Anthony Agbali remembers:
Despatches from Memory Lane: Reminiscing A Pope on Our Land, One like Us:
I recall some of the highpoint of Pope John Paul II's first visit to Nigeria in February 1982, travelling through Lagos, Onitsha, Enugu, Kaduna, Ibadan, and back to Lagos. It was an exciting moments. I underline some of the words I found to be very appealing, at least to my interest as a Nigerian.
I was then at St. James Minor Seminary, Makurdi (now relocated to Yandev), my parents had arranged to have us (my brother and I) to travel to Kaduna with them, but our then Rector, now Bishop Athanasius Usuh, of Makurdi, would not hear of it. He noted that he learnt on radio that some kids were getting lost in the mammoth crowd, though it was disheartening I followed all the events on National Television. This visit leaves an indelible imprints in my consciousness later. I have since then tried to read the Pope's speeches and homilies, and they were very relevant, touching, and humane in their appeal.
At the time the Pope would re-visit Nigeria for a Second time to beatify, the Nigerian Saint in the making, Blessed Cyprian Tansi, I was out here in the US sent for graduate studies. Therefore, I have not had the opportunity of seeing the Pope directly in the physical form but have known and encountered him virtually, visually, and through the medium of his texts, rich in content and in their appeal. Whether one agrees or disagress with the tonality, direction, style, or content of most of these writings, one thing resonates in them, which is that the force of the arguments are persuasive and intense, hence captivating.
I tried in these days of morning the Pope of my generation to render certain vignettes from what I call Memory Despatches from Nigeria, which focuses on the 1982 visit specifically. I intend to rummage through some vignettes that I consider through my subjective lenses to be significant, specifically those with relevance to his African journeys, or verge on the African experience.
In this light, I wish everyone a happy reading as we recall Karol Wojtyla the man who in 1978, unexpectedly became Pope and whose artciulations and images have shaped the present contour of global Roman Catholicism, and the different positive, albeit contradictory trajectories projected by this refractory institution that claims a human and divine identity.
Visit to Nigeria (1982):
Arrival February 12th, 1982 (16.00, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos)
"I am happy to set foot on your beloved land. For a long time I have wanted to pay you this visit, and now this desire of my heart is being fulfilled, For me this is a moment of great joy; before me there unfolds a vision of hope."
"I have come in order to meet the people of different religious persuasions- both individuals and communities- and I earnestly hope that my presence among you will express the love and respect that I have for all of you, as well as my esteem for the worthy religious values that you cherish., I wish to show fraternal solidarity with all the people of this nation, who through their constitution have firmly and solemnly resolved to live, under God, in unity and harmony, and to work for the welfare of all. It is my desire to pay tribute to Nigeria's contribution to justice, peace, and development in Africa and beyond, and to support all efforts under way to build a society ever more fraternal and humane."
"I address my words of friendship to all sectors of the national community. In particular my thoughts and affection go out to the sick, the old, and the handicapped, and to all who are experiencing the burdens of suffering and sorrow I hope to be able to be close to you, in order to comfort you...I am deeply grateful to you for inviting me to be your guest and I ask God to reward you for this warm reception. May God grant to all of us days of joyful encounter, celebration and prayer."
First mass in Nigeria at Lagos Stadium:
"It is a great joy to be with you all in Lagos. I give thanks to God for this day and for the opportunity of celebrating the Eucharist with you in your own beloved land. I have waited for this moment with great anticipation. I have looked forward to the time when I would gather with the Church in Nigeria. And now I am happy to have this opportunity to get to know you better, to speak to you, to confirm you in the faith, and to pray with you. We are joining our voices in thanksgiving and in praise of the Most Holy Trinity."
