One begins to wonder why a governor will be attending a burial service with not less than 30 peasant women, more than 50 students under the APC students group called NUISS, and when his name is called, even inside the church, all you will hear is “Owelleeee”. This is just to deceive the visitors that he is on ground not knowing that those shouting are rented crowd mounted inside the church just to shout “Owelleeee”.
Instead of our governor to berate his SSG who hails from Uguta, and his protocol officers, he is busy pointing fingers on Abuja based politicians. Since Sam Onwuamaedo took the job of defending the defenceless, he has never said a word without calling on Abuja Politicians. This is indeed an act of envy.
On the other hand, one wonders what actually Owelle wanted to say during the burial service of Justice Oputa. Maybe, he wanted to advice the people present to emulate Justice Oputa’s golden legacies which rule of law is at the center stage. What an Irony that Owelle will be proud to talk about emulating Oputa’s legacies and obey rule of law in a gathering where Eze Ilomuanya is present.
The truth remains that if Owelle is asked to take up a topic to educate people on, he can never choose to talk on rule of law. Owelle is lawless, disobedient to rule of law and an anti- Democracy governor. If Oputa happens to be my father, I won’t allow Owelle to attend the burial not to talk of speaking in the burial service of a man who he (Owelle) have violated almost every thing he believed in.
Even Justice Oputa will be happy with his Son for not allowing Owelle speak becausehis soul will never rest in peace if a man with lawlessness as antecedents is allowed to speak. But now, his soul is resting in peace and will always rest in peace.
Those who call Charly Boy all sort of names should have known that before now. His madness did not start today and we have lived to appreciate him and take him the way he is. Reminding us about his madness now is just trying to divert attention from the issue of the moment. The issue of the moment is that our governor embarrassed himself in Uguta and should not blame any body. If he had raised alarm when Ayim Pius (Presidents representative) was called to speak, he Ayim couldn’t have continued. Knowing who Ayim is, it will even take him time to stand up and walk to the podium and all these time is enough for Owelle’s protocol officers to raise alarm. But they never did, only for them to rise to speak after the Commander-In-Chief most have spoken.
Indeed, if Owelle’s dreams of becoming a president comes through(God Forbid), he will never tolerate such an act from any governor. The Owelle I know will even sack his SGF for allowing a governor speak after him. But why is Owelle deceiving and trying to hoodwink imolites to believe his fake story? Let Sam Onwuamaedo remember that after Owelle’s administration, he will never enjoy same respect as De Sam but as a political “Aliluya Boy”. A word they say is enough for the wise.
Imo Ga adi mma ozo.
Written by Chiemeka Akwarandu (An eyewitness at the burial)
We come from God and going back to God – Fr Ukwuije
Text of a homily delivered by Very Rev. Fr. Bede Ukwuije, CSSp, 1st Assistant General at the Funeral Mass of Rev. Fr. Dr. Ignatius Nwabuaju Izuchi, CSSp and Rev. Fr. Barr Anthony Ubochioma, CSSp, on Monday 6th January 2020 at the Holy Ghost Novitiate Chapel Awo-Omamma.
“The Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25, 8).
“In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Matthew 25, 40).
His Grace, Most Rev. Anthony J. V. Obinna, Archbishop of Owerri and Metropolitan of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province,
Your Excellencies, My Lord Bishops,
The Provincial Superior of Nigeria South East, Very Rev. Fr. Gregory Olikenyi, CSSp,
Rev. Sisters and Brothers,
My dear People of God,
Praise be to Jesus, both now and forever, Amen
First, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Provincial Superior of Nigeria South East, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Greg Olikenyi, CSSp and all the Spiritan Confreres for giving me the opportunity to deliver the homily at this funeral of my lecturer, Rev. Fr. Dr Ignatius Nwabuaju Izuchi, CSSp and my elder brother, Rev. Fr. Barr. Anthony Chukwukere Ubochioma, CSSp. Fr. Izuchi taught us philosophy at The Spiritan School of Philosophy Isienu-Nsukka between 1987 and 1989. Fr. Ubiochioma was my elder brother from Ngugo, who nurtured my Spiritan vocation and supported me all through my formation as seminarian. He was the first Spiritan from Ngugo. After him came Fr. Anthony Amadi, CSSp, Fr. Leo Ekeanywu, CSSp and myself. Unfortunately, we lost the fifth Spiritan, Fr. Valentine Nnaji, CSSp who died as a missionary in Congo-Brazzaville.
