My dear People of God,
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who taught us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9)!
These words of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, moves us to reflect more seriously on peacemaking at the time when many people are engaged in matters and methods that can evoke war and violence in our country. Indeed, Boko Haram is there in Northern Nigeria, killing human beings and destroying properties. The Avengers and other militants in the Niger Delta are doing things that provoke military engagement. The Indigenous People of Biafra and MASSOB are there among the Igbo people working for the session of Igbo people from Nigeria and thereby insighting other parts of Nigeria to threaten to oust Igbo people resident in their sections of Nigeria. The Northerners are moving for Arewa Islamic Republic and the Westerns are struggling to have Oduduwa Republic while the Niger Delta want to declare their own republic. With all these struggles for session, there are definitely threats to peace in our country, Nigeria. We cannot easily forget the Nigeria-Biafra war which led to the death of millions of people and the destruction of properties. Thousands of people died on account of the conflict raised by the militants of Niger Delta. Boko Haram violence has led to the death of thousands of people. Do we still want to destroy our lives and properties with looming civil wars and conflicts?
Jesus Christ, the King of Peace, wants us to live and work for peace. He not only taught the blessedness of peacemakers but he also made it clear that his desire for and from his followers was peace. One should not misunderstand the teaching of Jesus Christ about peace and sword: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against his mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's household” (Matthew 10:34-36). Looking at this text alone, one would think that Christ was not interested in peace. Indeed, he was primarily given to peace but he was aware that faith in him would lead to persecutions against his followers: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles... Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name” (Matthew 10:16-22). We can understand the teaching of Jesus Christ in the context of his teaching.
The mission of Jesus Christ was and is rooted on peace. He sent his disciples on mission and instructed them to convey peace wherever they went: “As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you” (Matthew 10:12-13). The greeting of the Jews was always, “Peace be with you” (Shalom). After his resurrection, Jesus always said, “Peace be with you” to the apostles when he appeared to them (see John 20:19, 21, 26). This greeting is still the current one among the Israelis – Shalom. It was not only the greeting of peace that Jesus Christ was concerned with. He was interested in the peace of the disciples. Speaking to them, Jesus concluded, “I have said this to you, so that you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33). That will really fulfil what Jesus had for the disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give you as the world gives” (John 14:27). The peace of Christ is the peace for which Christians should long and work for.
The Catholic Church following the mind of Christ proposes peace as the object for the world: “Respect for and development of human life require peace. Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. Peace is 'the tranquillity of order.' Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC, no. 2304). The Church sees that the peace on earth to be real peace must imitate the peace of Christ: “Earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Christ, the messianic 'Prince of Peace'” (CCC, no. 2305). This concern of the Church for peace which is the work of justice and the effect of charity must have made the Church to give clerics an obligation to work for peace: “Clerics are always to do their utmost best to foster among people peace and harmony based on justice” (Canon 287 §1).
The Catholic Diocese of Nnewi had its Second Diocesan Synod with the theme: “Living the Faith in Justice, Peace and Reconciliation in the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi 'You are the salt of the earth ... You are the light of the world.'” This synod saw justice as the way to peace and encouraged people to work for justice in order to secure peace. In the Post-synodal Pastoral Exhortation written by me, it was stated that justice meant doing good to others in the spirit of Christ and not according to worldly means (see The Way to Peace through Justice and Reconciliation, no. 32). We need to seek for justice not only by the secular means but more by the way of Christ. The Golden Rule of Christ gives the positive pointer to justice: “So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophet” (Matthew 7:12; see Luke 6:31). This Golden Rule for Christians must be linked to other teaching of Jesus Christ that makes Christian justice different from worldly justice: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse, pray for those who ill-use you. To him who strikes you on one cheek offer the other cheek also. If one takes away your cloak, do not stop him taking your tunic too. Give to everyone who asks you; if anyone takes away your belongings do not demand them back again. As you would like men to act towards you, so do act towards them” (Luke 6:27-31). It is not easy to understand this teaching of Jesus Christ. But like every teaching of Christ, we must open our minds to see that Jesus Christ came not to abolish the Law and the Prophet but to complete them (see Matthew 5:17). The Christian must follow the justice of Christ which is beyond civic justice. In this way, we can understand the teaching of St. Paul with which he discouraged Christians from taking their fellow Christians to “those who are of no account in the Church” (1 Corinthians 6:4). He would want Christians who had problems with other Christians to look for sensible persons in the Christian community to settle the matter for them based on Christ's spirit of justice (see 1 Corinthians 6:5-6).