"the acceptance of the Christian faith here in Nigeria has indeed been remarkable. With eager hearts, you have welcomed generations of zealous missionaries to your land. You have learned from them the excelling knowledge of Jesus and have received him into your lives through the faith and the sacrament of Baptism. Nourished by the Eucharist and the word of God, you have begin to live as Christ taught you to do. You have put faith into practice in your private and public lives, in your families and homes, at work, and in places of recreation. You have also offered your youth to Christ and the Church to be trained as priests, brothers, sisters, and dedicated laity. Your catechists have, with great success, animated local Catholic communities, taught prayers, hymns and doctrines to young and old, and been indispensable helpers to the priests. The Catholic teachers deserver special recognition...In deed this nation owes much to its faithful teachers. May they never be lacking in your country. Their names are written in the book of life.
"My presence here today is a tribute to your missionaries, both past and present, and to yourselves, who have accepted the faith and made it your own."
"I rejoice deeply that you have begun to send missionaries to other lands, even before you have laborers enough for your own vineyard."
At Welcoming Reception State House Lagos to President Shehu Shagari:
I also thank you, Mr. President, for the kind invitation which you extended to me. That in doing so, you spoke for the whole of Nigeria has already been made manifest by the enthusiastic welcome which I am receiving from the people. I would ask you, today, even more than before, to consider me one of your own, for in deed I come to this land as a friend and a brother to all its inhabitant.
"It is therefore fitting for me to express to you, Mr. President, and to the Government Leaders, and indeed to all the people of this great country my deep appreciation of what the Nigerian people have achieved, not always without suffering and sacrifice, since their independence over two decades ago. I experience a deep joy in seeing how Nigeria, together with numerous other
African nations, has acceded to full national sovereignty and is able to take its future in its own hands, according to the richness of its own genius in respect of its own culture, and in consonance with its own sense of God and of spiritual values. It is my conviction that all Africa, when allowed to take charge of its affairs, without being subjected to interference and pressure from any outside powers or groups, will not only astound the rest of the world by its achievements, but will be able to share its wisdom, its sense of life, its reverence for God with other continents and nations, thus establishing that exchange and that partnership in mutual respect that is needed for the true progress of all humanity."
"Nigeria has been blessed by the creator with a rich human potential and with natural wealth, Such gifts, received in humble gratefulness are also a constant challenge, for the goods of this world are given by the creator for the benefit of all."
On the Nature of True Human Development:
"I wholeheartedly encourage all those entrusted with the well-being of their fellowman to make the human person the true criterion of all development efforts. Development projects must always have a human face. They cannot be reduced to a purely materialistic or economic endeavor. The human person must always be the ultimate measure of the feasibility and the success of an economic or social programme [program]. Progress can therefore not be separated from the dignity of the human person nor from the respect for his or her fundamental rights. In the pursuit of progress, total progress, anything must be rejected that is unworthy of the freedom and the the human rights of the individual and of the people as a whole. Thus are rejected such elements as corruption, bribery, embezzlement of public funds, domination over the weak, callousness toward the poor and handicapped. Participation in the political life of the judiciary system, respect for and promotion of things spiritual and cultural, love of truth: these are the ingredients for progress that is truly and fully human. I have no doubt that the authorities and the people of Nigeria are fully aware of these challenges and values. I trust that they will always work together in the pursuit of the true economic and social development of the country, intimately linked to the question of human dignity."
On the Essence of Governance:
"The glory of the Government is the well-being, the peace and the joy of the governed."
February 13th, 1982- Onitsha to at Mass for the Baptized and confirmed
On the Family:
"The Pope comes to you today in the name of Christ, who prayed for Peter, so that having been strengthened in his faith he might confirm his brethren. I come to you in the name of the Son of God who became [hu]man and lived among us, in the heart of the human family. Jesus is close to the joys and sorrows of family life. He understands the family's hope and disappointments, and he shares in the events that makes up each family's history."
"My appeal and invitation to you, Christian families of Nigeria, is the same appeal and invitation that I addressed to all the Christian families of the world..."Family" become what you are."
