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Interview with Pope Francis: A Big Heart Open to God (6)



“Talking with Pope Francis is a kind of volcanic flow of ideas that are bound up with each other.”

* The Second Vatican Council


“What did the Second Vatican Council accomplish?” I ask.

“Vatican II was a re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture,” says the pope. “Vatican II produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel. Its fruits are enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation. Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity, but one thing is clear: the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualizing its message for today—which was typical of Vatican II—is absolutely irreversible. Then there are particular issues, like the liturgy according to the VetusOrdo. I think the decision of Pope Benedict [his decision of July 7, 2007, to allow a wider use of the Tridentine Mass] was prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity. What is worrying, though, is the risk of the ideologization of the VetusOrdo, its exploitation.”


*          To Seek and Find God in All Things


At the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis repeatedly declared: “God is real. He manifests himself today. God is everywhere.”These are phrases that echo the Ignatian expression “to seek and find God in all things.” So I ask the pope: “How do you seek and find God in all things?”


“What I said in Rio referred to the time in which we seek God,” he answers. “In fact, there is a temptation to seek God in the past or in a possible future. God is certainly in the past because we can see the footprints. And God is also in the future as a promise. But the ‘concrete’ God, so to speak, is today. For this reason, complaining never helps us find God. The complaints of today about how ‘barbaric’ the world is—these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defense. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today.


“God manifests himself in historical revelation, in history. Time initiates processes, and space crystallizes them. God is in history, in the processes.


“We must not focus on occupying the spaces where power is exercised, but rather on starting long-run historical processes.


We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces.


God manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history. This gives priority to actions that give birth to new historical dynamics. And it requires patience, waiting.


“Finding God in all things is not an ’empirical eureka.’


When we desire to encounter God, we would like to verify him immediately by an empirical method. But you cannot meet God this way.


God is found in the gentle breeze perceived by Elijah. The senses that find God are the ones St. Ignatius called spiritual senses. Ignatius asks us to open our spiritual sensitivity to encounter God beyond a purely empirical approach. A contemplative attitude is necessary: it is the feeling that you are moving along the good path of understanding and affection toward things and situations. Profound peace, spiritual consolation, love of God and love of all things in God—this is the sign that you are on this right path.”


*          Certitude and Mistakes


I ask, “So if the encounter with God is not an ’empirical eureka,’ and if it is a journey that sees with the eyes of history, then we can also make mistakes?”


The pope replies: “Yes, in this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him.It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.


“The risk in seeking and finding God in all things, then, is the willingness to explain too much, to say with human certainty and arrogance: ‘God is here.’ We will find only a god that fits our measure.


The correct attitude is that of St. Augustine: seek God to find him, and find God to keep searching for God forever.Often we seek as if we were blind, as one often reads in the Bible. And this is the experience of the great fathers of the faith, who are our models. We have to re-read the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11. Abraham leaves his home without knowing where he was going, by faith. All of our ancestors in the faith died seeing the good that was promised, but from a distance…. Our life is not given to us like an opera libretto, in which all is written down; but it means going, walking, doing, searching, seeing…. We must enter into the adventure of the quest for meeting God; we must let God search and encounter us.


“Because God is first; God is always first and makes the first move. God is a bit like the almond flower of your Sicily, Antonio, which always blooms first. We read it in the Prophets. God is encountered walking, along the path. At this juncture, someone might say that this is relativism. Is it relativism? Yes, if it is misunderstood as a kind of indistinct pantheism. It is not relativism if it is understood in the biblical sense, that God is always a surprise, so you never know where and how you will find him. You are not setting the time and place of the encounter with him. You must, therefore, discern the encounter. Discernment is essential.


“If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing.”


“If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists­—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies. I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else—God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”

*Must We Be Optimistic?

The pope’s words remind me of some of his past reflections, in which as a cardinal he wrote that God is already living in the city, in the midst of all and united to each. It is another way, in my opinion, to say what St. Ignatius wrote in the Spiritual Exercises, that God “labors and works” in our world. So I ask: “Do we have to be optimistic? What are the signs of hope in today’s world? How can I be optimistic in a world in crisis?”

“I do not like to use the word optimism because that is about a psychological attitude,” the pope says. “I like to use the word hope instead, according to what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11, that I mentioned before. The fathers of the faith kept walking, facing difficulties. And hope does not disappoint, as we read in the Letter to the Romans. Think instead of the first riddle of Puccini’s opera ‘Turandot,’” the pope suggests.