Injustice of whatever kind or type contradicts the way to peace and so all the members of Christ's faithful are urged to be committed to justice and to combat injustice urging all to embrace the Way of Christ. Doing that “will foster justice in our Church and in our society” (The Way to Peace through Justice and Reconciliation, no. 40). It is important for Christians to be aware that injustice is not to be combated with injustice. The words of St. Paul are there for us: “No; it is a fault in you, by itself, that one of you should go to law against another at all; why do you not prefer to suffer injustice, why not prefer to be defrauded? And here you are, doing injustice and the defrauding, and to your own brother” (1 Corinthians 6:7-8). It is not easy for Christians to resist the injustices and defrauding by forgiveness and reconciliation. But that is really what a Christian must aim at. That is why all the members of Christ's faithful of the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi are expected to study the book: THE WAY TO PEACE THROUGH JUSTICE AND RECONCILIATION.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of injustice in our society and even in our Church. There are many instances of injustice even in the Justice Department, in security department, in arrests and detentions of people and in their trials. In the Church, the injustices appear mostly in payment of salaries and remuneration of workers. As a result of these injustices, peace is always under serious attack in both the society and in the Church. In the government of our country, the inequality and sectionalism in the distribution of offices and resources create very serious conflicts which are leading people to struggles for restructuring or session. The Federal Government must do something immediately to change the clearly open discrimination, sectionalism and factionalism in appointments and distribution of facilities and resources of the country. If the Federal Government wants peace and unity in Nigeria, the change must begin immediately. That will surely counteract the militancy and struggles for session and the call for restructuring.
The Bishops of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province in their Statement titled “We Need Peace and Harmony Based on Justice” state: “For many years, we seemed to have believed that our many problems – insecurity, fragile economy, discrimination in political appointments and distribution of amenities, double standards in the prosecution of criminals and offences, executive impunity, legislative profligacy, judicial prevarications, infrastructural decay, poor quality education – will all somehow simply go away on their own. Government after government, military as well as civilian, paid little or only lip-service attention to these problems and many officers have continued to enrich only themselves and their small group of friends, while the Nation continued to drift into turbulent waters. Now some groups of people in Nigeria who feel aggrieved are attempting to dismember the country as a way of solving the problems.” All should diligently study the Statement of the Catholic Bishops of the Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province to see how we can work for peace and harmony based on justice.
Christians should not join in the do-me-I-do-you. As the Bishops declared, “Nevertheless, we affirm categorically that quarrels, sectionalism, violence and hate which lead to division and session are not the right answers to our present predicament.” While we need to work for justice, we need also to show love and readiness to seek for solutions that will bring about the necessary change. Whatever be the solution we are looking for, it must be for peace, not for war and devastation of our country. Our priority must be to do everything in such a way that the peace of God which is beyond our understanding will guard our hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 4:7). Christians should be witnesses to Christ, the Prince of Peace. We need to turn to God with more trust and devotion asking for solutions that will “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). I will adapt Psalm 122:
Pray for the peace of Nigeria
Prosperity for your homes
Peace within your walls,
Prosperity in your communities
For love of my brothers and my friends
I will say, 'Peace upon you'
For love of the house of the Lord God
I will pray for your well-being
To all of us in Nigeria, let us receive what St. Paul offered to the Romans: “Grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7).
Most Rev. Hilary Paul Odili Okeke
Bishop of Nnewi