Monday, 13 August 2018

SALVATION OF SOULS IN TODAY’S MATERIALISTIC WORLD

SALVATION OF SOULS IN TODAY’S MATERIALISTICWORLD

Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua

 

The primary mission of the Church for humanity is the salvation of soulsThis does not exclude suffering as revealed in the passion of Jesus Christ. Out of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, only John died a natural death. The others were killed as martyrs. The Church suffered persecution until the Church in Rome enjoyed some relative peace during the reign of Emperor Constantine (c.280-337). In 312 the emperor Constantine attributed his victory over Maxentius, the Western emperor, at the Milvian Bridge near Rome to the Christian God. He therefore, granted religious liberty to Christians in Rome and declared Rome a Catholic State. He became the first Christian emperor in Rome. With the protection of Constantine, there was rapid spread of Christianity in Rome (William J. Rademacher; Lay Ministry, (Middle Green, St. Paul’s 1991) P.59). France was loyal to the Pope, and saintly kings like St. Louis of France provided support and protection for the Church. The first Council of Lyons, (1245) and the Second Council of Lyons (1274) were held in France (Alan Schreck, The compact history of the Catholic Church; (Bandra, Bombay, St Paul’s) P. 57).

 

The zeal for the salvation of souls gave rise to serious missionary activity and evangelization in the Church. In Africa many missionaries were attacked by mosquitoes that eventually killed them with malaria fever. Many missionaries died in large numbers as a result of the weather conditions in Africa that was not conducive to them. In spite of this suffering, the joy of the Church depended on the will of God “who wishes all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is only one God and one mediator between God and man, himself a man, Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (I Timothy 2, 4-5). Many Christians today are still suffering various persecutions in many places of the world. In every condition and circumstance, we remember the fathers of the Second Vatican Council who insisted that “everyone, therefore ought to be converted to Christ, who is known through the preaching of the Church, and they ought, by baptism to become incorporated into him, and into the Church which is his body (Ad Gentes Divinitus, 7).

 

The Church uses the sacraments for the salvation of mankind. The council of Trent (1545-63) affirms the Catholic belief in seven sacraments instituted by Christ for man’s justification by faith shown by the fruit of faith, good works or charity; the revelation of God to His Church through both the Bible and Apostolic tradition; and the nature of the Mass as a perpetuation of Jesus’ one sacrifice on Calvary (Alan Schreck, Pp.78-79)The Church thus, follows the preaching of the word with baptism. This is to faithfully carry out the injunction of Christ who said: “Go out to the whole world: proclaim the good News to all creation. Those who believe and are baptized will be saved. But those who do not believe will be condemned” (Matthew 16, 16-17).  

 

Baptism having given the believer the hope for salvation, the Church invites the believer to share in the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ. The Eucharist is the sacred meal that nourishes the Christian on the way to heaven. “I am the bread of life” (John 6, 35) “Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (John 6, 51). The Eucharist is the pledge of our final glory according to Jesus: “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I shall raise him up on the last day” (John 6, 54). The Church also calls the Eucharist Holy Communion because we commune with the Lord thereby having a bond of unity at the Lord’s Table and extends the love to the world after Mass. The Eucharist is also a call to Christian unity and peaceful coexistence in the world.

 

The Church administers the sacrament of Confirmation that enables the faithful receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The believer thus, becomes a soldier of Christ who would in turn go out to evangelize. He becomes an evangelized evangelizer. Baptism, Holy Communion (the Eucharist) and Confirmation are called sacraments of Initiation. These three sacraments make the believer a full member of the Church. The Church cares for the sick. She does this by praying for them and administering the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. The Church is a co-heir with Christ who went about healing the sick. St. James admonishes the Christians: “If one of you is ill, he should send for the elders of the Church, and they must anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him” (James 5, 13-14).

 

Sin can cause physical suffering hence before Jesus healed the paralytic; He said to him “your sins are forgiven you” (Mark 2, 5). Christ gave the power to forgive sins to the Church so that the Church can effectively carry out the mission of reconciling mankind to God and mankind to mankind. The sacrament of reconciliation prepares the soul for eternal salvation. James alludes to this in his letter. “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, and this will cure you; the heartfelt prayer of a good man works very powerfully” (James 5, 16). This should not be given a literal interpretation. Not everybody can keep the secrets of the other, hence, for the catholic Church, only a validly ordained priest can administer oracular confession. The sacrament of Holy Orders gives faculty and capacity to validly ordained clerics to preach the word of God and administer the sacraments for the salvation of souls.Through the sacrament of matrimony, the Church supports married couples with the grace of God to carry on the difficult work of family life and love to grow a healthy community and nation

