PASTORAL LETTER: A MESSAGE OF CONSOLATION TO THE PRIESTS, RELIGIOUS AND THE LAY FAITHFUL OF THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF MAIDUGURI.
May the God of all consolations console all of us.
My dear people of God, the priests, religious and the entire lay faithful of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, I extend my fraternal greetings to all of you especially at this trying moment in our life as a church.
The menace of Boko Haram.To say that we are experiencing severe test of our faith in this diocese hardly requires an emphasis. We are thoroughly devasted by the Boko Haram attacks. All our parishes in areas such as Monguno, Gamboru Ngala, Bama, Pulka, Madagali, Mataka, Gulak, Kaya, Yaffa, Shuwa, Michika, Bazza and Betso are under Boko Haram control. As a result of this, thousands of our Catholic faithful have been displaced. Many of them are on top of the mountains, thousands are in the Cameroun, and thousands are in Yola as well as in Maiduguri city among others. There are over twenty of our priests who have been displaced and are managing with their brother priests in the Diocese of Yola (thanks to the kind gesture of Bishop Stephen Mamza) and a few of them are squatting with their friends elsewhere.
Since the crisis began, thousands of people have been killed. There are hundreds of our women and childrenwho have been adopted. Some of the men have been forcefully conscripted into the Boko Haram army. In the recent attacks which led to many of our people fleeing, a lot of our aged people have been trapped in these areas. Some of them have been killed by the sect members, while others have died of hunger. There are many of you whose family houses, shops and vehicles have been vandalized or burnt down. The animals and crops belonging to some of you have either been looted or destroyed. The destructions done to our church structures both in the cities and villages are enormous.
Therefore as a church, families and individuals, we are wounded, traumatized and devastated. Each of us is experiencing a lot of pains and anguish, because we have lost our dear ones, our property, our wealth and our church structures. At this time a lot of questions are being asked by many of us including myself: where is God? Has God abandoned us? Are we being punished because of our sins? How can God allow the agents of thedevil to destroy his innocent children? Is God weak? Can evil triumph over good? Etc.
As people in flesh and blood it is okay to ask these questions. Even Jesus Christ while on the Cross asked his Father as to why he abandoned him. While hanging on the cross and in terrible anguish Jesus said, “Eloi, Eloilama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God why did you abandon me?” (Mk. 15:34). But did Jesus receive any response from his Father? No. It was the Father’s will that Jesus had to die on the cross in order to accomplish his mission – the salvation of mankind. And it was not until on the day of the resurrection that Jesus’ question was answered. On this Pope Benedict XVI emeritus says:-
“Many times we ask God todeliver us from physical andspiritual evil - - - however, we often have the impression thatHe doesn’t hear us andwe run the risk of becomingdiscouraged and of not persevering. In reality, thereis no human cry that God does not hear - - - God theFather’s answer to His Sonwas not the immediatefreedom from suffering fromthe cross or from death;through the cross and his deathGod answered with the Resurrection.”
Vatican City, May 30, 2012, VIS).
My dear people of God, we will not hear any response to our questions now, until God achieveshis purpose through these our painful experiences. But for sure the ultimate result of our pains and anguish is for God’s name to the glorified and for our own purification and edification. Moreover, God does not need to take permission from us; before he brings any experience into our lives be it joyful or sorrowful. And this is what makes him God. As human beings, we can never comprehend the ways of the Lord. This is the reason why in the book of (ProphetIsaiah 55:8-9) Yahweh echoes; ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours.”
Keeping our Faith Alive.My dear people, let us keep our faith alive. We should never get discouraged. Our faith should make us see beyond the immediate experience and look at the future – that is, after this temporal life with its pains and suffering, we shall share in the eternalglory of our Lord. And so we need to have unshakable faith in God despite what we are experiencing. I always tell you my people that there are two precious gifts of the Lord that on no account should we allow anybody to separate us from them. And these are our faith and our souls.
Therefore, don’t deny your faith no matter the forces around you. Even if it means death, die for your faith. How can you deny the Author of the universe because of the pressure from merehuman beings? How can human beings make you deny the One who has promised heaven for you? “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of God, who can destroy but body and soul in hell.” (Mt. 10:28-29). I want to thank God for these our members who have preferred to die with Jesus than to deny him. They are modern heroes and martyrs. As regards our souls, the book of wisdom reveals: “But the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and no torment can touch them” (Wisdom 3:1). Even while in the hands of terrorists, place your souls in the hands of God the owner of your life.
All that we need to do is to constantly trust in the Lord and his works.
