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Sunday, July 22, 2018

With burning worries: A plea to Catholic Bishops - ITREALMS Online

Commentary@ITREALMS
When Hitler rose to power in 1933, majority of Germans were overwhelmed with joy without knowing the reasons behind his words and actions. By 1937 the real Hitler could no longer be hidden.

People were worried but handicapped. Opposition voices were sought and completely clamped down. Those without the ‘real German blood’ were marked out for extermination. Physically and mentally challenged citizens were rounded up and never seen again. The reign of terror was institutionalized. No one was allowed to ask questions, give answers or make any comment on any of Hitler’s policies. Spies infiltrated all associations to know who would violate any of these rules. So many associations were banned. Many people were incarcerated in prisons and many others were executed. But there was one group who owing to their nature, structure and mission that could not be silenced: the Catholic Bishops' Conference.

The German Bishops sent their delegates to the dying Pope Pius XI on his sick bed and made him aware of their sorrows in the hands of Hitler. Only a few days later, the worried pope issued an encyclical titled: "With burning worries" (Mit brennenden Sorge), the first papal encyclical to be written in German.

In this passionate and touching encyclical which was read in all Catholic parishes in Germany on the Palm Sunday of 1937, the dying pontiff inter alia thanked the bishops for their courage and for their love for the church and humanity. He condemned in its entirety the inhuman ideologies of Hitler. It was this encyclical that indeed exposed the nefarious acts and intentions of Hitler to the entire world. More still, it highlighted the unwavering position of the Catholic Bishops and of the Church.

Hitler saw the successful writing, printing, dissemination and reading of the encyclical as a big sabotage.  But with the stance of the Church having been defined, the resistance against Hitler's ideologies began to gather force till he was defeated.

Our dear cardinal, archbishops and bishops, members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), no other group is powerful like you in Nigeria. You do not only represent the church in Nigeria but you are a branch of the Holy See, the Vatican, which is a sovereign state. You are not only the ambassadors of the Church but also that of a sovereign state. You do not only have a moral authority but a robust "political" influence too. You remain till date the most networked, stable, educated, and internationally connected, respected and beloved organization in Nigeria. Not even the federal government can challenge you on these.

I must commend you for the roles you play in the defense of human rights and the promotion of the dignity of every Nigerian. I must commend you especially on your last letter to the government and also for the successful peaceful protest against the killings in Benue. But that these two actions have not changed anything in Nigeria with regard to protection of lives and property means that other strategies have to be tried out as well.

Imagine the number of people that have been killed by the untouchable herdsmen since your last letter and the mass demonstration. Imagine the number that will likely be killed before the end of this year. We cannot do anything about the lives that have been wasted than to bury them (if ever we get access to their remains), but we can really do much to protect those yet to be slaughtered and those yet to be disposed of their ancestral lands.

Before us the security forces have become the thugs of the ruling party. We saw the election conducted in Ekiti state recently where 30,000 policemen and women were dispatched and yet election was turned into a Bazaar where the highest bidder bought the highest votes. Where do we go from here? What do we expect from all these? Should we call such a situation an act of governance or mis-governance? Are you not worried about the future of our country? Are we not to be frightened by the implications and consequences of these events?

We are living at a time when the government (as always)  has failed to live up to her responsibilities. I speak of the government who with their security arsenal has failed times without number to protect the lives of Nigerians in Benue; the same government that had security men dispatched to Ekiti during the recent elections; and the same government that controls the military that was said to have ‘technically’ destroyed Boko Haram. This same government with their security apparati will also have to supervise the 2019 elections. The same INEC that conducted a Bazar-election in Ekiti State will still conduct elections in less than one year from now. Are you not worried, dear bishops? Can we really sleep comfortably amidst all these?

Everything appears to have collapsed: security, education, judiciary, health care delivery, job opportunities, and leadership. Poverty has quadrupled, crime, sickness, death have skyrocketed. Besides, the government has no solution to any of these.

Many Nigerians believe that restructuring is the only solution to our intractable malaise. Many others talk about separation. What are your own antidotes? What is your position? If it is restructuring please do let us know, and if not, let us know your solution, and then you can go ahead and present it to the government. There is nothing wrong in having a well thought-out solution and position to the socio-political problems of our country especially when the protection of human lives and property are concerned. Our Christian faith even obliges us to do that; just like the German bishops saw it as a duty to draw lines during the time of Hitler.

This not time for apportioning blames or blowing big grammar or being  politically correct but a time for proffering immediate but deeply-reasoned solution that will save the lives of our people. Paying a visit to the pope should also be on the agenda as a way of leveraging on your global network of solidarity.

Our dearly beloved bishops, we need you now before we all perish. If you don’t help no one else can. We all know what it means to be a prophet in times like ours. That is why we will never stop praying for you and the Holy Father. This is a time to be prophetic! It is a time to defend the wounded Jesus who came that "they may have life, and have it to the full".

*Contributed by Rev Fr Angelo Unegbu

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