 

The Church shows example by corporal works of mercy but according to the fathers of the Second Vatican council, “Christ does not bequeath to the Church a mission in the Political, Economic, or Social order: The purpose he assigned to it is a religious one.” This is because the Church though is in the world is not of the world. This does not exclude the lay faithful from Politics, Economic life and Social order. The vocation of the laity is actually to sanctify the temporal order. The baptized lay person is a witness to Jesus Christ as a priest, prophet and king. In as much as the ordained ministers and consecrated persons are encouraged to give good counsel that would enable the lay faithful carry out their civic responsibilities as true ambassadors of Jesus especially in political governance, every priestpastor and consecrated persons must never sacrifice the vision of the Church to save souls for any material prosperity. No amount of money can buy the word of God and the Sacraments hence it is a tragedy for any minister to emphasize the gospel of prosperity over and above the vision of God in heaven and the salvation of souls. The political leaders and all of us with various vocations and professions will give account of our stewardship to God in heaven. We may be embarrassed if all we have is our looted material possessions devoid of true content of character and purity of heart. May we live to see God at the end of this earthly life.

 

Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja (omonokhuac@gmail.com; www.omonokhua.blogspot.com)

 

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Friday, 10 August 2018

BIOGRAPHY OF MSGR PAUL EMONYON

BIOGRAPHY OF RT. REV. MONSIGNOR BRIG. GEN. PAUL OKOEBOR EMONYON

 

Rt. Rev. Monsignor Brig. Gen. Paul Okoebor Emonyonwas born on the 15th of August, 1932 at Afuda in Irrua into a pagan family which became converted after his ordination.His father was from Afuda, while his mother came the royal family of the Iwiololu dynasty. He grew up in Ugiawele, also in Irrua. For his primary school education, he attended Catholic School, Warri where he got his baptism. In his own words: “I was sent to be with my uncle, my mother’s senior brother in Warri, I schooled there. I first of all went to an African school but it didn’t suit my taste so I decided to go to a catholic school where I felt at home. And in no time, I got my baptism there by Bishop Kelly and ever since I remained a Catholic.”

Monsignor’s journey to the priesthood started when he joined the choir. “As a young man and playing around, I became one of the choristers in the school – Catholic school, Warri and I love going to the Church and my uncle with whom I was staying encouraged me even though he was a pagan which surprised me. We used to clean the compound every morning and on Sunday mornings, he would wake me early so that I can finish early and go to the church even though he did not go to the church. I think he helped me a great deal. As a Catholic, I was glad to join the choristers under late Igbuwe, an Asaba man who was my teacher in the school so I got encouraged to continue as a Catholic. The teachers who taught us in school were very dedicated and dynamic and they made us serious with our education.

After graduation, he went to Lagos where he got employed at May & Baker where he worked for a couple of years before gaining admission to St. Theresa’s Minor Seminary alongside his classmates Archbishop Patrick Ekpu, Archbishop Jattau of Kaduna, Bishop Alonge of Ondo and others. Together they proceeded to the SS Peter and Paul Major Seminary in 1954, then in Benin City. The following year, the Major Seminary was transferred to its present site in Bodija, Ibadan. Thus, his set became the first set to begin the Major Seminary in Bodija. According to him, “we were the ones who cleared the ground and cut down the trees” for the building of the seminary structures.” After finishing their four years philosophy course, they proceeded to the compulsory one year probation and then returned for their theology degree programme

According to Monsignor, his parents had no idea that he was going into the seminary till he was just about to be ordained. “When I came to Lagos, my uncle sent me to my mother’s immediate senior brother, Akhigbe Abara and when I told him I wanted to be a priest, he was surprised; he didn’t believe it, since there was no one in my family who was a priest. I remember telling him I had been hearing of my fellow Ishan people who are priests, Fr. Ojezua form Igueben, Msgr. Eramen and others…”

While in the seminary, Monsignor’s motivation to become a priest was further spurred by the exemplary lifestyle of the Irish Missionaries.“I think it was the Irish priests that encouraged me to be a priest. I saw them as generous, kind and helpful to the poor and I think it that was one of the things that spurred me even though my parents did not know. It was after seven years I told them I was going to be a priest, all along I had told them I was going to school just like my other cousins were going to school.

