Today the Jubilee Year of Mercy announced by His Holiness Pope Francis begins in our Archdiocese and other Catholic Dioceses in Nigeria. The solemn entry through the Holy Door of the popular St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome which took place on the 8th of December 2015, the feast of Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother is replicating at the Maria Assumpta Cathedral in Owerri. The solemn entry into Assumpta Cathedral through the central door signals the inauguration of this year long spiritual journey. The following were present at the inauguration of the jubilee: All Episcopal Zonal Vicars, the Religious, the Chairpersons of these groups from the Parishes (Catholic Women Organization; Catholic Men Organization; Youth Council; CYON; Mary League; Chairman, Parish Pastoral Council etc).
Today all roads lead to the Maria Assumpta Cathedral for the solemn inauguration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Cathedral which has been under rigorous reconstruction for the past three to four years was officially opened, thanks to the concerted efforts of His Grace Most Rev. Anthony J.V. Obinna and his formidable working committee too numerous to mention.
What are we actually celebrating? We are celebrating MERCY in our lives, in our families, in our states, in our country, in our continent and in our world. In a communiqué issued in the recently concluded Second Plenary of the Conference of Nigerian Bishops held in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State from September 10th to 18th, 2015, we read a line, “To guarantee sustainable success . . . Nigerians must transcend ethnic, religious and regional affiliations and sentiments. This statement is true for all agents in public service delivery and in a very special way calls the religious leader to fashion themselves into communicators of God’s mercy.
The Holy Father had the very best in mind for humanity in declaring this liturgical year a jubilee of mercy., beginning with Divine Mercy which is a call for us to translate mercy into our daily living. Although the challenge is how to proceed with the mandate in order to guarantee success in a multi cultural context.
Nigeria is a country where some have itching ears disposed singularly to hearing their praise singing. We are also in a country where a good number have their stomach as their gods. These people would reject the message of mercy whenever it is not punctuated with the material content of the modern day prosperity Gospel preachers and televangelists.
The jubilee year of mercy which we celebrate with joy brings to mind the biblical parable of the “Good Samaritan” as recorded in the gospel of St. Luke (10:29- 37). This piece of the bible clearly exposes the coming into contact of two contrasting cultures — Jewish and non Jewish. Other scriptural instances abound but let us reflect deeply into this particular gospel message as we take off with the long journey of mercy Jubilee. The broadening of the frontiers of the beneficiaries of mercy, divine and human as clearly demonstrated in this classical parable on cultural neutrality is not an option in the mercy mandate of the Holy Father but an integral part of the salvation package. In the letter to the Romans (Rm. 10:12) or that to the Galatians (2:28) we read, “There is no Greek, no Jew. Going down the strata we can say, there is no Hausa, no Yoruba, no Igbo, and no Efik etc. Still further we opt to add, there is no Mbaise, no Ngor-Okpala, no Mbaitoli, no Mbano etc. we are all one in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, Mercy has a Universal character. Unlike MTN, Glo or Etisalat, like FRCN, Orient TV and Radio, like Hot FM or Mega Band Radios, there is no limit to its coverage. The letter to the Romans (Rm. 2:11) caps it up by saying, that we are all the same in the presence of God.
This mandate today places a greater challenge than ever on every Christian particularly on the preachers of the gospel. These people serve as God’s chosen instruments, for this all important task of shaving and giving mercy. The real communicator of God’s message of mercy must do this in words and in action. He must endeavour also to hand this message of mercy down to the beneficiary in such a way that it must produce the desired fruit.
There is need to transcend various cultural boundaries in order to unfold the richness of God’s mercy ingrained in this jubilee year. To understand the mind of the Holy Father one needs to rise above the level of sciences to the domain of the Divine where lies the solution to all human problems.
Within our Nigerian context, many of this cultural ambivalence stir us in the face begging for answers. Even locally, think of our tribal differences, social class distinction, political diversities and differences in educational backgrounds etc. In ecclesiastical concern, we are not spared the anxiety either. One thinks of the perennial problems involved as we are confronted with instances of mixed congregation, religious proliferation and syncretism. Think of the East-West Orthodoxy, in Christianity, the Catholicsm, Protestantism debate, African traditional and family values, issues of divorce, same-sex marriage, child abuse, homosexuality, and lesbianism, religious fundamentalism ordination of women etc.
Outside the domain of religion, we are not spared the problem either of multicultural and sub-cultural anxiety. There is an insecurity occasioned by armed robbery, kidnapping, child trafficking and all forms of criminal and cultic tendencies and allegiance. Given this situation, the question comes up: where and how does the Christian agent of mercy communicate mercy under the current cultural diversification. The answer is simple whatever culture we find ourselves, the truth must be told, “In the words of St. Paul, “ preach the message in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2).
According to Pope Paul VI, “Where sin must be rebuked, we must do so with steadfastness, we must be recalcitrant with sin, but merciful with the sinner”. The truth of the Gospel must never be compromised in favour of any culture.
God’s mercy is needed by all, the believer and non believer alike for “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s mercy (Rm. 3:23). Therefore message of mercy must be adapted to suit all circumstances regardless of time and place. God’s mercy is all about reaching out to the poor, the sick, the needy and social outcasts in their specific circumstances. It is the desire of God that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4).
Fortunately, God in His wisdom has been the first to take the initiative in this cross-cultural approach to human salvation by making salvation openly available to all, Greek, Jews white, black, Hispanic etc. “By this step God sets a standard for every Christian. As we begin this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we must first of all acknowledge with a sense of humility our unworthiness and make some effort to avoid some present day obnoxious values that tend to neutralize the efficacy of our Christian belonging. These values include, Bigs, Ethnocentrism, religious fundamentalism etc.
Every cultural manifestation must be placed in its proper cultural context. Our duty as Christian men and women is to pass on the message of mercy by our actions and by our words. The task is huge but with God everything is possible.
Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu
Director of Communications/Media
Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri.