Your Grace, Rachael Weeps for Her Children “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachael weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more”(Jer. 31:15).
Your Grace, I write to express my heartfelt gratitude to God almighty for his love, care and protection during the course of the celebration of the memorial of the demise of my father, Sir Clem Omachi and the anniversary of my priestly ordination, and to you for your immense blessings and prayers. I have now, more than ever, come to the realization that my life is not my own, from conception up until now. My existence, I must acknowledge, has been dependent on the comradeship of fraternity from various quarters. I have safely returned to the United States of America.
Your Grace, you have been through a lot, you have been in a lot. Painfully, many of your sons and daughters have been kidnapped, maimed, buried in shallow graves, sold as commodities. As others watched on the news, and read in the papers about the disintegration of Nigeria, you are in the very scene of the destruction, experiencing the horrifying outcomes of the bad choices of evil men and women, trying desperately to hold the pieces together. It has become a big task convincing people to go to church; churches that used to be the safest places. People have been murdered while worshipping God, priests kidnapped from rectories and highways, people bombed in the markets , in clubs and in their houses. The physical and mental torture of living in Nigeria, living in Northern Nigeria, is unbearable.You, your priests and people have known indescribable sorrows. These are evil and dark days in Nigeria!
The terrorists/unknown gunmen, Boko Haram, ISWAP or whatever they are called these days have given every Nigerian a complete sense of helplessness. Even the supposedly most secure places have been targets of their attacks. They act with impunity. They shot down Nigeria’s Alpha military jet in Zamfara/Kaduna airspace, , they attacked the elite Nigerian Defence Academy, they massacred worshippers in St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, and now the audacious attack on the convoy of the president!
Nigeria is weeping, and as the true shepherd and churchman that Your Grace is, you weep even more. I have seen you weep to God in prayer, seen you speaking truth to authority, seen you fighting to keep it all together. You speak everyday for all Christians, Muslims, and people of goodwill.
A Life of Sacrifice
While we remain thankful to God as our ultimate guard and keeper, it has become pertinent to also openly say thanks to you for the leadership you provide in the very eye and heart of terror. It is very obvious that the dioceses in Kaduna state have suffered great persecution in the wake of terrorism, banditry, and kidnapping. When Jesus says in John 20:18 “… but when you are old, you will stretch out your hand, and another will gird you and carry you where you will rather not go” I’m sure he was also pointing us to the challenges that come with faithful Christian witnessing. More so Jesus further warns that no one who puts his hand on the plough and looks back is worthy of the Kingdom. Thus, you have steadfastly remained in the battle front to lead the Church.
Looking up to Jesus, I can say that sacrifice was the definitive character of his life and message as it is yours, a true shepherd after the example of the Master. Be of good cheers, for it is a conditio sine qua non for victory, as Jesus himself did not forget to tell us that in this world we will have trouble. In the face of all the terror, you have been self effacing, committing time and resources to countless dialogues and conferences, consultations and discussions, funerals and condolences. You , your priests and people have attended more funerals this year than you have had in all your priestly life put together. The numerous mass burials come with shocking and heart wrenching figures and memories. The priests and their Catechists are overwhelmed. It takes only a considerate observer to note that the priests are broken, teary, distraught, terrified and depressed. The social media is filled with pictures, gory pictures of priests and Catechists leading a procession of corpses for burials. Some funerals take place at the very scene of crime because of the number of mutilated, dismembered and burnt corpses. Truly, our tears have become our bread. The priests who force themselves to sleep dream of terror, are woken up my gunshots, and an advancing enemy. The anticipation of death is worse than death. The Archbishop, the priests and the people are traumatized. Should I wonder what goes through your mind whenever your phone rings? Are you not terrified? Do you not say a shot prayer before picking up your calls?
Do you not tremble when there’s a knock on your door or office? I can only imagine your anxiety, the panic, the change of breath and the palpitations of your heart. Every day you live in fear, fear of a phone call, because these calls most times do not announce glad tidings.
In all of these, you have given us hope , and have taught us the act of self-surrender. You have borne witness to Christ and taught us, your sons and daughters, that a life that is truly surrendered must be a life that is shared and poured out for others just as Saint Paul allowed himself to be poured out as an oblation to God and his flock (cf. 2 Tim. 4:6, Phil. 2:17). You have maintained a peaceful disposition, and have encouraged all your people to pray for the government as she struggles with the task of confronting this challenge. This is indeed a test of our faith and witnessing. Hence, Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI submits from a communio understanding that “becoming a Christian means becoming a communio, and thereby entering into the mode of being of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, the Christian call is a call to the communion of grace and love in truth.
