Sermon at the 60th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima

Bishop M H Kukah

Depending on what you believe in, life seems to be a set of circles. For Buddhism, the belief in reincarnation means that we are endlessly changing from one being to the other. This has helped to create order, discipline, respect and cohesion in the Asian societies where it is a dominant religion. For example, this religion has tended to instill some kind of fear of the unknown. It also preys on our human tendency and wishes to be better and happier. Once on the ladder of success, very few of us would contemplate slowing down or stepping down so that others can get on the ladder.

Rather, many would prefer to push any intruder away so they can occupy the ladder for a longer time. The only concession we might make is, if something higher beckons on us. So, the king or queen wants to either remain or king or queen and both fear to return as a slaves. This forces them to do well, to obey and treat others well. The slave aspires to become the king or a queen and so has to try and do well, be disciplined and obey so that when he or she returns, it will be to replace the king or queen. The thought that you could actually descend to into lower specie of being and become an animal or even something lower from misbehavior and disobedience is even a worse thought. All these compel discipline, order and a sense of relative tranquility in most Buddhist societies.

I make this point to pose the question that St. James raised a few thousand years ago: What causes all these wars among you? He provides a timeless answer that, like every word of God, we stand of fall depending on how faithful we are to it. James said: They come from the desires for pleasure which are constantly fighting within you. You want something, you cannot get it and you are prepared to kill. You do not have what you want because you do not ask God for it. When you ask and do not receive, it is because your motives are bad; you ask for something for your own pleasure (James 4: 1-3).

Today, the world is in turmoil. Someone seems to have opened a Pandora’s box in the last century. When the internet was discovered and a chain of research and development led us to what the world now calls, globalisation, we all seemed to have discovered a new world. We believed that the Internet was now here to change our lives. Developments in the computing world led to the growth of technological empires in the building of computers and software to help in our navigation through this new world. From the Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or the Mark Zuckerbergs to our own local heroes such as my good friend, Leo Stan Eke, we all thought a new world had opened. Today, globalisation has changed the world. It has brought us together and has changed the way we see things forever. The ambition of the founders of these various items of development, from computers to mobile phones was to give knowledge to everyone who desired it. And the idea that everyone who wished could make money or try to change the world from their classroom, laboratory, bedroom or sitting room seemed to have turned all of us into little gods. That has now changed since the terrorists laid their hands on these developments and decided to change the world. Just when we thought that these new creations would offer us a better world, we are now being served a dish of death.

Today, the world is confronted with the prospect of the reign of evil actually and genuinely taking over the world. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whomever you are with, none of us is safe anymore. In the tunnel, in the bus, in the bedroom, in the chapel, in the stadium, on the streets, on your bed at night or in the day, awake or asleep, no one and nowhere is safe. Some years back, people could run to Europe and America for safety, but not anymore. More and more people might actually agree that returning to the caves is even a better option and that you have a better chance of dying peacefully in the most remote parts of the world than the cities of modernity and development.

My good friend, Tony Akinwale told me his experience in 2001 when he travelled to Boston in the United States, where he had always spent his holiday for over a twenty-year period. According to him, he apparently arrived Boston towards the end of August for his annual holidays when Jos suffered one of its many outbreaks of violence. The event was widely reported and when his hosts saw the story, the said to him: You see, we have always encouraged you to live Nigeria and settle here in safety and peace. Nigeria has become too dangerous a place. Of course, he did not have a defense to make and he had heard all that before. It did make sense and he knew Nigeria was not that safe.

Barely, two weeks later, while in Boston, September 11 happened. According to Tony, some of his friends, having confirmed that he was safe, resorted to excoriating him: You see, anything could have happened to you. You know America is a dangerous place. Why do you keep going there?  You are better off here at home. Everywhere has become a battleground now.

Yesterday, it was the savagery of war, religious or communal violence. But all these came and went and we went out the next day or read in the newspapers how many had been killed. We often turned the next page and simply moved on, knowing that it might not happen in our neighbourhood again. Now, it turned out that September 11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya were simply the first page in a book of violence that contains thousands of pages, a book whose end we do not even know.