I bring you the condolences of the Superior General, Very Rev. Fr. John Fogarty CSSp and the entire Generalate community in Rome for the loss of our two Confreres. We pray that God may console the Izuchi family, Ozubulu people and Diocese of Nnewi. May he also console the Ubochioma family, Ngugo People and the Archdiocese of Owerri.
God-incidentally, this burial ceremony is taking place in this beautifully renovated Noviate Chapel. We thank the provincial administration for restoring the beauty and dignity of this novitiate where we, Spiritans begin and end. Fr. Ignatius Baaju Izuchi, alias Ifemuonso and Fr. Anthony Ubochioma, alias AKC Nwokeoma would be happy being buried in this beautiful Chapel. What a great honour! May God grant them eternal rest. Amen.
As we commend our two brothers to God, the scriptures address few words of consolation to us. I would like to isolate four of them: Our brothers are resting in peace; God is love; God is merciful; we believe in the communion of saints.
First consolation: These two Spiritan priests lying before us are resting in peace. Christian faith teaches us that we come from God and are going back to God. When the Catechism of the Catholic Church wants to express the meaning of human life, it asks a question “Who made you?” We answer, “God made us”. Then it asks, “Why did God make you?”, We answer, “God made us so that we may know him; that we may love him; that we may serve him in this world so as to live with him eternally”.
In other words, we come into the world to practice for eternal life with God. Whenever and wherever death finds us, we have accomplished our mission on earth. Then we go and rest in peace. Isaiah 25, 6-10 says that on that day God will wipe away tears from every face. There will be no more suffering, no more malaria, no more heart or kidney problems, no more hunger or starvation, no more fear of kidnapping, no more shame. In 1 Thessalonians 4, 13-18, Paul asks us not to grieve like those who do not have hope. He asks us not to worry about those who have died. He assures us saying. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and that it will bring them with him”. Our two brothers are saying, “It is well with my soul”.
Second consolation: God is love. God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him. In the story of what is traditionally called the last Judgment, in Matthew, 25, 31-46, Jesus declared that the love of the neighbor, especially preferential love for the least of his brothers and sisters is the condition for eternal life.
Our two brothers were extremely generous priests. First, to donate oneself to become a priest is a great act of love. Total self-donation as a priest is great act of charity. That is why it is said that the priest is configured to Christ such that he becomes alter Christus (another Christ). This love is demonstrated concretely in the three services: sanctifying the people through the sacraments, teaching the people and governing the Christian community. Sitting at the confessional, listening to the sins of the people of God and reconciling them with God is a great act of generosity. It is difficult to calculate the number of hours a priest sits at the confessional during his lifetime. Running from place to place to visit the sick and celebrating burials are great acts of mercy.
Moreover, as individual persons, Fr. Baaju Izuchi and Fr. Anthony Ubochioma were very generous people. Fr. Izuchi was such a person that could not withstand the poverty of people around him and the difficulty of many children to access education. His commitment to education that led him to found schools in Ozubulu was a response to these challenges. He was such a person that would want as many people as possible to share in whatever good thing he discovered. Many people in the US benefited from his large heart. He was a great social enhancer who wanted development. When he came in to teach us at Isienu in 1987, he taught us social and political philosophy. He was concerned about our freedom of expression and self-determination. He taught us to be the voice of the voiceless. Once he felt that the community needed landline telephone, he went ahead and installed one. He was always faster than his time.