My mum got news that her son was going to be priest, he won’t get married and have children. So one day I met her and told her Mummy, would you mind if God decides to take e for himself? You have other children and they are doing fine… If God wants me to come follow him, would you refuse?’ She said, ‘Why? God is God, why would I refuse?So that day I decided to go in for the priesthood even though my father was completely against it. So I decided to continue till I was ordained.” I think we enjoyed our time in the Seminary. I didn’t feel like withdrawing. We were about 37 who went to the seminary in my own time, I think only 8 of us succeeded.

Monsignor Paul Emonyon was ordained a priest on the 1stof August, 1963 by the Late Bishop Kelly. He worked in various parishes as assistant priest in the then Benin Diocese amongst which include, UbiajaAgborAsaba etc. As a young priest, Monsignor spoke of being happy and fulfilled even though he faced some challenges. “I enjoyed my priesthood and I was quite happy as a priest right from the very beginning when I was ordained. I found the priesthood challenging, but enjoyable. I don’t think I would have been happier elsewhere.”

As a matter of fact, when I became a priest, I was assistant in most places I worked in AsabaAgborUbiaja and other places. I had priests with me who were very kind and loving. There was Bishop Nweazapu who was then teaching in Ubiaja(St. John Bosco), while I was in the parish and he made me enjoy being a priest so it was alright then.”

Monsignor became a Parish Priest for the first time in Iguobazuwa over the entire region of what we now have as the proposed Iguobazuwa diocese. “I was transferred and sent to be a priest alone in the forest in Ovia; the whole of Oviathen, where we shared a boundary with Ondo. I was alone in IgbogorIguobazuwa, and around that area. That was where I discovered it was not easy being a priest because I was there alone, doing everything, as a supervisor of all the catholic schools around. I was in charge of the teachers and in this bush area I was alone. Being a priest, being alone on its own is not easy. Going to the parishes and going say mass here and there and coming back very late. And especially during the Easter season. I had to say masses in about 2 to 3 places at night. Traveling from Igbobazuwa to Usen to Egbetta to Ugbogui, those areas are very far away. I came back disgusted  That was my trying time. But then one priest came to me, Bishop Gbuji, he was a priest then. He was going to Lagos and on his way back from the Bishop’s Conference, he called to my parish where I was inside the bush and he consoled me very well, so I kept on without looking back.

Working alone in an area that now boasts of over seventeen parishes alongside numerous outstations, Monsignor spoke of his achievements there. “I made impact on the children. I remember one day, some women who were going to the market saw me cutting grass with a cutlass and they were surprised. One of them said: ‘Look at this father who knows more than we do is cutting grass and my children will not agree to go to farm with their father?” That was to me an eye-opener. So I kept on sweeping, cutting grass andcleaningI built a story building and I think it is still standing. I go to outstations and I come back with not more than 5 shillings then. I don’t think I ever got 10 shillings. I manage that to feed and eat, then, meat was cheap. With just a few pennies you get Bushmeat or Grasscutter. So I was able to manage with that and save some with which I built the story building.

Upon his transfer from Iguobazuwa, Monsignor Emonyon was sent to the Army where he remained for about 23years before returning to the diocese. He describes his journey to the Army as follows: “One day, Bishop Kelly sent two deacons to me who were ready to be ordained the following Saturday, they were to spend a few days with me for recollection. The following Friday evening, I took the deacons to the bishop’s house and told him, My Lord, these are the young men you sent to stay with me for their recollection.’ Before I finished that, he said to me, “Father Paul, your name has been submitted to the Army.” Then, there was a coup, then, the Izogu Coup and other coups. I was scared at first.”

“When it was time, I was sent to a priest whom I fearedmuch as a young manWhen I was in Lagos, we used to serve mass under him as mass servers, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Pedro Martins. At the end of it all, I was glad that I passed through his hands I loved him and I still see him today as my father, and my role model and everything. I was with him in the Army and when he retired from the army, strange enough, I was made chaplain to take over from him.

Describing some of his experience in the Army, Monsignor recants: “Brigadier General Danjuma was the chief of Army Staff then and this time I had no quarters, I was staying in Federal Palace Hotel. I went to visit him in his office and that was how he asked me to go there (Msgr. Pedro Martins’ house) as the Chief Chaplain so I went there – 7.2 Apapa… At a point, Very Rev. Msgr. Joseph Oyeku and I were the only two priests in the Catholic Chaplaincy, the whole Armed forces. It was really trying because we had to go round throughout the whole Federation. The challenge I had was to get chaplains into the Catholic Chaplaincy. I started begging Bishops to give us priests because there are many vacancies for them there but nobody. We were only two as against so many of them in Protestant and Muslim chaplaincy. By the time I retired, I had about 8 priests as Catholic Chaplains across the country.