At that moment I recalled more or less by heart the verses of the riddle of the princess in that opera, to which the solution is hope: “In the gloomy night flies an iridescent ghost./ It rises and opens its wings/ on the infinite black humanity./ The whole world invokes it/ and the whole world implores it./ But the ghost disappears with the dawn/ to be reborn in the heart./ And every night it is born/ and every day it dies!”


“See,” says Pope Francis, “Christian hope is not a ghost and it does not deceive. It is a theological virtue and therefore, ultimately, a gift from God that cannot be reduced to optimism, which is only human. God does not mislead hope; God cannot deny himself. God is all promise.”




How ENTRACO agents ambush motorists in Owerri



How ENTRACO agents ambush motorists in Owerri
By Emeka Ani

Motorists in Owerri have raised the alarm over constant harassment by officials of the Imo State Environmental Transformation Commission – ENTRACO.

The drivers claim that the officials of the Commission ambush them at various deplorable points of roads in the capital city, waiting for them to contravene either the “One-Way” drive or to drive against traffic by using the wrong lane.

A victim of the commission told The Leader, “You know that some portions of the dual carriage roads in Owerri are so deplorable that only tippers and lorries can access the flooded portions. So, in order to avoid the damaged portion, those of us with small cars drive against traffic to avoid getting stuck in the flood. And as soon as you try to avoid the flood, the ENTRACO officials, who know the travails of motorists and lay ambush will swoop on you, arrest you and drag you to their office where you are made to pay a certain amount of fine.”

“The ENTRACO boss and his team are aware that some roads in Owerri, especially in New Owerri are in very bad shape and no sensible driver will use them. The only solution is to use the section of the road that is manageable, and which the Commission says is an offence. What exactly do they want motorists to do in that circumstance?. Carry our vehicles on the head? So, let the State Government address the state of roads, make them motorable instead of ambushing motorists who try to save their vehicles from the deplorable roads.”

A caller on Ozisa Radio Fm Owerri on Wednesday confirmed the above claim, as she too was a victim. According to her, she was trying to avoid a bad portion along the West End Axis of Owerri when she was encountered by ENTRACO officials who dragged her and her vehicle to ENTRACO office at Owerri Municipal for disobedience to one-way drive. They deflated the four tyres of her car. To retrieve the car, she had to pay N20,000, which surprisingly was not receipted.

Another complaint during the radio programme was lack of uniform payment for a particular offence. According to a contributor to the interactive session, the official fine for driving against traffic is said to be N5,000. But officials of ENTRACO demand as much as N15,000 and N20,000 for the same offence.

The Commission was therefore asked to make public official fines for various traffic offences and illegal parking etc, to avoid disagreement.

Responding, the ENTRACO General Manager, Hon Macdonald Ebere apologized for the overzealousness of some of his staff and asked victims to contact his office if they felt aggrieved by the actions of his staff. He also reeled out various phone numbers to be contacted if victims were not satisfied by the actions of his commission.

Hon. Ebere noted instances where he had to sack some overzealous staff who dainted the image of his commission.

However, the issue of payment of N20,000 by a victim which was not receipted and the official fine for various offences so as to guide motorists and reduce confusion and conflicts, were yet to be addressed.

Hon. Ebere warned motorists, street traders and owners of illegal structures to obey ENTRACO directives, adding that the three weeks notice given to them had elapsed.

In answer to another question, the ENTRACO boss said his commission would soon address various illegal motor parks in Owerri Municipal.

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Odenigbo has helped Ndigbo to appreciate the beauty, richness of Igbo Language – Archbishop Obinna



Odenigbo has helped Ndigbo to appreciate the beauty, richness of Igbo Language – Archbishop Obinna

The Leader publishes the last part of our exclusive interview with Archbishop Obinna on the Silver Jubilee of the inauguration of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province and his Installation as Metropolitan of the Province.


Your Grace, you established Odenigbo lecture series in 1996. Do you think it has achieved the purpose for which it was established?

The issue is that at some stage the Igbos who were learned, felt that because you spoke English that meant that you were learned, forgetting that even through the Igbo language you are also learned and that our ancestors had used this language to bring us all up before the white man came. If we had to depend on English for our survival, all along Igbo would not have existed. So Odenigbo has helped our people to appreciate the beauty and richness of the Igbo language and it is also helping the church to spread the good news using the Igbo language. There has been a flowering of even publications in the Igbo language. Music in Igbo language is better appreciated than music in English, especially from the cultural point of view and even from the church/spiritual point of view.

When I think of such songs as “Ihe nke okwukwe abiala,” well, I am sure there are English songs that talk about light, but this one touches the way the Igbo language penetrates better into the Igbo soul, into the Igbo heart than English.

Those who teach Igbo have continued to appreciate what I have done for them because there was a time those who did or taught Igbo were considered low class but with the Odenigbo lecture series those studying Igbo Linguistics feel a great sense of belonging to the academic world too and those who studied Christianity or Religion also recognize that these are fields of study that are also valued not necessarily monitarily but spiritually and culturally. So, a lot of people, even among my co-workers, who used to speak English so much, they now address issues using the Igbo language and when I go on pastoral visits, addresses are also presented to me in Igbo language.

It’s not only about the language, we have been able to touch some traditions, like the ofo. I have been able to go or send priests to now look at the ofo, the symbol of authority in families and compounds. We have been able to translate the ofo into the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, because “Obe Jesu Kristi” is the ultimate ofo, the ultimate ogu; only Christ could have carried the sins of the world.

So, by studying the symbols, we also discover the meanings embedded in them and how they co-relate with higher meanings, the universal meanings that are embedded in the Christian symbols. Likewise, the issue of “ikwa ala.” I have handled that. The issue of incest, having to use Nnabe, Okuko ayaniriya etc, instead of using those symbols and going through an ordeal that is embedded in arusi, we now have created a process or some ordeal but is not anchored in arusi. So we are able to do the purification and reconciling of the people without resort to traditional symbols. We take the meanings and elevate them to a more dignified position.

As we celebrate the silver jubilee of the province and your installation as the Archbishop, what is your message to the province on this occasion?

When the bishops of this province agreed that we celebrate this moment, it was considered a spiritual moment, a moment to deepen further, the light of faith that has reached us, which is also the good news of salvation. So my message is that we all use this moment to deepen our faith, our knowledge of God in Christ, to welcome this good news into the intimacy of our mind, our spirits, our bodies, our families, of our communities.

The prayer we are offering “Ekpere inye ekele na ncheta iri afo abuo na ise nke province owere,” captures the trust of the celebration, which is evangelization intent. So, both the prayer and the mbem (anthem), the provincial anthem which was taken from the Centenary, we are using it to deepen, to purify our lives and make the faith more solid among our people. It is also a challenge to every Catholic to proclaim the good news wherever he or she is. So, it’s not just our coming together to eat and drink, it is a challenge to become more committed Catholics, more committed devotees. That has been really behind whatever we are doing.

The catechetical quiz has already taken place among the children and also among all of us. We already had the symposium earlier, on the unity and integrity of the Catholic faith which took place at the Seat of Wisdom Seminary, then the music fiesta that we had a few days ago, is also part of using music to glorify God and to spread the good news of salvation. So, I see every aspect of it as an illustration of our faith or an expression of missionary trust.

When we feed the poor on the 2nd of September, it is also part of our duty and mission to continue to care for the poor and the needy among us. Yes, we do that quite regularly, we want them to be part and parcel of this celebration. The colloquium we have on Catholic Missioning across the world and Catholic missioning in our province, is a direct invitation for all of us to become missionaries of the faith and in the faith.

So, my message is deepen your faith in the light of the Silver jubilee celebration, which echoes into our hearts, into our land, the good news of salvation and may we become more committed Catholic missionaries in the villages, the parishes, work places, every community, along the streets, in our fields, in our offices, on the roads, cars, aeroplanes, wherever you are, be a missionary. Thank you.

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Ban on armed cattle herders: Chief Finbar Ogunta gives kudos to South East governors, calls for more joint ventures



Ban on armed cattle herders: Chief Finbar Ogunta gives kudos to South East governors, calls for more joint ventures

By John Agbakwuru

South East governors have been commended for their recent ban on the movement of armed cattle-rearers in their various communities.

They have also received a pat on the back for the decision to henceforth monitor from the air, the security conditions of the forests in the region.