"And if we now ask Nigerian families: What is your specific contribution to your country? Then again I say: Become what you are, "the first and vital cell of society. It is from the family that citizens come to birth, and it is within the family that they find the first school of social virtues, that are the animating principles of the existence and the development of society itself" (Familiaris Consortio, 42). It is the family that takes each man and woman out of anonymity, and makes them conscious of their personal dignity, enriching them with deep human experiences and actively placing them, in their uniqueness, within the fabric of society."
"Brothers and sisters, if you love your country, then love your family life. If you wish to avoid having a society that runs the risk of becoming more and more depersonalized and standardized and therefore inhuman and dehumanizing, then strengthen the structures of family life. Love your families. Respect them."
"Christian families of Nigeria! Your dignity and responsibility as disciples of Jesus comes from the fact that you are called to be holy, and to help each other, the ecclesial community and the world to become holy."
To the Youth:
"Youth is the age of hope. of promise, of enthusiasm, of plans and of ideals. Youth does not want to give up in the face of difficulties. Youth does not want to put up with the shortcomings of the status quo. Youth believes in a better world and is determined to do something to help bring it about.
"You must be know for your generosity and openness to others. You must be grateful to your parents. Yow will love them, respect them, help them, and obey them, You will accept your teachers, respect them and follow their instructions. You will be known for self-sacrifice, dilligence in your studies or work, and efficiency in your assigned duties."
"My beloved young people of Nigeria, you must be outstanding for discipline, strength of character and reliability. This will show itself in several ways."
"A good Christian is a good citizen. You must love your country, obey its laws, respect your leaders, and pay your taxes. You are called to take your due part in political, social, economic, and cultural affairs."
"Young peopel of Nigeria, I have come to encourage you in the great mission you have to help build a better world, to advance Christ's Kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace. It is to him that I wish to direct your gaze."
"Young people of Nigeria, Christ dies for you, to redeem you, Christ loves you and I love you too."
To the Sick: St. Charles Borromeo Hospital, Onitsha
"I am happy to be with you this afternoon, you, the sick and the old. You are precious in the eyes of God. Your lives have a deep meaning for society and for me. My joy is all the greater because I am meeting you this afternoon in this famous hospital called after Saint Charles Borromeo, whose name was given to me by my parents at Baptism."
"As long as we are on our earthly prigrimage, sufferings and sickness will exist. They are a part of the human condition, and ultimately they are the result of original sin, but they are not necessarily the fault of the individual, There are many people of different ages who suffer through no fault of their own. Children, in particular, are vulnerable to suffering, often caused by the thoughtlessness or negligence of adults. The reality of sickness and malnutrition in the lives of millions of children is a fact that calls for attention and action. And the condition of the retarded child makes us thing about the very meaning of human life. Old age brings its own difficulties and physical weakness.'
"Although God allows suffering to exist in the world, he does not enjoy it. In deed, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, loved the sick; he devoted a great part of his earthly ministry to healing the sick and comforting the afflicted. And he expects us to take ordinary means to prevent, relieve, and remove suffering and sickness. Therefore, we have preventive health care programmes [programs]; we have doctors, nurses, paramedicals, and medical institutions of many kinds. Medical science has made much progress. We should take advantage of this.
Personal Identification with the Sick:
"I also know personally what it means to be sick and to stay in the hospital for a long time, and how it is possible to comfort and support others who share the same lot of confinement and suffering, and how necessary it is to pray for the sick and show them one's loving concern."
Approval of Valuable cultural elements:
"In Nigeria, you have the beautiful cultural value of the extended family system. The sick and the old are not abandoned by their children, their nephews and nieces, their cousins or other kindred. The wide umbrella of charity has a roof for all. This is the precious heritage that must be maintained. This ideal is under pressure, especially in the cities, and towns where the old are sometimes cut off from the extended family. The abandonment and solitude of the old results when a great cultural value has been taken away and has been replaced by something totally un-African."