Furthermore Monsignor said he was impressed by the discipline in the army. “The discipline in the army reinforced the discipline I already had as a priest. There is that e’spiritd’call – the unity among the armed forces, among the soldiers, the brotherliness.” 

However, his work in the army was not restricted only to saying masses or spiritual activities. “We took part in everything. In the morning, 6:00am we are all out for exercise, parade. And especially during the war, we go to wherever we are sent in the Battle front. I was under Scorpion, he was then in Calabar front and Pedro Martins sent me to that area because they had no chaplain there. After a few weeks I had only my one military dress, I was soaked because of the rain, so I needed to change and freshen up. So I went to him, “Sir, I am going back to Army Headquarters” and he said “For what? You cannot go. Look man, young man, I have power over life and death, I can shoot and kill you here now! I am the master here! Whatever orders I give, you must obey.” And I said: “Yes Sir,” and I stayed on, until Pedro Martins came with some officers on a peace mission to see how the war was going. He met me there so I told him, “Sir, I wanted to come back, Scorpion refused me to come” So he said “I would talk to him” That was how I managed to come out of Scorpion’s hands after some time in the battle front. I was once sent to Asaba to go and see how things were going on and I went there and when I came back and I told the officers. I went to Ibuzor and he said “What, how did you go there? Did you go with your body guards” and I said, “Yes, I had my body guards” and they couldn’t believe it because there was tension in Ibuzor during the war.

In the end, Monsignor spent 23years in the army before his retirement and return to the Archdiocese. On his return from the Army after the civil war, he was then appointed the Administrator of the Holy Cross Cathedral. He also worked in St. Maria Goretti, Benin City, St. Benedict, Ubiaja and at St. Francis Catholic Church, Ekewan Road before he finally retired to the Old Priests Home.

Monsignor’s favorite hobbies include travelling; travelling by air, by sea and by land. As to traveling by sea, he says “I have not had that opportunity so much. I think I only went on sea voyage once.”As a young man Monsignor enjoyed playing football, “those days in the seminary, we were the two players who used to play football very well. I even got to the point of accepting to play for the Ibadan team those years

When Monsignor was asked was his greatest legacy, he said: “Our priests should be ready to accept whatever situation they find themselves in. For instance, at one time, there was this the cry for a Benin Bishop. It is for the priests and everybody to take whatever comes. Whatever the church says, whatever the situation they find themselves in and see it as God’s holy will and not wanting your own will to be done. So be open. Make your suggestions and your plans but leave it to God’s will and the authority in charge.

In the year 2013, Monsignor celebrated his 50th Priestly Ordination anniversary along with his classmate Most. Rev. Patrick, Ebosele Ekpu. Monsignor passed on glory around 7.30pm on the 27th of July, 2018 few days to his 86th birthday.

 

Thursday, 9 August 2018

THE SERVING CHURCH IN THE WORLD

THE SERVING CHURCH IN THE WORLD

Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua

 

Before Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he had published “Co-workers of the Truth, Meditations for Every Day of the Year” in 1990. For meditation on every 11thday of every October, Pope Benedict XVI, from Gottes Angesicht suchen (Seeking God’s presence), pages 48-49 provided this for our reflection: “During the lifetime of Saint Francis of Assisi, people experienced a deep yearning for a Church of the Spirit; they longed for a better, purer, more meaningful Christianity and anticipated that this new Church would bring about a change in the course of history as well. To many of those who suffered from the inadequacies of institutional Christianity, St. Francis seemed to be a God-sent answer to their expectations, and, in fact, Christianity of the Spirit has seldom been so genuinely exemplified as it was in him. “This reflection points to a Church whose institution would serve every aspect of creation. This meditation gives a clearer insight into the wisdom of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) for creating the Department of “Church and Society” in the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria to coordinate the work of the Catholic Church in Nigeria as it relates to human society in general. This Department promotes social development, human dignity, democracy, justice, equity, reconciliation and peace. In the context of dialogue of action, workers from different Christian denominations and other Faiths are employed to work in the Department of Church and Society. The Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria (CCFN) is in touch with other National and International Agencies irrespective of religious affiliation. 

