“God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
– Pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world (Gaudium et spes).
Nigerian Catholic church has seen some apostatic scandals in the past decade with Mbise Diocese’ rejection of Rt. Rev. Dr. Peter Okpaleke as their bishop, on the ground that he is not being their kinsman opening the doorway.
Last week we saw and read that the Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Ewu-Owa Gberigbe in Ikorodu, Lagos, Rev. Fr. James Anelu, has been “suspended” for banning Igbo songs and choruses in his parish.The Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos in a disclaimer signed by, His Grace, Most Rev. Alfred Martins, directed the priest to proceed on “an indefinite leave of absence.”
Anelu reportedly banned Igbo songs and choruses in his parish, arguing that the excesses of Ndigbo must be contained. He had angrily stopped a soul-lifting chorus during the second collection, noting that Igbos cannot keep dominating other people in his parish, citing the case of his home Diocese, Benin where Igbos dominate to the point of becoming the Bishop.
This was strange because Catholic Church that ordained him, had as far back as 67AD (Acts 10:34-35) and as recently as this morning condemned all forms of human discrimination in her major documents, detesting apartheid, bigotry, intolerance, tribal conflicts, nepotism, xenophobia, the rights of aboriginal people and the discrimination encountered by migrants.
In the canons of her scriptures, and numerous conciliar and post-conciliar documents drawn across the 21 ecumenical councils throughout her over two millennia history, the mother church has been a pillar of truth, pointing the way to restoration of human dignity, equality, mutual parity, and fraternal love of all men and women irrespective of race, gender, age and religious inclination.
The way she handles the postings and transfers of her ministers, empirically bears witness to her belief in the brotherhood of all men. From Galilee, Apostle Peter was the first bishop of Rome. From Akwa Ibom, Cardinal Dominic Ekandem of immortal memory became archbishop of Abuja. His successor, Cardinal John Onaiyekan was a native of Kabba. From Nnewi, Bishop Jude Okolo was made the bishop in Central Africa republic and current Nuncio to Ireland. Added to this are other countless examples.
The Cardinal electors of the 2013 conclave observed this tradition when they elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) from Buenos Aires, in faraway Argentina as the 266th Bishop of Rome. None was maligned in their new mission lands.
In fact, to place additional punitory framework to her stand against tribal bigotry, a document drawn up at the request of Pope John Paul II in 1989 by the Pontifical Commission for Peace and Justice, declared that ”harboring racist thoughts and entertaining racist attitudes is a sin.”
May be Fr. Anelu was serving a different church other than Catholic. He is sympathetic where he is meant to be rational. Taking offence at Igbo liturgical songs means he didn’t understand the import of inculturation. It was the principles of inculturation that supports the use of native languages in divine worships. It was not his invention. The bible was also translated into vernacular by the same framework. But he acts as if it was a privilege, he did Ndigbo.
Jesus the Lord knew that people like him would spring up in the church to sow seeds of disaffection among members when he made a passionate appeal and prayer for his disciples to be united in love (Jn. 13:34; & 17:21-22).
Fr. James seemingly has sustained transgenerational feud against the magisterium for permitting inter-diocesan transfer of prelates that saw Archbishop A. Akubueze from Anambra preside over his home archdiocese in Benin.
The council fathers of Vatican II, reflecting on the community and social nature of man had this to say: “…true, all men are not alike from the point of view of varying physical power and the diversity of intellectual and moral resources. Nevertheless, with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”
They also must have envisaged the inevitability of ethnic champions rising to power in sanctuaries, when they addressed the world on December 07, 1965 in the voice of Pope Paul VI thus: “the modern world shows itself at once powerful and weak, capable of the noblest deeds or the foulest; before it lies the path to freedom or to slavery, to progress or retreat, to brotherhood or hatred… (but) since all men possess a rational soul and are created in God’s likeness, since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition.”
If you reconsider all these sacred appeals to the consciences of men, you will see the shame that in the 21st century church, a priest of Fr. Anelu’s age and standing could be blinded by twin evil of tribal bigotry and prejudiced discrimination. His fear is that Igbos are “dominating everything” in Nigerian Catholic. His concern was not how many souls he would bring to salvation but how to distance a particular tribe from it. The motto of Catholic church is “salus animarum suprema lex” (salvation of souls is the supreme law.).
This salvation is universal. It was given to all upon creation. And when it got truncated by sin, Christ, following transcendental plan of God, re-purchased it at the lavish cost of His blood on Mount Calvary. With divine mandate to “preach salvation to all corners of the earth” (Matt. 28:19), the church takes offence at any type of discrimination among her members.
Though she anathemized the vice of racial acrimony, she, nevertheless set up disciplinary measures and punitive protocols for any member of her flock who indulges in such reprehensible act. And that was what the local ordinary of Lagos, Archbishop Adewale evoked against Fr. Anelu in the disclaimer.
Worthy of special commendation is the swift action of the archbishop in pacifying his flock by ensuring the scandal was kept at bare by suspending the erring cleric. Whenever a shepherd transposes into a wolf, it is always advisable that the chief shepherd proactively wields the crozier to bring him back to his senses.
Perhaps, this will serve a deterrent to others that were about to catch racial bug at the altar of worship. That is, if they care to listen, because like Late Rev. Fr. Emma Onuh once said: “the reason why Jesus chose a man like Judas was to show the world that no incentive can save a person who has decided to go to hell.”
On the other hand, Igbos have continued to be endangered species in their own country 42 years after the civil war.
When the founder of Common Wealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) church Pastor Abiodun Fatoyinbo made derisive remarks against Igbos on pulpit some time ago, no one knew it was only a prelude to what will trend in near future. Just after the entire zone was described as an encircled ‘dot,’ by Mr. President in July last year here comes another derogatory jab from the altar. All these are coming at a time marginalization song against them is pitching fever note.
May daylight spare us!
Jude Eze is an Abuja-based freelance journalist.