Fr. Ubochioma was also a social enhancer. He was instrumental to the progress of Ngugo Town Union and Ngugo Hospital. He was very generous, to the extent that he could not even keep money for himself. Any money that entered his pocket went out immediately to someone else. He would pay the school feels of children and young people; help pay hospital bills etc. I personally benefited from his generosity. His generosity saved my vocation. In 1985 when I finished at the Holy Ghost Juniorate Ihiala, I experienced a deep vocation crisis. My family had financial difficulties and my parents were struggling to take care of their ten children. Based on the fact that the religious take the vow of poverty, some well-meaning people advised me to join the diocese so that I would be able to save some money and help my family. The argument seemed appealing in the context. I sought admission to Owerri Diocese through the vocation director, Fr Anthony Onyeocha, who was then the Rector of Okpala Seminary. He was willing to welcome me if I passed WAEC.
However, when I collected my WAEC result, with eight Alphas and one Credit, the newly appointed Rector of the Juniorate, Fr. Gabriel Ezewudo, CSSp, asked me to stop over at the Novitiate, Awo-Omamma and discuss with the Novice Master, Fr, Francis Akwue, CSSp. The later welcomed me as a father and gave me the prospectus for the Novitiate. Reaching home, I did not discuss the prospectus with my parents, knowing that they did not have enough money to buy all the items listed there in, including three Soutanes, a Bible and a Missal. On the other hand, I did not report to the Diocesan Vocation Director as agreed. Deeply within me, I did not want to join the diocese for financial reasons. The money argument did not match with my idea of priesthood. I spent two months at home in confusion.
Fr. Anthony Ubochioma, CSSp, saved my vocation. He drove into our house few days before the expiration of the period we were expected to report at the Novitiate. He said that Spiritan authorities were worried because I had not reported at the Novitiate. If anyone would be missing, it would not be Bede Ukwuije. So he decided to come and check on me. I told him clearly that my parents had no money. My parents were surprised and pained because I never discussed it with them. There and then, Fr. Ubiochioma gave me sum of 50naira and promised to give me two soutanes, a Bible and a Missal. A promise he fulfilled two days later. Fr. Ubochioma drove me to the Novitiate exactly on the deadline. May God bless him. Since then, I never doubted God’s grace. We pray that God may count these acts of love as righteousness for our two brothers.
However, people should not abuse the generosity of priests. Some people continue going to old priests who are already in retirement homes to ask for money. The priest pays one’s school fees, gives him/here money to marry, and pays his /her hospital bills. Then the priest is sick and in a retirement home, the person still comes to ask the priest for money to pay for the school fees of his/her children. It is not fair. Those who have been helped by priests should help others. They should help us to take care of our retired and sick priests. We are not used to seeing old Spiritans, but in the next three years there will be more than 100 Spiritans of Nigeria South East who will be beyond 65 years old. We need support to assure them a comfortable retirement.
Third consolation: God is merciful. Pope Francis wrote a book, The Name of God is Mercy. What keeps us alive is the mercy of God. Sometimes, people tend to consider priests and consecrated persons as machines designed to be perfect. Even machines sometimes breakdown, but people do not imagine that priest and religious could break down.
Priests and consecrated persons are human beings like every other person. I always meditate on Pope Francis’ motto, which is enshrined in his Coat of Arms: “Miserando atque eligendo”, “Forgiven and elected”. He took it from St. Bede the Venerable’s Commentary on the Vocation of Mathew in Matt 9:9-10) (See Office of the Readings, 22 September). Bede says, “Jesus, having seen the young man with the eyes of mercy (miserando) and having called him (eligendo) he said to him; Follow-me”. The atque (and at the same time) indicates that the call is simultaneous with mercy, forgiveness, amnesty. It is not because we are holy that we are called, it is because God needs us for his mission that he forgives us, sanctifies us, consecrates us. It is not because we are intelligent that we are called, it is because God calls us that he gives us the intelligence (understanding) of his word. It is not because we are powerful that we are called, it is because God calls us that he empowers us every day for his mission.
Priests and consecrated persons also pass through different forms of crisis: midlife crisis, vocation crisis, faith crisis or what St. John of the Cross calls the dark night of faith. That is why we do recollections and retreats and are advised to go to confessions at least every two weeks. That is also why we need prayers and moral support from the faithful. At the Eucharist, we pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your apostles, peace I leave you, my peace, I give you, look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church”. We pray that God may look on the priestly sacrifice of our two brothers and on faith of the Church and through them, shower his infinite mercy on them.
Fourth Consolation. We believe in the communion of Saints. The Church teaches us that those who have gone before us are still in communion with us. They are physically absent but they are spiritually present. As we are celebrating now, the angels and saints are celebrating in heaven (Ka esi eme n’uwa ka-esi eme n’enigwe).
The summit of the communion of saints is the Eucharistic celebration. The communion of saints is captured in the hymn, N’oriri di aso, enigwe n’uwa na-emekorita, Chukwu na mmadu aburu otu, ndi no n’enigwe nan di no n’uwa n’emekorita bie oma, buru otu n’ime mmuo, oru ebube, oru itunanya ya iheomimi, Chineke bu amamihe n’onwe ya, ihunanya ebukakwa, umu mmadu kelenu Chukwu; Doo Nna ekene diri gi Chukwu”. In our midst, Frs. Ignatius Izuchi and Anthony Ubiochioma are sitting as priests waiting for us to officially send them forth into the heavenly liturgy.
During the final commendation we will ask the Angels and Saints to lead them to the throne of the Most High God: Ndi nso nke Chukwu, nyere nu ha aka, ndi muozi nke Chineke zutenu ha, naranu mpkurobi ha duru ha duga n’iru nke onye kasi elu ; Ka Kristi onye kporo ha nara ha, ka ndi muozi duruo ha n’ezi obi Abraham. As we cry, let us remember that they are not lost. On the contrary, they are present. They possess a greater power of intercession since they are no more limited in space and time.
May through their intercession we get consolation for our life here on earth until the day we will join them in the heavenly Liturgy. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
Bede Ukwuije, CSSp
1st Assistant General
Pope’s message for 2020 World Day of Peace
“Peace As a Journey of Hope: Dialogue, Reconciliation and Ecological Conversion”
Below is the text of Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Peace, which is celebrated on January 1, 2020, with the theme: “Peace as a Journey of Hope: Dialogue, Reconciliation and Ecological Conversion.”
1. Peace, a journey of hope in the face of obstacles and trial
Peace is a great and precious value, the object of our hope and the aspiration of the entire human family. As a human attitude, our hope for peace is marked by an existential tension that makes it possible for the present, with all its difficulties, to be “lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey”. Hope is thus the virtue that inspires us and keeps us moving forward, even when obstacles seem insurmountable.
Our human community bears, in its memory and its flesh, the scars of ever more devastating wars and conflicts that affect especially the poor and the vulnerable. Entire nations find it difficult to break free of the chains of exploitation and corruption that fuel hatred and violence. Even today, dignity, physical integrity, freedom, including religious freedom, communal solidarity and hope in the future are denied to great numbers of men and women, young and old. Many are the innocent victims of painful humiliation and exclusion, sorrow and injustice, to say nothing of the trauma born of systematic attacks on their people and their loved ones.
The terrible trials of internal and international conflicts, often aggravated by ruthless acts of violence, have an enduring effect on the body and soul of humanity. Every war is a form of fratricide that destroys the human family’s innate vocation to brotherhood.
War, as we know, often begins with the inability to accept the diversity of others, which then fosters attitudes of aggrandizement and domination born of selfishness and pride, hatred and the desire to caricature, exclude and even destroy the other. War is fueled by a perversion of relationships, by hegemonic ambitions, by abuses of power, by fear of others and by seeing diversity as an obstacle. And these, in turn, are aggravated by the experience of war.