 

Jesus founded his Church and entrusted it to the Apostles. In order that the Church may be united and continue her mission, Christ chose Peter to be the head of the Church. The First and Second Vatican Councils affirm this as a declaration (Lumen Gentium, 18)Peter duly exercised the mandate of his office by presiding over the election of Matthias to take the place of Judas(Acts 1, 15-26). On the day of Pentecost, Peter was the one who proclaimed the gospel, as the head of the apostolic body (Acts 2, 14-36). Peter was the first Apostle to perform a miracle at the temple entrance called the Beautiful gate (Acts 3, 6). When Ananias and Saphira committed fraud, Peter exercises the mandate of his leadership as the head of the Apostolic College (Acts 5, 3-8). Peter was the first to admit the gentiles into the Church. He baptized Cornelius and his house hold (Acts 10). Peter presided over the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). When Paul was called by Jesus on the Road to Damascus, he went to visit Peter thereby confirming his vocation (Galatians 1, 17-18). 

 

The Church continues to spread as the Apostles continue their work of service. The first converts were poor people and peasant farmers and traders. The Church through the work of the Apostles spread from Jerusalem to Rome. The Holy Spirit was living and working with the Apostles. God raised great Apostles like Paul and Deacons like Stephen who became the first Martyr in the Church. In A.D. 64, the Christians were accused of the cause of the fire disaster in Rome. It was suspected that this fire was caused by Emperor Nero himself. However, the emperor Nero persecuted the Church. It was during this persecution that Peter and Paul were killed. In the first century, the Emperor Domitian also launched a fierce persecution against the Christians for refusing to sacrifice to him as a god. Peter was succeeded in Rome by Linus and the chain of succession has never been broken since the time of Peter to the present day (Alan Schreck, The compact history of the Catholic Church;(Bafldra, Bombay, St Pauls 1987, Page 23).

 

To talk about the Church as a servant, we have to know the mission of the Church as committed by Christ to the Church under the authority of the Vicar of Christ, the Pope. According to Monsignor Leonardo Z. Legaspi, O.P, this mission was committed by Christ to the entire Church under the authority of the Episcopal body and its head, the Roman Pontiff. For this purpose, the Holy Spirit was given to the Church.... the Bishops, Successors of the Apostles, who together with Peter’s successor, the Vicar of Christ and the visible head of the whole Church, direct the house of the living God (L.Z. Legaspi, the Church we love: (Manila, Us T. Printing office, P.142). The Episcopal college with its visible head, the Roman pontiff is responsible for the entire mission. For the individual dioceses, the Bishop is the Chief shepherd while the priests are his prudent collaborators. With the Priests, the Bishop forms the sacerdotal college who carries out this responsibility (L.Z. Legaspi, P. 142)

 

The second Vatican council declares that the mission of the Church is the mission of Christ (Lumen Gentium 3). This mission is to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth and prepare the people of God for eternal happiness in heaven. This would enable men and women share in the divine nature. This mission is to be directed by the Roman Pontiff the Vicar of Christ and successor of St. Peter at the universal level while the Bishop on the particular level as the local ordinary directs this mission on the diocesan level. The parish priest directs the parochial level in the parish. The Magisterium is the teaching office of the Church. This enables the Church to be faithful to the true teaching of Jesus Christ. The primary mission of the Church is the salvation of souls while the secondary mission is to enhance the temporal order. The missionary focus of the Church goes beyond her members to people of other religions. The Church sees good political governance as a mission to promote justice and peaceful co-existence in the society. With justice in the distribution of social amenities and temporal goods, the world would enjoy lasting security that is often threatened by the greed of some rulersThe Church highly encourages the lay faithful to take part in the political life of the nation. However, the religion of a political candidate does not matter to the Church if the candidate is credible. What the world yearn for today especially in Nigeria is a leader who loves God and humanity above selfish desires. 

 

Nigeria is rich in everything except good leadership. This is why Religious leaders must remain the voice of the voiceless. They must avoid the temptation of being prophets only to thepoliticians from whom they hope to get material reward. We do not need to wait until we all accept the same theological perspective before we can work togetherWe can begin by working on the humanity that is common to all religions. This is the time to remind all who aspire to political leadership that they could do better by becoming true ambassadors of their different religions in 2019 and beyondThe Nigeria Inter-ReligiousCouncil (NIREC) believes that each member of the political class belongs to either of the religions in Nigeria that makes upNIREC. Hence it would not make sense for Christians to source for only a Christian President while the Muslims source for onlya Muslim President. NIREC believes strongly that you are first a human being and a Nigerian. With this consciousness, you could be a better Christian or Muslim by imparting on the society the moral principles of your religion that forbids corruption, stealing of public funds, killings, rape, kidnapping and funding of all forms of criminal activities. If we cooperate with one anotherirrespective of our different divides, we can grow a better nationthat would provide an enabling environment for the Church, Islam, ATR and other religions to serve humanity better

 

Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja (omonokhuac@gmail.com; www.omonokhua.blogspot.com)