To Priests and Seminarians at Enugu:
"Your young Church in Nigeria is full of life and vigor. With apostolic dynamism your missionary priests laid strong foundations through prayer, dilligence, chastity and dedication in charity, The local priests and bishops have taken up the mission and consolidated it. Right now you have many initiatives under way to make the Church more and more at home in your culture."
"The Priest must be a leaven in the Nigerian community of today. In a country in which many are over-concerned with making money, the priest by word and example must call attention to higher values. Man does not live by bread alone. The priest must identify with the poor, so as to be able to bring them the uplifting Gospel of Christ."
"Beloved priests and future priests of Nigeria, as Bishop of Rome and your brother priest, I bless you from my heart. I embrace each of you with deep affection in Christ Jesus- the one who is your only Master and your closest Friend, and who have loved each one of you with an everlasting love. I commend you all to Mary the Mother of Jesus, our great High Priest."
At the Ordination of Priests- Valentine's Day 1982 ( The nickname for these priests are various Kaduna Assembled or PAN Assembled for it is here that the French Peugeout Car is assembled)
"It is in deed a joy to be in Kaduna today. I give thanks for this blessed opportunity of celebrating the Eucharist with all of you and of ordaining to the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ this large number of deacons from different dioceses in Nigeria. The lives of those to be ordained offer great promise for the continued growth of the Church in this beloved land and they give fresh impetus to the vital work of evangelization. With all the faithful in Nigeria, and with the Church throughout the world, I praise the Lord of the harvest who is sending these new laborers into his harvest."
"[Words directed to the ordained priests ] My brothers, each of you has received from the Lord the call to be a priest, and with that, the privilege of being called a servant of Jesus Christ. Ordination confers the authority and mandate to proclaim the Gospel and to preach in the name of the Church. "
"As we rejoice today at the ordinations of these new priests, we see in their hearts, which are so eager to serve, a great hope for the future of the Church."
Consecration of Nigeria to Mary:
"And I desire to consecrate and entrust to you, Mother of the Church, in a special way, the Church in the land of Nigeria, just as on the day of Pentecost, I consecrated and entrusted to you the Church among all nations and peoples of the earth: the Church and the world.
"In today'c consecration I entrust to you all those who live and work in this African continent, all of whom the heavenly Father has loved eternally in Jesus Christ and whom he wills to saver through Christ's blood shed on the cross."
To the Nigerian Muslim Community:
"Dear friend, I am happy to have this encounter with you, the Muslim religious leaders in Nigeria. I warmly greet you and through you I send my greetings to the many millions of Muslims of this great country. I have come to Nigeria to visit my brothers and sisters of the Catholic Church, but my journey would be incomplete without this meeting. Be assured therefore assured that I am very pleased at this opportunity to express to you my sentiments of fraternal respect and esteem."
"All of us, Christians and Muslims, live under the sun of the one merciful God. We both believe in one God who is the creator of Man, We acclaim God's sovereignty and we defend man's dignity as God's servant. We adore God and profess total submission to him. Thus, in a true sense, we can call one another brothers and sisters in faith in the one God. And we are grateful for this faith, since without God the life of man would be like the heavens without the sun.
"Because of this faith that we have in God, Christianity and Islam have many things in common: the privilege of prayer, the duty of justice accompanied by compassion and almsgiving, and above all a sacred respect for the dignity of man, which is at the foundation of the basic rights of every human being, including the right to life of the unborn child."
Call to Interreligious fellowship:
"Furthermore, I am convinced that if we join hands in the name of God we can accomplish much good. We can work together for harmony and national unity, in sincerity and greater mutual confidence. we can collaborate in the promotion of justice, peace, and development. It is my earnest hope that our solidarity of brotherhood, under God, will truly enhance the future of Nigeria and all Africa, and add to the good ordering of the world as a universal civilization of love."