As I observed during my recent Apostolic Journey to Japan, our world is paradoxically marked by “a perverse dichotomy that tries to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust, one that ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any form of dialogue. Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation. They can be achieved only on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family of today and tomorrow”.
Every threatening situation feeds mistrust and leads people to withdraw into their own safety zone. Mistrust and fear weaken relationships and increase the risk of violence, creating a vicious circle that can never lead to a relationship of peace. Even nuclear deterrence can only produce the illusion of security.
We cannot claim to maintain stability in the world through the fear of annihilation, in a volatile situation, suspended on the brink of a nuclear abyss and enclosed behind walls of indifference. As a result, social and economic decisions are being made that lead to tragic situations where human beings and creation itself are discarded rather than protected and preserved. How, then, do we undertake a journey of peace and mutual respect? How do we break the unhealthy mentality of threats and fear? How do we break the current dynamic of distrust?
We need to pursue a genuine fraternity based on our common origin from God and exercised in dialogue and mutual trust. The desire for peace lies deep within the human heart, and we should not resign ourselves to seeking anything less than this.
2. Peace, a journey of listening based on memory, solidarity and fraternity
The Hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are among those who currently keep alive the flame of collective conscience, bearing witness to succeeding generations to the horror of what happened in August 1945 and the unspeakable sufferings that have continued to the present time. Their testimony awakens and preserves the memory of the victims, so that the conscience of humanity may rise up in the face of every desire for dominance and destruction. “We cannot allow present and future generations to lose the memory of what happened here. It is a memory that ensures and encourages the building of a more fair and fraternal future”.
Like the Hibakusha, many people in today’s world are working to ensure that future generations will preserve the memory of past events, not only in order to prevent the same errors or illusions from recurring, but also to enable memory, as the fruit of experience, to serve as the basis and inspiration for present and future decisions to promote peace.
What is more, memory is the horizon of hope. Many times, in the darkness of wars and conflicts, the remembrance of even a small gesture of solidarity received can lead to courageous and even heroic decisions. It can unleash new energies and kindle new hope in individuals and communities.
Setting out on a journey of peace is a challenge made all the more complex because the interests at stake in relationships between people, communities and nations, are numerous and conflicting. We must first appeal to people’s moral conscience and to personal and political will. Peace emerges from the depths of the human heart and political will must always be renewed, so that new ways can be found to reconcile and unite individuals and communities.
The world does not need empty words but convinced witnesses, peacemakers who are open to a dialogue that rejects exclusion or manipulation. In fact, we cannot truly achieve peace without a convinced dialogue between men and women who seek the truth beyond ideologies and differing opinions. Peace “must be built up continually”; it is a journey made together in constant pursuit of the common good, truthfulness and respect for law. Listening to one another can lead to mutual understanding and esteem, and even to seeing in an enemy the face of a brother or sister.
The peace process thus requires enduring commitment. It is a patient effort to seek truth and justice, to honour the memory of victims and to open the way, step by step, to a shared hope stronger than the desire for vengeance. In a state based on law, democracy can be an important paradigm of this process, provided it is grounded in justice and a commitment to protect the rights of every person, especially the weak and marginalized, in a constant search for truth. This is a social undertaking, an ongoing work in which each individual makes his or her contribution responsibly, at every level of the local, national and global community.
As Saint Paul VI pointed out, these “two aspirations, to equality and to participation, seek to promote a democratic society… This calls for an education to social life, involving not only the knowledge of each person’s rights, but also its necessary correlative: the recognition of his or her duties with regard to others. The sense and practice of duty are themselves conditioned by the capacity for self-mastery and by the acceptance of responsibility and of the limits placed upon the freedom of individuals or the groups”.
Divisions within a society, the increase of social inequalities and the refusal to employ the means of ensuring integral human development endanger the pursuit of the common good. Yet patient efforts based on the power of the word and of truth can help foster a greater capacity for compassion and creative solidarity.
In our Christian experience, we constantly remember Christ, who gave his life to reconcile us to one another (cf. Rom 5:6-11). The Church shares fully in the search for a just social order; she continues to serve the common good and to nourish the hope for peace by transmitting Christian values and moral teaching, and by her social and educational works.
3. Peace, a journey of reconciliation in fraternal communion
The Bible, especially in the words of the Prophets, reminds individuals and peoples of God’s covenant with humanity, which entails renouncing our desire to dominate others and learning to see one another as persons, sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters. We should never encapsulate others in what they may have said or done, but value them for the promise that they embody. Only by choosing the path of respect can we break the spiral of vengeance and set out on the journey of hope.
We are guided by the Gospel passage that tells of the following conversation between Peter and Jesus: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Mt 18:21-22). This path of reconciliation is a summons to discover in the depths of our heart the power of forgiveness and the capacity to acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters. When we learn to live in forgiveness, we grow in our capacity to become men and women of peace.
What is true of peace in a social context is also true in the areas of politics and the economy, since peace permeates every dimension of life in common. There can be no true peace unless we show ourselves capable of developing a more just economic system. As Pope Benedict XVI said ten years ago in his Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, “in order to defeat underdevelopment, action is required not only on improving exchange-based transactions and implanting public welfare structures, but above all on gradually increasing openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion” (No. 39).
4. Peace, a journey of ecological conversion
“If a mistaken understanding of our own principles has at times led us to justify mistreating nature, to exercise tyranny over creation, to engage in war, injustice and acts of violence, we believers should acknowledge that by so doing we were not faithful to the treasures of wisdom which we have been called to protect and preserve”.
Faced with the consequences of our hostility towards others, our lack of respect for our common home or our abusive exploitation of natural resources – seen only as a source of immediate profit, regardless of local communities, the common good and nature itself – we are in need of an ecological conversion. The recent Synod on the Pan-Amazon Region moves us to make a pressing renewed call for a peaceful relationship between communities and the land, between present and past, between experience and hope.
This journey of reconciliation also calls for listening and contemplation of the world that God has given us as a gift to make our common home. Indeed, natural resources, the many forms of life and the earth itself have been entrusted to us “to till and keep” (Gen 1:15), also for future generations, through the responsible and active participation of everyone. We need to change the way we think and see things, and to become more open to encountering others and accepting the gift of creation, which reflects the beauty and wisdom of its Creator.
All this gives us deeper motivation and a new way to dwell in our common home, to accept our differences, to respect and celebrate the life that we have received and share, and to seek living conditions and models of society that favour the continued flourishing of life and the development of the common good of the entire human family.
The ecological conversion for which we are appealing will lead us to a new way of looking at life, as we consider the generosity of the Creator who has given us the earth and called us to a share it in joy and moderation. This conversion must be understood in an integral way, as a transformation of how we relate to our sisters and brothers, to other living beings, to creation in all its rich variety and to the Creator who is the origin and source of all life. For Christians, it requires that “the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them”.
5. “We obtain all that we hope for”
The journey of reconciliation calls for patience and trust. Peace will not be obtained unless it is hoped for.
In the first place, this means believing in the possibility of peace, believing that others need peace just as much as we do. Here we can find inspiration in the love that God has for each of us: a love that is liberating, limitless, gratuitous and tireless.
Fear is frequently a source of conflict. So it is important to overcome our human fears and acknowledge that we are needy children in the eyes of the One who loves us and awaits us, like the father of the prodigal son (cf. Lk 15:11-24). The culture of fraternal encounter shatters the culture of conflict. It makes of every encounter a possibility and a gift of God’s generous love. It leads us beyond the limits of our narrow horizons and constantly encourages us to a live in a spirit of universal fraternity, as children of the one heavenly Father.
For the followers of Christ, this journey is likewise sustained by the sacrament of Reconciliation, given by the Lord for the remission of sins of the baptized. This sacrament of the Church, which renews individuals and communities, bids us keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, who reconciled “all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20). It requires us to set aside every act of violence in thought, word and deed, whether against our neighbours or against God’s creation.
The grace of God our Father is bestowed as unconditional love. Having received his forgiveness in Christ, we can set out to offer that peace to the men and women of our time. Day by day, the Holy Spirit prompts in us ways of thinking and speaking that can make us artisans of justice and peace.
May the God of peace bless us and come to our aid.
May Mary, Mother of the Prince of Peace and Mother of all the peoples of the earth, accompany and sustain us at every step of our journey of reconciliation.
And may all men and women who come into this world experience a life of peace and develop fully the promise of life and love dwelling in their heart.
From the Vatican, 8 December 2019
POPE’S MESSAGE FOR THE 53rd WORLD COMMUNICATIONS DAY
“We are members of one another” (Eph 4,25).
From social network communities to the human community »
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Ever since the internet first became available, the Church has always sought to promote its use in the service of the encounter between persons, and of solidarity among all. With this Message I would like to invite you once again to reflect on the foundation and importance of our being-in-relation and to rediscover, in the vast array of challenges of the current communications context, the desire of the human person who does not want to be left isolated and alone.
The metaphors of the net and community
Today’s media environment is so pervasive as to be indistinguishable from the sphere of everyday life. The Net is a resource of our time. It is a source of knowledge and relationships that were once unthinkable. However, in terms of the profound transformations technology has brought to bear on the process of production, distribution and use of content, many experts also highlight the risks that threaten the search for, and sharing of, authentic information on a global scale. If the Internet represents an extraordinary possibility of access to knowledge, it is also true that it has proven to be one of the areas most exposed to disinformation and to the conscious and targeted distortion of facts and interpersonal relationships, which are often used to discredit.
We need to recognize how social networks, on the one hand, help us to better connect, rediscover, and assist one another, but on the other, lend themselves to the manipulation of personal data, aimed at obtaining political or economic advantages, without due respect for the person and his or her rights. Statistics show that among young people one in four is involved in episodes of cyberbullying.
In this complex scenario, it may be useful to reflect again on the metaphor of the net, which was the basis of the Internet to begin with, to rediscover its positive potential. The image of the net invites us to reflect on the multiplicity of lines and intersections that ensure its stability in the absence of a centre, a hierarchical structure, a form of vertical organization. The net works because all its elements share responsibility.
From an anthropological point of view, the metaphor of the net recalls another meaningful image: the community. A community is that much stronger if it is cohesive and supportive, if it is animated by feelings of trust, and pursues common objectives. The community as a network of solidarity requires mutual listening and dialogue, based on the responsible use of language.
Everyone can see how, in the present scenario, social network communities are not automatically synonymous with community. In the best cases, these virtual communities are able to demonstrate cohesion and solidarity, but often they remain simply groups of individuals who recognize one another through common interests or concerns characterized by weak bonds. Moreover, in the social web identity is too often based on opposition to the other, the person outside the group: we define ourselves starting with what divides us rather than with what unites us, giving rise to suspicion and to the venting of every kind of prejudice (ethnic, sexual, religious and other). This tendency encourages groups that exclude diversity, that even in the digital environment nourish unbridled individualism which sometimes ends up fomenting spirals of hatred. In this way, what ought to be a window on the world becomes a showcase for exhibiting personal narcissism.
The Net is an opportunity to promote encounter with others, but it can also increase our self-isolation, like a web that can entrap us. Young people are the ones most exposed to the illusion that the social web can completely satisfy them on a relational level. There is the dangerous phenomenon of young people becoming “social hermits” who risk alienating themselves completely from society. This dramatic situation reveals a serious rupture in the relational fabric of society, one we cannot ignore.