From what we read and hear, the violence of ISIS, the empire that has adopted savagery and evil as its philosophy, an empire that seeks to destroy the world or change the world to its image of death, is not an isolated confrontation between the United States, the Europeans and their allies and a few angry and frustrated Sunnis and Shi’ites. What is emerging is that these men and women had long developed a Seven-Point Agenda what began on September 11, 2001.

The second phase was making Al-Qaeda the main rallying point for Islamic extremist groups. Third was the intensification of war in the Middle East, next was the establishment of the caliphate while 2016 is marked out as the years of total confrontation. 2020 is the year of final victory of the caliphate in which all the Muslims of the world would pay allegiance. This sounds strange but until you look closer and realize that actually, from 2001 with the attacks on the Twin Towers, they have met all their targets up till date.

Amidst all this, the world woke up to a new Pope, who called himself, Francis. We have a Pope from a Religious Congregation that has worked so hard for the Church, the Jesuits. The last Pope from a Religious Congregation, Gregory XVI was elected in1831! The Jesuits were founded in 1534 and they have never produced a Pope even though on paper, they seemed to have been the most qualified. Today, they are working in 112 countries around the world. But, this new Pope has offered a completely new, fresh and different and distinct way of looking at Jesus Christa and the Catholic faith.

In response to this convulsion around the world, Pope Francis enjoined the Religious to, Wake Up the World, a challenge that summarises the urgency of confronting the specter of evil that hangs around the entire world. On November 29th, 2014, the Pope had a closed door meeting with the Superiors General of Men and Women Religious from around the world. The highlights of his challenge can be summarised as follows:

  • Today’s religious men and women need to be prophetic, capable of waking up the world, of showing they are a special breed who “have something to say” to the world today.

The church must be attractive. Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, acting, living! (Show) it’s possible to live differently in this world.

  • It’s necessary to spend time in real contact with the poor. For me this is really important: it’s necessary to know from experience what’s real, to dedicate time going to the periphery to truly know the situation and the life of the people.

Without firsthand experience with people’s lives, then one runs the risk of being abstract ideologues or fundamentalists, and this is not healthy. 

  • Those who work with young people cannot limit themselves to saying things that are too ordered and structured like a treaty because these things fly over their heads. A new language is needed, a new way of saying things. Today God calls us to leave the nest that’s holding us and to be emissaries.

A charism needs to be lived according to the place, times and people. The charism is not a bottle of distilled water. It needs to be lived with energy, rereading it culturally, too.

  • “The specter to combat is the image of religious life as a refuge and comfort away from a world on the ‘outside’ that is difficult and complex.

 Thinking formation is completed after seminary studies “is hypocrisy, fruit of clericalism.

  • Preparing new members for religious life is a craft, not a police operation. We must include the formation of hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps.
  • People working in formation need to think about the people of God these men and women will be in contact with. “I’m reminded of those religious who have a heart as sour as vinegar: they are not made for the people. We must not create administrators and managers, but fathers, brothers and sisters, travel companions.

Today, we are celebrating the efforts of gallant men and women who decided to light up the world, to wake up the world at their own time. How prepared are we to engage in this apostolate? Pope Francis has adopted a new method of engagement in the work of evangelisation. It is called, speaking off the cuff and now it seems to have become part of his lexicon now. During his visit to Uganda, he addressed the Youth and the Religious off the cuff. This is a simple gesture of the humanity of the Holy Father, the fact that too much thinking often leads us to process our thoughts. Speaking off the cuff makes the Holy Father humane and he speaks from the heart in honesty and sincerity. But it has its own dangers of mispresentation and so on. But that is another matter.

So, today as we gather to remember so many great men and women whose sowing in the desert yesterday seemed like a hopeless exercise, as we gather to celebrate great men of the Society of African Missions, SMA and the Dominican Order who worked tirelessly amidst uncertainty but in faith. Today, Sokoto Diocese, what we are, who we are and what the future holds is a tribute to their greatness. Many have gone before us, some are in various stages of ageing, some are not so well and strong, but to them all, we say thank you, thank you and thank you again.