To the men and women of Science and Research- University of Ibadan:
"Men and women of science and arts! The Pope word to you at this welcome encounter is one of respect and encouragement. You are the artisans and the authors of the cultural atmosphere of your community. Your inspired and responsible dedication to knowledge, research, and artistic creativity is of paramount importance for the spiritual and moral growth of the Nigerian people."
"The cultural environment you create and promote so painstakingly- in the classroom, in the laboratory, in the studio, in the media- is the key that opens the door to the personal advancement and elevation of the men and women of Nigeria, especially the young...Only an education that aims at embracing and enlightening all the dimensions of man's life and personality is capble of enabling each man and woman to step out of his or her ignorance, or to escape from the lethargy that comes from personal frustration or the lack of opportunities or inceptives in in social life. Only a cultural atmosphere that allows its participants and its recipients to seek "to be more" rather than "to have more" is capable of helping every man and woman and child to attain their rightful place in society and thereby exercise effectively their unique and inviolable human dignity. "
"Do not forget that the application of your knowledge and technical ability affects men and women in their personal lives. I appeal to you and to men and women of science everywhere to seek ways to apply your research in such a way as to respect the personal dignity, the legitimate freedoms and the moral and religious convictions of men and women everywhere."
"Science and religion are both gifts of God, the eternal Truth. Truth does not contradict itself. Science and religion are not only not opposed, but they understand each other, they work together, and they are both at the service of man and of truth." (emphasis mine)
To Men and Women Religious Communities of Priests, Nuns (Sisters) and Brothers- Seminary of Sts. Peter and Paul, Ibadan
"I am overjoyed to have this meeting with you, men and women of the different diocese of Nigeria, who are living the religious life of consecration to Jesus Christ. Through your commitment of perfect charity you express the hope of the Church and become her crown and glory, You are a comfort for her, You are ambassadors for her. This encounter could not be omitted.
"Having been already consecrated to God by Baptism, you give special witness to Christ in the Church and in the world by your renunciation- for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven- of marriage, earthly possessions and the doing of your own will. Through your vows you make this sacrifice freely, out of love for God and your fellowman, in a spirit of dedication and service."
"Even more important than the various works which you carry out is the life which you live: in other word, what you are. You are consecrated persons striving to follow Christ with great intensity of love."
"And to all of you, beloved religious of Nigeria, I wish to express my deep affection in Christ Jesus. I am very grateful to you for your lives of consecration and for all your generous service to the Church. I ask your continuing prayers for the intentions of the Apostolic See and for the needs of the universal Church."
To the Catholic Bishops' Conference- Apostolic Nunciature (Vatican Embassy), Lagos
"I thank you for your missionary consciousness and for your initiative in sending Nigerian priests, brothers, and sisters to a number of other countries in Africa and to the West Indies."
Pope's Mission and Collegiality:
"I have been sent by Christ and you have been sent by Christ. And together with the rest of the College of Bishops throughout the world we are sent to announce Christ, to proclaim Christ, to communicate Christ and his Gospel to the world. This why, in anticipation of this pastoral visit, I expressed the hope that it would initiate "a new era of evangelization." This is my repeated prayer: that the zeal of evangelization will envelop the Church here in Nigeria. And why? Because evangelization constitutes the essential mission of the Church, it is her vocation, it is her deepest identity."
On Culture and Faith (Inculturation of the Gospel):
"An important aspect of your own evangelizing role is the whole dimension of the inculturation of the Gospel into the lives of your people, Here you and your priest co-workers offer to your people a perennial message of divine revelation... you help them "to bring forth from their own living tradition original expressions of Christian life, celebration and thought."