This multiform and dangerous reality raises various questions of an ethical, social, juridical, political and economic nature, and challenges the Church as well. While governments seek legal ways to regulate the web and to protect the original vision of a free, open and secure network, we all have the possibility and the responsibility to promote its positive use.
Clearly, it is not enough to multiply connections in order to increase mutual understanding. How, then, can we find our true communitarian identity, aware of the responsibility we have towards one another in the online network as well?
We are members of one another
A possible answer can be drawn from a third metaphor: that of the body and the members, which Saint Paul uses to describe the reciprocal relationship among people, based on the organism that unites them. “Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each to his neighbour, for we are members one of another”
(Eph 4:25). Being members one of another is the profound motivation with which the Apostle invites us to put away falsehood and speak the truth: the duty to guard the truth springs from the need not to belie the mutual relationship of communion. Truth is revealed in communion. Lies, on the other hand, are a selfish refusal to recognize that we are members of one body; they are a refusal to give ourselves to others, thus losing the only way to find ourselves.
The metaphor of the body and the members leads us to reflect on our identity, which is based on communion and on “otherness”. As Christians, we all recognize ourselves as members of the one body whose head is Christ. This helps us not to see people as potential competitors, but to consider even our enemies as persons. We no longer need an adversary in order to define ourselves, because the all-encompassing gaze we learn from Christ leads us to discover otherness in a new way, as an integral part and condition of relationship and closeness.
Such a capacity for understanding and communication among human persons is based on the communion of love among the divine Persons. God is not Solitude, but Communion; he is Love, and therefore communication, because love always communicates; indeed, it communicates itself in order to encounter the other. In order to communicate with us and to communicate himself to us, God adapts himself to our language, establishing a real dialogue with humanity throughout history (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 2).
By virtue of our being created in the image and likeness of God who is communion and communication-of-Self, we carry forever in our hearts the longing for living in communion, for belonging to a community. “Nothing, in fact, is as specific to our nature as entering into a relationship one with another, having need of one another,” says Saint Basil.
The present context calls on all of us to invest in relationships, and to affirm the interpersonal nature of our humanity, including in and through the network. All the more so, we Christians are called to manifest that communion which marks our identity as believers. Faith itself, in fact, is a relationship, an encounter; and under the impetus of God’s love, we can communicate, welcome and understand the gift of the other and respond to it.
Communion in the image of the Trinity is precisely what distinguishes the person from the individual. From faith in God who is Trinity, it follows that in order to be myself I need others. I am truly human, truly personal, only if I relate to others. In fact, the word “person” signifies the human being as a “face”, whose face is turned towards the other, who is engaged with others. Our life becomes more human insofar as its nature becomes less individual and more personal; we see this authentic path of becoming more human in one who moves from being an individual who perceives the other as a rival, to a person who recognizes others as travelling companions.
From a “like” to an “amen”
The image of the body and the members reminds us that the use of the social web is complementary to an encounter in the flesh that comes alive through the body, heart, eyes, gaze, breath of the other. If the Net is used as an extension or expectation of such an encounter, then the network concept is not betrayed and remains a resource for communion. If a family uses the Net to be more connected, to then meet at table and look into each other’s eyes, then it is a resource. If a Church community coordinates its activity through the network, and then celebrates the Eucharist together, then it is a resource. If the Net becomes an opportunity to share stories and experiences of beauty or suffering that are physically distant from us, in order to pray together and together seek out the good to rediscover what unites us, then it is a resource.
We can, in this way, move from diagnosis to treatment: opening the way for dialogue, for encounter, for “smiles” and expressions of tenderness… This is the network we want, a network created not to entrap, but to liberate, to protect a communion of people who are free. The Church herself is a network woven together by Eucharistic communion, where unity is based not on “likes”, but on the truth, on the “Amen”, by which each one clings to the Body of Christ, and welcomes others.
From the Vatican, 24 January 2019, the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales.
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