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Religious leaders in Nigeria arise!

Practicing medical doctors and nurses, judges and lawyers, military and paramilitary men, civil and public servants, bankers and insurance company workers, journalists and publishers, radio…

Practicing medical doctors and nurses, judges and lawyers, military and paramilitary men, civil and public servants, bankers and insurance company workers, journalists and publishers, radio and television outfits, each person must be at his or her best for the country. This is not a time to chase rats when the house is on fire. But at the moment I would like to speak to my own constituency, the clergy, pastors, prophets and priests.  
We need to be the best of messengers of God at this moment in our nation’s life. In this case I would want to use the image of the Good Shepherd as described in the Prophecy of Ezekiel. This is the period the nation looks to us to for direction and good example. We should now speak the truth or we shall rightly be accused and condemned for conspiracy of silence. In the words of Pope Saint Gregory the Great; “A religious leader should be careful in deciding when to remain silent and be sure to say something useful when deciding to speak. In this way he will avoid saying things that would be better not said, or leaving unsaid things that ought to be said. For, just as thoughtless remarks can lead people into error, so also ill-advised silence can leave them in their error, when they could have been shown where they were wrong. Negligent religious leaders are often afraid to speak freely and say what needs to be said, for fear of losing favour with people”. At this time of our democratic experiment and experience, at this time when the nation is going through wars, of Boko Haram, religious, ethnic and tribal, the country men and women turn to the religious leader and ask, “from where shall come our help?” We must definitely speak the truth because anyone who accepts the call to the priesthood or any office of a religious leader accepts the office of a herald and must by his words and action prepare not to act as a dumb herald. If then the pastor or prophet neglects his preaching of truth, no matter how difficult and inconveniencing, what sort of a warning cry can he, a dumb herald give? That is why the Holy Spirit settled on the first religious leaders in the form of tongues: because those whom he fills he fills with his own eloquence. So we must speak and the nation is waiting for us to give direction.
Our country is polarized along regional, ethnic and tribal lines, and when it suites us, religion will come in. But in the Nigerian experience as it was with Rwanda in 1994, it is clear now that blood is thicker than the water of baptism. Each religious leader has a relation, friend, tribal or ethnic or in law who is into politics in Nigeria. Each person because he has the red blood cells in him feels for these people who are related to him in one way or another. But remember that you have a commission from God for the country. Can you because of the favour of the crumbs that will fall from the politician’s table remain dumb in the face of adversary? It is even more terrible when a religious leader allows the lucre of political favour to becloud his judgment and he abandons his calling to join in the political game of dog eat dog. Let the mouth that is set apart to praise the Lord continue to be used to praise the Lord. The situation of the country requires that we stand out and refuse to be drawn into the battle of political maneuver. The office of the pastor is sacred and should be respected and venerated. When the opportunity of the pulpit is abused and used for sinister political and sometimes, tribal and ethnic activities, then Jesus gets crucified again and again in such gatherings.
The Rwandan misadventure in 1994 should teach us a lesson. In Rwanda at the time of ethnic cleansing, the priests and pastors turned in their followers to be slaughtered and burnt. Stories abound of priests who ordered that their church doors be locked on Sundays during services and masses when it was filled with worshippers. At such moments, the priest would allow the militias from his own ethnic group shoot, kill and burn his congregation just to execute an ethnic agenda. In convents where young women stayed and prayed together, senior members of such congregations abandoned their religious duties and became tribal warlords and heroines. They conspired with the militias and young women were taken out and raped and killed. In schools head-teachers and principals did the same, giving up their young pupils and students for the slaughter. By the time the madness came to an end, the tiny African country of East and Central Africa of about 12 million people had lost between 800,000 to one Million people. The role of the church and her leaders was ignoble, unchristian and highly condemnable. Some priests and pastors are still being held in prison having being tried and sentenced by courts of competent jurisdiction. When the people of Rwanda looked up to the Church for protection, they were led down by the Church leaders and pastors. Many of the people who were massacred inside the churches had only ran to such places of worship for protection but their pastors turned them out and gave them up to the slaughter.
Nigeria and her people are highly religious. We believe and trust our church leaders and pastors almost to the point of stupidity. In our moments of progress and joy, we turn to the churches for thanksgiving and appreciation to God. In our needs and dark moments, we turn to our churches pastors, prophets and priests for prayers, healing and intercession. That is the level of the religious attitude of Nigerians. This is why the people of Nigeria, both government and citizens look up to their religious leaders in moments of great need such as the present moment.
When our people wait to hear what the religious leaders would say and do, what do they get in return? Religious leaders are becoming compromised. Partisan politicians mock and ridicule religious leaders and pastors as they ply their trade in government houses and politicians’ homes. Some people speak about how some self appointed pastors and prophets are smiling to the banks in this season of business of political prayers. Some ‘men of God’ pray and fast for politicians promising them victory for fees depending on the arrangement and length of days and weeks. More dangerous at this point is the fact that some of the church leaders allow political activities in their churches and with politicians openly canvassing for votes and such ‘persons of God’ anointing them for victory. Religious leaders are making political statements about who will win or not win in deference to another candidate. They arrange for politicians to come for thanksgiving in such places ahead of a victory at an election yet to be held. The political parties and politicians choose understanding and cooperating priests and pastors for their nefarious activities. Other leaders of churches who refuse to turn their pulpits to campaign podiums are termed and called supporters of opposition. Our people have been sub-charged as they are daily confronted with the fact of the political activities of their church leaders and pastors. Our nation’s resources and opportunities are daily squandered on the altar of mediocrity but we hear nothing more than thunderous applause from the pulpit of churches. The Word of God accuses such ‘men and women of God’ of having false visions because they flatter sinners with empty promises of safety but are afraid to correct their faults. They utterly fail to expose the wickedness of the sinners because they are not ready to take them to task.
Rev. Fr. Ojaje Idoko, Director, Pastoral Affairs Department, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria

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