The Wounded Heart of a Father
Thus, I hereby say thank God and thank you for your faith in God, in the Church and in your presbyters. You have offered us sure support, presence and prayers. You are indeed the chief mourner, the innocent victim , and the worse-hit. You have been at the center of our sanity, fraternity and love. Over and over you have talked about the gains of our common brotherhood, bond and support. In the face of the challenge of insecurity that has confronted and confounded us, which has claimed the lives of gallant men in the field of the service of God and humanity, we cannot afford anything short of brotherhood and unity. This, you have exemplified in the way you have fatherly held all together no matter the difficulties. As a ripple effect of the compromised security situation in Nigeria and Kaduna state in particular has heightened the difficulty of pastoral leadership, anybody who is observant would understand that being a leader in such a time of aggressive volatility in our land won’t be an easy task. However, it must be acknowledged that as the Chief Shepherd of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kaduna, you have displayed not just courage to remain standing and holding forth with determination, but you have also shown that you have a heart that is tender. Though this heart has been gravely wounded severally, it is a miracle that it can still beat with the kind of rhythm that still holds the Archdiocese together. Words will fail me to capture the depth of the pain in your heart while you sobbed at the final internment of Rev. Fr. Vitus Borogo. You practically broke down in tears. Your Priests and people joined you in tears. That soil bears witness to the tears, and I look forward to the day of vindication. Let those episcopal tears mix with the blood of Fr Vitus, Fr Aketeh, Fr Alphonsus. Let the cry and anguish of Fr Shekwolo, Fr Dawa, Fr Godwin, Fr Awesu, Fr Jibril, mix with the inexpressible pains and sorrows that we have known, and plead to God like the blood of Abel. May our killers be brought to repentance. May they be converted through the light of our meekness, or through the heat of Gods impending judgement.
Things are getting worse
You have been a major proponent of peace and dialogue. You have preached many homilies on this. But it looks like the message is rejected alongside the messenger. We now have more bloodshed, more banditry, more kidnappings. A young priest, Fr John Gbakaan was butchered to death on his way from Benue state to Niger state. Fulani herdsmen are still crushing wheat farmers in Ondo state. The roads are more unsafe, human life is still less valuable than that of cows.
The nation is on a downward rail, spiral anarchy is looming and it seems the darkness will swallow us up. Things are falling apart, the centre cannot hold. We have only ourselves to blame because we refused to listen. Your sermons and letters are warning cries. You make us more alert, to stir us from our collective slumber and make us realize that we can only test fate this far. There’s only so much one can take and no more. Then much like the people in Jeremiah’s time who played politics with the prophets warnings and even threw him into a well, we are now realizing that we left our wounds to get sore to the point that they can no longer heal. As the Catholic Secretariat noted sometime ago, this is not the time to sit on the fence., it is rather a time to choose and stand by what we believe in. As a commentator noted , it should not be made to look like a fight between the North and the south. This is rather a fight between truth and lies, between freedom and oppression, between progress and regress. To be neutral is not an option, for having chosen to be neutral we have chosen to be on the side of the oppressor. We are in a mess. We wake up everyday to take a census of who and who made it to the next day.
In life ,people react to situations in different ways. Some choose to be like the ostrich, ostentatiously burying their heads in the sand while the prey closes in on them. Others choose the path of cowardice, running away only to fight another day. Only if they are courageous enough to face their challenges head-on, refusing to bask in ignorant bliss or cowering helplessly in the face of an onslaught. The problems of this nation especially in the past 7 years are well documented. In the face of the many crisis many Prophets lost their prophetic voices. The self-acclaimed prophets refused to prophesy. If they did, it was only about the ABUNDANCE OF CORN AND NEW WINE. Who ever enjoys a meal or prosperity with the house on fire? And now, not even the corn and new wine get to their final destination. The farmer suffers in its ruin. The worker pays heavy ransom for his life, same life is buried amid tears because the notorious kidnappers have done their worse. This is shocking. Embarrassingly, how can a prophet speak the truth when he or she is giddy with the wine from Herod’s table? So many churches continue booming the resounding ‘Amens’! while the fields burn with the heat of battle and the swamps overflowed with the blood of the very farmers who cultivated them. If keen observers were shocked at the silence of the guests at Herod’s table, their shock must have given way to dismay and subsequent horror at the vicious response of his cohorts.
Bishop Kukah talked about this in his Christmas Message. His cohorts rushed to pick up weapons of religious fanaticism, tribal bigotry and outright hatred to stone the prophet who spoke truth to authority. Many from the North see Bishop Kukah’s beautiful Christmas message as an attack on them. From the infamous Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, to even Muslim clerics that should have known better. They chanted a slogan of rejection. One of such, a sokoto based cleric ominously warned Bishop Kukah to desist from criticizing the government. Noting that if he does not desist from criticizing the government, he will be crucified. The AYCF volunteered to carry out the crucifixion ostentatiously, giving the saintly bishop an ultimatum to leave the North. The way they attacked the prophet, one would think he is the leader of Haram that has taken over a military base in Borno or the one leading the bandits sucking villages in the North East . Are we not vindicated at this point? Sadly, only the terrorist can confidently tell us where is safe and where is unsafe. But, no matter how perilous the times have become, we can be sure of one thing: darkness will never overcome light.
