A REPORT OF THE COURTESY VISIT PAID ON THE PRIMATE OF ALL NIGERIA ANGLICAN COMMUNION MOST REV. NICHOLAS D. OKOH BY SOME ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICERS FROM THE PONTIFICAL URBAN UNIVERSITY ROME; THE RECTOR P. ALBERTO TREVISIOL, PROF. SSA LORELLA CONGIUNTI VICE RECTOR, DON ROBERTO CHERUBINI GENERAL SECRETARY AND MONISIGNOR REMIGIO BELLIZIO ON TUESDAY, 2ND JULY, 2013.
PRIMATE: The Anglican Church at the moment is facing a lot of challenges. Particularly the issue of human sexuality; there is pressure everywhere to abandon the Biblical perspective of marriage and to accept same sex marriage and the homosexual lifestyle, but we know that in some parts of our Communion they have yielded particularly in America, Canada and some parts of South America and Europe generally. But, we here want to hold on and continue to hold on to the understanding of marriage that is between man and woman. Our people do not accept that lifestyle, so we want to say that we do not hate homosexuals or “homophobic” as they put it but we just believe that a good number of these people are people who have indulged themselves and can be changed, transformed to line up with the normal thing. God has made everything in pairs, male and female so designing a third person who is neither male nor female is difficult for us to understand. The general problem in Nigeria that the Churches are grappling with is in the area of poverty, how they can get the people out of poverty and help them to improve their living standard. Because Jesus promised them that they will have abundant life, so we want to see how our people can have abundant life in such a way that they have abundant spiritual life and also in material areas. In this area, we try to work with government as much as possible because the government controls all the funds of the country and everything hence, we are trying to see how they can work with the Church to see that the people’s standard of living continue to rise. The last one I want to mention is that of security which is the most prominent problem in the country at the moment created by the insecurity in the North caused by the Boko haram and then there is kidnapping. I know that you will know something about this kidnapping because we hear in those days, that people from Cecily (Mafia) kidnap people. So, we have so many gangs or disgruntled groups coming up here and there. These are the security problems that we are having and the Churches are called upon to make their own input in finding a lasting solution. It is my prayer that as you travel to Nsukka which is a quiet place and the people are industrious farmers that you will enjoy your time in Nigeria. You are welcome.
ALBERTO TREVISIOL: Again we thank you for your kindness to receive us and I think that now the challenges for the Churches here in Nigeria and just like you said in many other countries also in Italy are very strong. Also, as you said before the challenge of the unity of the Christians is very important because to face all these problems alone is more difficult. At the same time, we believe deeply that the path for peace is something that grows in unity with the country. Christians and the Churches in Nigeria can win the struggle against violence and terrorism with the meekness of peaceful and firm stand of all the religions. And, we know that the commitment of the Churches, the Catholic and Anglican Churches is very deep and strong. Today, we also had the opportunity of meeting with the representatives of the Muslim community in Abuja and the same need for a pacific coexistence was re-echoed. We hope and pray that the Lord would support you in these efforts to ensuring a peaceful nation.
PRIMATE: That’s our hope and prayer.
ALBERTO TREVISIOL: And also, because we as a university as I said before, try to reflect in the different faculties, in the different fields of the studies all these specific problems; that is the challenge of the pacific coexistence left for the future in the perspective of the life of the different countries. And, really without the help of the Churches then I think it is impossible to find a way to bring about peace in the world.
PRIMATE: The peace we enjoy; particularly why we are working for peace, is born out of what we understand our position to be in this sub-region particularly West Africa. Nigeria is the largest country in this region and the highest in population, if there is a disruption of the society here or a major conflict that we start to kill ourselves and start to fight a civil war, there will be no place for us to run to. Ghana, Ivory Coast and all the countries in West Africa are too small both in terms of size and economy to accommodate us. Therefore, it is in our common interest to resolve our own issues. It is not something notable in Christianity to slaughter people and glory in blood, No! We believe that the blood that should be shed has been shed by Christ and that should be enough. So, we don’t go around looking for people to kill and cut off people’s heads. We think that it is not in line with our civilization and teachings in the Church hence, we try to make peace as much as possible with the hope that the other people will reciprocate. Sometimes, the position of the Church may conflict with the position of the government, so we have to go to the government often to say that we think that this should be this or that. But, it is entirely up to them to accept or disregard the suggestion. But we are not giving up, we will continue to try. So, that’s where we are.
ALBERTO TREVISIOL: What about what you said earlier about the unity of the Church; that here there are very many Churches (new Churches) or communities which make it a big challenge.
PRIMATE: Yes, very many Churches and we do not have any solution to it. In fact, as you travel you will see a lot of Churches; you will find almost at every street a different type of Church and a good number of them have leaders with no training, which gives room for all sorts of teachings and doctrines. Thus, someone who is not trained is now the teacher, so what he thinks becomes what he teaches whether right or wrong and this is one of the major challenges we face.
ALBERTO TREVISIOL: Why do you think in your opinion that people look for these new experiences maybe they think they have more to offer?