"The Church truly respects the culture of each people. In offering the Gospel message, the Church does not intend to destroy or abolish what is good and beautiful. In fact, she recognizes many cultural values and through the power of the Gospel purifies and takes into Christian worship certain elements of a people's customs, The Church comes to bring Christ; she does not come to bring the culture of another race. Evangelization aims at penetrating and elevating culture by the power of the Gospel." (emphases mine)
"...It is through the providence of God that the divine message is made incarnate and is communicated through the culture of each people. It is for ever true that the path of culture is the path of man, and it is the path that man encounters the One who embodies the values of all cultures and fully reveal the man of each culture to himself. The Gospel of Christ the Incarnate Word finds its home along the path of culture and from this path it continues to offer its message of salvation and eternal life."
"I want to open my heart with a gift I brough yo you for this occassion to your conference: it is an image of my heart, of my origin; and also of my hope in the future of the Church, of humanity, and of every human family in all mother- nations (especially my own mother nation) in the world."
To his compatriots-The Poles in Nigeria:
"...the first reports I had about you Poles who live here, were from the Nigerian Bishops when they came to Rome on their "ad limina" visit to brief the Pope about the problems of their Church. All of them one after another spoke to me about the Poles who live in this country and they spoke of them as a living part of the Church which is in Nigeria. It is a special testimony rendered also to our Fatherland; not merely to the Church in Poland, but quite simply to Poland. Because-as is known- the history of our Fatherland during the course of a thousand years is most closely linked with the Church and Christianity. The last difficult centuries have been a particular period of trial for this alliance betwen the Nation and the Church. I would add: in a particular way these last years."
"Since in the course of history I am the first of Polish race, a son of the land of Poland, to become the Successor of Peter, not only as a Polish Pontiff but slav, I feel a special debt to my Fatherland, and therefore to all my fellow countrymen. I think that the Fatherland, its history, the history of the Church, the Nation's history, have prepared me in an exceptional way to be ranged in solidarity with the different nations of the world...All this is part and parcel of the spiritual heritage of the Pope who has come from Poland. It is precisely thanks to this heritage that it is easy for me to feel a special solidary toward those people, those nations that suffer...I find it easy to be with them immediately beause I have learned ever since childhood to be in tune with our Nation which had not an easy history, and which has also a present that is not easy."
"In meeting and speaking with you I take this opportunity to tell you these things. Because you also have a part in all this. And since you also are outside the Fatherland, just as the Pope, too, finds himself outside the Fatherland, permanently resident in Rome and sometimes outside Rome, I am nevertheless very close to my Fatherland. I feel very deeply all that is happening there, especially the difficult events, and with a loud voice I proclaim what the Poles have a right to on the part of their neighbors and of all the nations, especially on the part of those nations with which the history of our continents has linked us right from the beginning. I have said this during recent months and recent weeks in regard to the state of emengency, that is to say, the state of war in Poland...that the rights of men and of nations be respected."
"I wish to address myself to you who are outside the Fatherland and who represent here in Nigeria, Poland and all that is Polish. My wish is that you will represent it in the best way possible, in the manner most advantageous for this society on the road to development, a society which has already achieved great successes, but which finds itself still at the beginning of its historic path as a state, that of the Nigerian Federation. I hope you will carry out this service well, because in so doing you will likewise discharge well your service to your Fatherland. It is a teaching which I draw from my own life and also from my mission. I believe that in fulfilling in the best way possible my mission in the See of Peter, I too, am serving my Fatherland, as far as in me lies. It is our right and its our duty. May God grant to each one of us ever to bear this right in his own conscience, and to fulfil it in our actions."
To members of Christian denominations:
"My pastoral visit from its very planning was meant to have an important ecumenical dimension, for I see work for the unity of all Christians an essential element in my own ministry as Bishop of Rome and Pastor of the Catholic Church. This encounter therefore fulfils one of my dearest desires. I am very pleased to greet you in the love of our common Lord..."
"...we pray and work, hope and wait for the day, known to God alone, when we shall be fully one in Christ, when we shall celebrate the one Holy Eucharist and drink from the same sacred Chalice.
"I thank you. I respect you, I beg God to bless you abundantly. May the Peace of Christ reign in your hearts."