The Covenant of Brotherhood
Several times in the Gospels, Jesus told his disciples not to be afraid or faint hearted. This already highlights the fact that Jesus knew that difficult and frightening times were going to come. In the face of life-threatening situations that has enveloped the Archdiocese, it is remarkable and a thing of pride that Priests with unflinching resolve and determination have refused to turn their back on the gospel. To my brother priests, I thank you for still standing together. Standing together is all we have got now, for as the hawk lurks, the chicks must put aside squabbles, and band together or be picked, one after the other by the predator. David in Psalm 23 prophetically prayed “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” The God that is with us in these horrifying times is a familiar, friendly God; God the friend of Abraham, Jesus the friend of His disciples. We need to be more of friends now than just colleagues who share the same ministry!
The Responsibility of the State
Your Grace, you have heeded the exhortation of Pope Paul VI while addressing the congregants at the World Peace Day of 1965 “even with those who oppress the Church and harass her in manifold ways…we can and we should work together without violence to build up the world in genuine peace.”
I must acknowledge how much the Church in Kaduna has done in engaging the government with regards to the challenge of security of life and property in the state. As a father whose children have become so endangered and vulnerable to inhumane and barbaric treatment, it is difficult to imagine the weight of the burden you bear in this regard. Thank you for all that you have done and will continue to do. The reality of these killings is that politicians manipulate religions to achieve economic and political gains. The government must be made to realize that they are not doing anything yet worth acknowledging to halt this menace and must be called up to their responsibility.
Though it may not be easy to establish the claims of complicity on the part of the government, their apparent helplessness surprises us. The Austrian-born British philosopher of natural and social science, Sir Karl Raimund Popper hints on the danger of wielding only the tool of martyrdom in the face of intolerance. According to him, “unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.” He further adjoins us that “We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.” constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria stipulates the freedom to right of religion, which the state must defend.
The Church Matches on
While it may not be within the powers of the Church to directly engage with the livid intolerance in our society against the church and her clergy, we can pray that God will hasten to bring judgment for the blood of our brothers and sisters that cry from the earth, and as we do so I want to quickly recommend the beautiful song by Bart Millard “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus:” The first verse of the hymn is instructive, the second supplies rich words of admonition and the third offers the words of hope.
I cannot forget to mention the admonition of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina who, being a pious devotee of our mother Mary identifies the rosary as the weapon for our time. According to Padre Pio the Rosary is the weapon of the Church in proclaiming unity and peace. “The Rosary is the scourge of the devil,” writes Pope Adrian V. We must now as legionaries of our blessed mother Mary advance into the battle front with our rosary, for what we conquer spiritually we easily kick out naturally.
While we pray, being our brother’s keeper in the most practical sense of the word is of essence. The priests must be acknowledged in this regard for how much they have cushioned the burdens of one another. We may not all be able to work in the ‘safe’ places at the same time, some parishes may be more prone and vulnerable to attacks than others, access to funds cannot all be at the same level but we have proven that even in the deepest valley, that we are still brothers, distance has never been a barrier. the early Church being one in heart and mind and sharing all that they had together in love with one another, there’s practical and palpable love amongst us. One example of this is the overwhelming love, fraternity and goodwill displayed in the love I received from my colleagues during the anniversary celebration of my priestly ordination and the memorial celebration of the demise of my father. I must confess that the love such as I received helped to lighten the burden of my troubled heart and calmed my fears for the future. This is exactly how we look out for each other. We have overtime, bonded greatly, and have extended this to our different families . The enviable spirit is that our families have become a part of our priestly fraternity. We are one big family. We stand in solidarity with the families of our brothers in good times and in bad times.
The challenges of the time may appear to have been focused on the presbyters, but of a fact the lay faithful are not left out. Directly or indirectly the priests that are kidnapped and killed are from families with parents and siblings. There is an Igala adage that says that for the mouth to whistle, the whistler must be able to fold the mouth together in a certain way. This adage hinges on the idea of the importance and benefits unity brings to the fore, and the importance of collaborative surveillance. While we depend on God solely for safety, the truth remains that God has given us power to do some things for ourselves. Insecurity and terrorism thrive on access to information. The laity must therefore become oriented to be very discrete with information that may compromise security and safety.
Finally, no matter how scary it gets, we cannot afford to lose hope. Together wec an achieve much. By the arm of flesh, we can do so little, but with Christ as our head the Church must match on. Surely, we will all have to get robed up in the armor of our faith for desperate times will always call us to desperate measures. May Mary, our Virgin Mother continue to intercede for us and may the angels of God come to our aid.
May I join in the many goodwill messages to congratulate you on the priestly ordination of 11 young and vibrant men. May they bring joy and consolation to our beloved people and Archdiocese.
Fr Omachi Arome Michael
On my birthday , 29th July, 2022