The Psalmist captures this well by saying; “I trust in God and I am not afraid; I praise him for what he has promised. What can a mere human being do to me?” (Psalm 56:4). The early disciples had great trust in the Lord to the extent that even when they were tortured for their faith they rejoiced. St. Paul in prison wrote the Thessalonian believers encouraging them to “be joyful always, pray at all times, and be joyful in all circumstances.” (1Thess. 5:16-18a). The experience of Job and his response to the disasters that Satanbrought upon his family is edifying. On hearing the news on the calamities that had visited his family Job said, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb and naked shall I go back there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Be consoled my people:
The unshakable love of God.My dear people, be consoled that the love of God for you and me is unshakable. What we are experiencing does not in any way imply that God is loving usless. It is in these sufferings that our Lord draws closer to us so that his tenderness and care will be felt the more. The Lord is assuring us that he will never let down any of us his children. The Lord through prophet Isaiah reveals; “Do not be afraid – I will save you. I have called you by name – you are mine. When you pass through deep waters, I am with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. When you pass through fire; you will not be burnt; the hard trialsthat come will not hurt you” (Is. 43:1-2).
Be consoled my people for God the Almighty is with us. Even though we are suffering, but it is be short lived. For Yahweh our God asks. “But the people of Jerusalem say:‘The Lord has abandoned us. He has forgotten us’. ‘Can a woman forget her own baby and lovefor the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her children, I will never forget you. Jerusalem I can never forget you! I have written your names on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:14-16). With these assuring words from the Lord on his love towards us, let us remain confident despite our troubles.
I say be consoled my people, for St. Paul who suffered greatly because of his faith, assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. He continues thus; “No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below – There is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:37-39).
The Role of Mary our Mother.My brothers and sisters, be consoled that we have a mother who never fails. Mary our spiritual mother who stood by her Son during his passion even to the very time his body was taken down from the cross is standing by us in this trying moment of our lives. Our Mother Mary, whom the devil and his agents dread, is making it clear to us her children that this battle is her own. She has already begun the fight on our behalf and will fight until she wins.
The Virgin Mary is the Help of Christians. She is our Lady of Perpetual Help. And this is the title we have given to our Marian Centre in St. Louis Pastoral Area Mataka. There isno end to her assistance to us. Let us then not waste time in getting closer and closer to her. We must become true Marian disciples who are not only devoted to the Marian devotions, but spread these devotions among God’s children.
Prayer remains the most powerful weapon.Be consoled my people, be consoled because we have the strongest weapon at our disposal, and that is P R A Y E R. We don’t have physical weapons sucharmored tanks, APC, Jet fighters, rocket propellers, rocketlaunchers, AK47 among others. The enemies trust in these arms, but we in the Lord. On this the Psalmist echoes: “Some trust in their war-chariots and others in their horses, but we trust in the power of the Lord our God. Such people will stumble and fall, but we will rise and stand firm. (Ps. 20:7-8).
Therefore, do not grow weak in prayer; do not give up praying. This can be the devil strategy to cut the line of communication between you and your Lord. Jesus invites us to a life of constant prayer: “And so I say to you, ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. For anyone who asks will receive, and he who seeks will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocked.” (Lk. 11:8-10). Let us continue to ask, seek and knock, and for sure the Lord will restore the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri to permanent peace.
Draw closer to God.My people, be consoled that God is there for us. And so a big lessonwe are learning from this crisis is that we need to draw closer to God. We have sinned in many ways against God and against one another. This is the time for us to avoid allcircumstance of sin which separate us from our God. The admonishing of St. James is very pertinent: “So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will run away from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners! Purify your hearts, you hypocrites! Be sorrowful, cry and weep, change yourlaughter into crying, your joy into gloom! Humble yourselves before theLord and he will lift you up.” (James 4:7-10).For God to listen to our supplications, we need to struggle to live sinless lives.
Praying for the forgiveness of the Terrorists.Again I say be consoled my dear people for the spirit of forgiveness God has implanted in our hearts. Forgiveness is the only thing we can give to the Terrorists and their sponsors. Forgiveness in this instance is very difficult. But we must forgive, since our Lord Jesus forgave his executioners: “- - -Father forgive them! They don’t know what they are doing - - -(Lk. 23:34). Jesus commands us to forgive those who hate and persecute us. This attitude gives Christians a distinct character. We are not like the gentiles, because we are taught not to take revenge on those who wrong us. The revenge is the Lord’s. No matter the magnitude of the harm these people cause us, let us still forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.
Victory is already in sightBe consoled my people because our victory is at the corner.Terrorism will certainly disappear from our environment. This is so because the ones that are with us are more than those that are with them. Rejoice my people because God the Father is with us; God the Son is with us; God the Holy Spirit is with us. Be consoled because our Mother Mary is with us. The Arch angelsand our patron angels are with us. The countless saints in heaven are with us. The modern martyrs, our brothers and sisterskilled because of the persecution, have joined the triumphant army in heaven and are interceding for us daily.
Let me say with St. John Chrysostom that, “- - -where I am, there also are you; where you are, there too am I; we are one body. The body is not apart from the head, nor the head from the body. We are separated only by space, but are united in love. Not even death can cut us apart. For even if my body dies, my soul will live on, and will remember my people.”
May Our Lady of Perpetual Help, be our Mother, our love, our refuge, and our rock.
Yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Dr. Oliver Dashe Doeme
Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri.