and duty to promote the public life of the nation through the multiplicity of political options available, but always guided by a well formed Christian conscience. The good Christian conscience would neither subscribe to unjust and inhuman political programmes nor support political parties or candidates that espouse ideals that contradict the essence of Christian faith and morals" (Taking Responsibility for our Common Destiny, Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria (CBCN), 2007, no 7).
Consequently, I wish to remind the clergy and religious of our Archdiocese that the ban on partisan politics is still in place. We should and must remain neutral and stay clear of identifying with any political party or candidate. In other words, priests and religious cannot be card carrying members of political parties or openly identify with particular candidates seeking elective positions.
I also wish to remind the priests that the pulpit should and must remain a sacred place for the proclamation of the word of God and the formation of Christian consciences to be able to make informed and mature choices and not for campaigns for political parties or individual candidates. We must endeavor to remain and be seen as moral guides to all politicians regardless of their political, religious or tribal affiliations. Like I have always said in election seasons, priests should and must remain fathers to all. The faithful of all political and ideological affiliations and persuasions should feel free and comfortable to approach us for advice, counselling and blessing without political barriers.
Furthermore, it is to be noted that no church community, organization or leader is permitted to endorse, oppose or campaign for or against any political party or candidate for public office or engage in any other partisan activity in the name of the church. As always, the church limits herself to offering principles upon which each one is to make an informed decision that is based on the truth of the faith (cf. Taking Responsibility for our Common Destiny, no. 8).
As we prepare for the 2023 general elections, I appeal to governments at all levels to create the enabling environment for the citizens to exercise their civic rights and duties for the realization of good governance which is the rightful aspiration of every nation. Similarly, I appeal to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to do all within its powers to ensure that the forthcoming general elections are conducted in a free and fair atmosphere that enables all eligible citizens to exercise their franchise. In other words, no eligible voter should be disenfranchised for lack of access to his/her permanent voter's card (PVC) and polling stations. More so, I appeal to all the faithful of our Archdiocese and indeed all people of goodwill to ensure that no matter how much sacrifice it requires they should ensure that they have their PVCs collected. The distribution of the PVCs which is already in progress in INEC offices in LGAs since December 12 will last until December 22,2022 and continue at the Ward level from January 6 to 15,2023 and revert to the LGA level January 16 to 22, 2023, the distribution will continue in LGA offices.
I also wish to remind all the faithful and indeed all people of goodwill that it is not only an offence against the Constitution of our country to sell or buy votes but even more so, sinful. If the rumors trending now about the selling and buying of PVCs , are true the earlier the concerned authorities acted the better because it is a
serious threat to our very young democracy.
As a people liberated and set free by the Word made flesh, we have a social responsibility along with other people of goodwill to set our country free from the clutches and shackles of bad and irresponsible leadership. The good news for us all is that we now have another golden opportunity to bring about the much-needed change in the political leadership of our country. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of past elections when we allowed political merchants to trade with our votes.
Finally, it is another harvest time and another Christmas season, a season of joyful celebration in thanksgiving to God for the gracious gift of his Only Begotten Son and for the gift of another brand New Year. I wish, as always, to remind our faithful especially our rural dwellers who are mainly peasant and subsistent farmers of the need to be careful with their farm produce during this festive season. We all know of the very high cost of basic food items even as we are still in the harvest season. If this is the way things are now when harvest is on, what will happen when the crops are in the barns?
We all know that our food security situation this year has been compounded by the floods across the country that washed away many farms. This is in addition to the fact that many were prevented from farming due to insecurity. We also know that most of the areas affected by the activities of herders/farmers conflicts, banditry, kidnappings and terrorists are areas that produce most of the food consumed in the country especially grains. Worst still is the fact that many who braved it and cultivated their farms are not able to harvest them because of insecurity. Those blessed should not be wasteful in the name of Christmas and New Year celebrations. A word, they say, is enough for the wise.
I wish one and all a very secure, peaceful and joyful Christmas celebration and a prosperous New Year
Yours devotedly in the Incarnate Word of God,
Most Rev. Matthew Man-Oso NDAGOSO
Archbishop of Kaduna
‘Look, here God lives among human beings. He will make his home among