PRIMATE: If we want to do a critical analysis, I think that there are more reasons other than the spiritual, there is an economic dimension, for some of them it is a business because through it they get money from people and then through it they also acquire leadership because they lead the people and they have satisfaction that they are leading people. Again, they think that what they have read, the way they interprete it, is the best for them and thus, they spread it to everybody else. In a sense, it is the continuation of Protestantism that is just some of it because; you don’t want to be under anybody, others don’t want the same thing and so it keeps growing like that.
DON ROBERTO CHERUBINI: The Rector was confirming that we were thinking also during his visit and with the occasion of his visit to Nigeria of organizing in our university next year, a congress about the Nigerian situation in the perspective of the relationship between religions and communities; because we think that in a second sense, there are some conflicts here and at the same time there are signals that depict that these conflicts do not come from the religions. Religion is used as “petrol on the fire” but, the deeper reasons and motivations of the conflicts are political, economic, ethnic or tribal reasons.
PRIMATE: There are ethnic, economic and other factors but essentially it is just that some people have been misguided. These misguided people are preyed upon by the politicians and other people. But, we cannot rule out the presence of very deep seated religious beliefs. For instance, somebody who takes a machete and starts cutting another person, it is not hunger that is his problem. Like the man who did that in London, it was not hunger that was his problem. So, there are other factors and it is not exactly poverty because to buy AK47 and to gather things to make bomb, they are not cheap things and this is not the preoccupation of people who are very wretched. So, there are people who have been brainwashed into a particular religious ideology and they look at other people as non-persons; it is only if you belong to them.
ALBERTO TREVISIOL: We believe that Nigeria as you said before plays a very important role. Also, if there are problems, the Churches and the religions when they have “leaders in the right way”, have they got the resources to face the problems? Because, it is the same in Europe and in the Northern countries, we have many problems but many times the biggest problem is that we cannot find enough spiritual resources to face these social, economic, political, or conflict problems. All these problems are in the material level, so in Nigeria how people live and believe make us realize that the spiritual energies are so strong and they can be the answer to other aspects of the country as well as the conflicts in the society. Therefore, in this sense we will be happy to organize this day of reflections and speeches about the Nigerian situation just to show to the world, all those who we can that in a country if there are strong Churches and the religions leave a deep sense of their faith in every believer, they can find the energy for peace.
PRIMATE: Yes, certainly because already in existence we have common grounds. For instance, Islam is a monotheistic religion and the religion of our fathers, the African religions can also be said to be monotheistic. So, we have common grounds from which to build and for one thing, Nigerians are mostly religious people. It is very difficult to find somebody who declares himself to be an atheist; such people are not common. Therefore, it is a society that is intensely religious; so we can work from there. It is just that only a few misguided individuals have caused a lot of trouble.
ALBERTO TREVISIOL: Thank you for your warm welcome.
PRIMATE: We are very happy to see you because you bring us friendship.
ALBERTO TREVISIOL: And it is what we felt in your words, the friendship. We are very happy to be here with you because we feel that we must go forward in the field of the union of the Churches and at the same time, speaking with you and hearing your weakness, we feel that here in Africa we have the same situations and problems to unite us very much. I worked for 6 years in Congo and I realized deeply the importance of unity. Because when we faced the challenges of the daily life, we did not underline or stress our denomination but our common heritage. So, I pray for you personally, your Church, our communities and the Churches that all can leave these disunities and face the challenges of the modern time.
PRIMATE: One of the things that encouraged us greatly about the new Holy Father is the issue of evangelism which he mentioned almost immediately to the Bishops and the people gathered in Rome. And we think that, that is a sharp contrast with what is going on in Europe and America because in some parts of the United States, people are discouraged from doing evangelism; in fact they make apology for doing it. This is also similar in Europe and other places where they believe that everybody is good and you don’t need to make people believe your faith. So, why do you do that? In some parts of the US they try to combine Christianity, Islam, and all sorts of other religions that I don’t know what it amounts to by the time they fuse all of them. Thus, when we heard the Pope mentioning the issue of evangelism, it sounded refreshing.
ALBERTO TREVISIOL: Also, we as Roman Catholics in Rome felt immediately how deeply he was interested in this goal, because first of all his words were very simple and concrete and that can touch the hearts of everybody. Even when in Rome, I met normal people immediately after the inauguration of the new Pope and both Christians and non-Christians were enthusiastic about the new Pope’s words and attitude. Because he was able to meet the deep spiritual need of the common men and women and to tell them in simple and true words. In the sense that, he did not stress the differences among the different persons but what unites and reaches the deep answers to the deep questions and I think that this opened us to a new path and new responsibilities to our societies.
PRIMATE: I must confess to you that for us it was an answer to prayers because when you were looking for a new Pope everybody was praying that it shouldn’t fall into the hand of somebody who will destroy the Church. We were worried that some radical might come up and take away the stability of the Church and that would expose the whole of Christendom to ridicule. So, as far as human beings can say or judge for now, it was an answer to prayers.
Thank you for your witness and we want to leave you with a souvenir of our university which is a simple sign of our friendship to you and the Church.
PRIMATE: Thank you
By Ven. Foluso Taiwo