My dear brothers and sisters, Priests and Religious, it is into our hands that the duty of continuing this mission has been entrusted. The Lord is with us. Let us stand erect in confidence. Let us conquer fear. Let us embrace all in Love. Let us look at the face of the crucified but risen Christ, let us listen to the one who says, the harvest is plentiful (Lk 10:2). Let us rise from lethargy and despondency and fear because it was from the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus said to His Apostles, Rise, let us be on our way (Mk 14:42).

My dear Lay people of Sokoto Diocese, you are called to a life of apostolate in your families, your work place and in the public sphere of life. Please let us bear witness to Christ. Our environment is peculiar. The times now are troubling and religion is facing challenges. But, we are Christians, followers of the Man from Nazareth, the one who went round doing good (Acts 10:38). He is our Leader, and He is our Master. He is our roadmap. Let us follow Him in confidence as our fathers and mothers in the faith did before us.  For, St Paul warns us that:  The moment of our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over and the day is almost here…let us take up the weapons for fighting in the light. Let us conduct ourselves properly as people who live in the light of day (Rom 13: 12-13). 

  • Fr. Henry Kenny, SMA performed first baptisms in Gusau on July 21, 1929
  • Fr Gately, SMA made the first attempt to build a Church in Gusau in 1934.  The attempt was stopped by the colonial Resident Officer who insisted that permission must be obtained from the Sultan of Sokoto.
  • Fr Daniel Watson, SMA arrived Gusau December 9, 1947 and resided in Gusau from 1948-1950.
  • Fr Peter Gilroy, SMA ministered Gusau as an outstation of Zaria from April 1950 to November 1952.
  • Fr Edward Lawton, OP (1954-61), having been appointed  Prefect Apostolic on February 25, 1954
  • Gusau was erected as Parish in 1955
  • Bro Clement Tyulen
  • Fr Justus Porkzewinski, OP (Parish Priest, 1968-69)
  • Fr Callistus Iheme, OP (Assistant Parish Priest, 1975-77; Parish Priest, 1979-83)
  • Fr Iheanyi Enwerem, OP (Assistant Parish Priest, 1979-80)
  • Fr Dokun Oyeshola, OP (Assistant Parish Priest, 1980-83)
  • Fr Igba Vishigh, OP (Parish Priest, 1983-89)
  • Fr Lewis Shea, OP (Vicar General, resided in Gusau)
  • Fr Ignatius Madumere, OP (Assistant Parish, 1987-88)
  • Fr Francis Isichei, OP (resided in Gusau from 1986 to 1989; he was ordained deacon in Gusau on November 13, 1988)
  • Fr Anthony Akinwale, OP (Assistant Parish Priest, (February 20, 1988 to August 28, 1989)
  • Fr Colum Daley, OP (Parish Priest, May 1989 to February 1994)
  • Fr Gabriel Feyisetan, OP (1988-90)
  • Fr Gilbert Thesing, OP (I believe he worked in Gusau as Cooperator Brother before his priestly ordination in 1975, and later as Parish Priest)
  • Fr Dominic Okure, OP (First as Deacon, then as Assistant Parish Priest)
  • Fr Matthew Uwaya, OP (Parish Priest)
  • Fr Thomas Macaulay, OP (Assistant Parish Priest)
  • Fr Peter Otillio, OP (Parish Priest, 1994-97) 
  • Fr Fidelis Okudolo, OP (Parish Priest)
  • Fr Paul Akin-Otiko, OP (Assistant Parish Priest)
  • Fr Nathaniel Eshikhena, OP (Assistant Parish Priest)
  • Fr Julius Nwaibe, OP (Assistant Parish Priest)
  • Fr Fidelis Umukoro, OP (Assistant Parish Priest)
  • Fr Tukura Michael, OP (Parish Priest)
  • Fr Alex Agba, OP (Assistant Parish Priest)
  • Fr Emmanuel Taiwo, OP (As deacon)
  • Fr Raymond Nwabueze, OP (Parish Priest)
  • Fr Lawrence Agu, OP (Assistant Parish Priest)
  • Fr Celestine Nwakwuo, OP (Assistant Parish Priest)
  • Fr Stephen Owusu, OP (Assistant Parish Priest)