Joy, high hope as bishops of Ibadan Province visit Borno
In our Christian journey, what matters most is showing love and concern to those in need and especially to those who are experiencing persecution. One can easily tell the pains of a child who has lost touch with his mother for years. The usual expression on the face of such child is that of gloom. This can explain the mood of the faithful of Maiduguri diocese , her bishop, priests and religious....until the 21st of June 2016 when the diocese played host to the bishops of Ibadan Province.
However, the arrival of the Archbishop, bishop and priests of Ibadan province led by the Archbishop of Ibadan and Apostolic Administrator of Osogbo Diocese, His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Gabriel Leke Abegunrin, the Bishop of the catholic diocese of Oyo, Most Rev. Dr. Emmanuel A. Badejo, the vicar general of Osogbo Diocese, Very Rev Fr. Michael Okodua and Rev. Fr. Martin De Cross C.M.F lightened the mood of the people. Hope was restored at this show of brotherly love.
The visit was not only to say “sorry” but the Church Fathers took time to pray for the people of the suffering Church in Maiduguri. It began with the celebration of the Holy Mass, which was presided over by the archbishop of Ibadan, His Grace Most Rev Dr. Gabriel Leke Abegunrin. In his introductory remark, he expressed delight for being in Maiduguri diocese, which is globally termed as the suffering church because of the activities of the boko haram insurgency. He said despite the challenges, we should never relent for there is always light at the end of the tunnel.... as he continued the mass.
Badejo of Oyo diocese gave a nerve strengthening homily. It was, to say the least quick enough to wipe away tears and put smile on the faces of many who listened to his consoling words. The bishop thanked the faithful for remaining Christians, being steadfast and courageous despite the fierce persecution. He described the bishop of Maiduguri as being happy, patient and courageous enough in the midst of these overwhelming challenges. He said the chief shepherd of Maiduguri couldn’t be this happy and courageous if he had no good people in the diocese. Furthermore, the bishop underlined the message they carried along in these words “in the world you will have trouble but be courageous for I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). Consequently he said the world is troubled by aggression, bloodshed, violence, selfishness and all sorts of greed and disrespect for human life. And we have two choices to make, either to run over and to give into despair and die or to continue to believe in the power of the Cross of Jesus Christ who saw suffering, marginalization, deprivation and death and still emerged victorious. He continued by saying the readings of the day are so reassuring , they remind us of Jesus Christ who said “if anyone wants to be a follower of mine let him renounce himself and take up the cross and follow me”. And Jesus made it more personal by saying “anyone who love his life will lose it but anyone who loses his life for my sake will have life everlasting”. He further said it is not as if this message is easy for us as human beings but it becomes easier seeing the congregation and the joy that accompanies the liturgy. The grace of God has no boundary, the grace of God will rein in every quarter, whether amongst Christians or Muslims e.t.c. It is our duty as Christians to be the evidence and witness of his cross. He said “it is true that some people carry smaller crosses while obviously the people of Maiduguri carry bigger crosses, which is a source of blessing and encouragement to other people”. The psalmist made it even clearer, which reads, “the lord will establish his city forever”, and we are the new people, we are the new Jerusalem. The first reading from Hezekiah illustrates our victory in the end but only when, we like, Hezekiah who brought his problem before the altar of God, bring our pain, sorrow, worries and losses to the altar where Jesus Christ offered himself. The bishop urged the people to continue to persevere like the saints especially those who have lost their lives for faith, it is only by doing so that the gospel will reach the ends of earth. More so, some of us may never have to die for our faith but we will have to die to selfishness, vengeance, greed and all those things that draw us far from God and our neighbors. And that is why the gospel reminds us, “whatever you want people to do unto you do it unto them”. That is how we can be known as the children of God. He concluded by saying, whatever the hardship the people of Maiduguri are facing, they should always remember that they are not standing alone.
After the concluding the rite, the Vicar Administration of Maiduguri diocese Very Rev. Fr. Donatus Tizhe welcomed the prelates and priests on behalf of the bishop, priests and the entire people of Maiduguri diocese. He said this unique solidarity has created an indelible mark in our hearts. It is this type of visit that gives the church more meaning and strength. The Local Ordinary of Maiduguri, Most Rev. Dr. Oliver Dashe Doeme, expressed his joy over the extraordinary show of love and concern. In fact, it is not far from truth that today Maiduguri is reckoned as the deadliest place to be in Nigeria and despite this the bishops and priests spared time to come and feel what we are feeling and to encourage us on our Christian journey. Bishop Doeme assured the congregation that victory has already been won. He thanked them immensely for coming and he wished them safe trip as they return to their various dioceses. Lastly, the archbishop reiterated that the faithful of Maiduguri should never relent in prayers for better days are ahead, free from insurgency and terror.
This generosity and show of concerned solidarity didn’t only end in the church but it extended to the internally displaced persons camps (IDPs) in Wulari the CAN ground and the Catholic camp in polo within Maiduguri metropolis. The prelates and priests went to identify with the people who have suffered losses of every kind, and at their arrival, there were welcomed by the CAN chairman Bishop Mohammed Naga. The chairman said in as much as the IDP’s bear the brunt; they are always encouraged by such visits. He especially thanked the bishop of Maiduguri diocese whose kind gestures knows no bound, this is evident in his frequent visits to various camps within Maiduguri. Consequently, the bishop of Maiduguri stood to appreciate the CAN chairman for welcoming the august visitors. The bishop further thanked the visitors for coming and urged the people to pray for their benefactors and the end of insurgency. The chairman of the camp also thanked them for this unique visit. However, the camp chairman lamented the poor response they normally receive from the government. Nevertheless, he said the people have remained strong and hardworking despite the government’s failure to provide adequate relief materials. The IDP’s work day and night to fend for their familes.
The archbishop Most Revd. Dr. Gabriel Leke Abegurine expressed his joy for being in the camp and said what he has learnt from the radio, television and other media quarters is different compared to the difficult experience the IDP’s would have to bear. He also comforts the parents who have been denied the opportunity to raise their children as they wanted. The archbishop said, the people of Ibadan province are happy to come pay the people visit in this critical moment, which comprises of Osogbo, Oyo, Ondo, Ilorin and Ibadan archdiocese. The archbishop also expressed his delight to those who try so hard to alleviate the sufferings of the IDP’s, he called for a universal approach to tackle this problem and that was why he said, we do not have to be wasteful, tribalistic and nonchalant rather, everyone should be treated with equal love and respect.
The bishops concluded by handing over bags of rice, beans, maize, and a token of a hundred thousand naira. Obviously, this was love at its pick. To the archdiocese of Ibadan we say: thank you for creating a beautiful memory that will last as long as we live.