An Owerri-based, business man and community leader from Ideato North, Chief Sir Finbar Ogunta, gave the commendations at the weekend while chatting with The Leader.

He also proffered solutions to the perennial insecurity challenges in the country, assessed the adequacy of current measures being applied by the federal and state governments to this nagging issue.

Chief Ogunta spoke on the role religious leaders should play in influencing their members and sanitizing their communities, so as to nip insecurity in the bud as well as check youth unemployment and restiveness and government’s attitude to the “Revolution now” activists.

Below are excerpts of the answers to the questions fielded:

The South East governors ban on armed cattle herdsmen is a welcome development. We have been waiting for such decision for a very long time. Our governors should know that we do not expect too much from them. This is a simple way of protection of our mothers in the villages. The decision did not harm the Igbos, fulanis or the herdsmen because Igbos are also doing business in Hausaland and they have never destroyed any life or property there.

The Hausas /Fulani have been doing business with us since ever we knew them. There has never been a time they destroyed any life or crop till recently. But since it looks as if they have support from powers that be, things have gone bad. The impunity with which they act has worsened things. From their behaviours, you will know that they are not afraid at all.

On his solution to the widespread insecurity in the country, Chief Ogunta said: First and foremost, we should be sincere to ourselves about the security agencies that we have in this country. They are created by the law of the land to protect the citizens, but certain issues militate against their efforts to do so. They are not better equipped than the aggressors/criminals. Their welfare should be improved upon in terms of good salaries, health allowance, housing and family welfare.

The government should improve on their welfare and allow them to co-ordinate and work together to curb insecurity.

Asked how effective government measures have been, in fighting insecurity, he replied. In my opinion, the measures that the federal and state governments have been applying so far are like one step forward, five steps backward. The insecurity in the system has been politicized, tribalized, regionized and used to waste tax payers money.

To this effect, the government at all levels should be pro-active and sincere in fighting insecurity in Nigeria.

Speaking on how religious leaders (Christian and Islam) can help nip insecurity in the bud, he said: As a Knight of the Catholic Church, I feel leaders from all religions have so much to contribute to curb insecurity in Nigeria. Their followers listen and practice what they hear from them, therefore they should preach peace. Our religious leaders in this country with the amount of wealth they control can create jobs and employ so many youths to reduce idle hands who are being used as tools to fuel insecurity in the country. The religious leaders should start to educate and enlighten their followers, especially the youth on the implications of being used to put wrong people in position of authority in Nigeria. They should also condemn all actions and inactions perpetrated by the tools of insecurity in all parts of the nation. In other words, all killings and other vices should be condemned in totality.

On how to put an end to youth restiveness, Chief Ogunta said: Regarding youth restiveness, In our culture, we used to pick our young ones and freely train them in different lines of business and at the end help them start up their own.

History has shown that the most successful men in Igbo land went through that process. So, I still feel that people should be encouraged to help train our young ones through that culture to help curb the restiveness of youths in Nigeria. Religious leaders should also put pressure on the government both state and federal to create jobs to engage at least from 1000 to 2000 youths every year in each state. Such meaningful jobs, especially setting up of industries or institutions should be based on skills acquisition. This must be fought for collectively by all religious leaders in various states.

Discussing how Governor Emeka Ihedioha can achieve his “Rebuild Imo Agenda”, Sir Ogunta replied: Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha has been in government as a Federal Legislator in this country for many years, making laws for the good running of Nigeria. Therefore, he has the capacity of knowing what the people want. He should remember that PDP has been out of power for some years. It is good, he came up with the Rebuild Imo Agenda. To make rebuild Imo agenda a reality, I will advice that he should use only people who have integrity. Governor Ihedioha should try as much as he can to avoid those who want to make all their fortune in a night, meaning, desperate wealth-seekers, sycophants and unqualified persons in various ministries and departments.

Any other burning issue?

The only burning issue I have in this country is the rate of killings, destructions of villages and families, burning, maiming, kidnapping without sufficient condemnation from official quarters and religious leaders.

Before the victory of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha and PDP in Imo State, we the indigenes and members of PDP in particular have been searching for solutions and alternatives to the bad governance of past administration of APC. Among all the contestants, we found Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of PDP qualified to handle the ruined state. We also, realized that there will be a huge task ahead to take away power from a man who believed that the mantle belongs to him and his family. We now decided on a house-to-house campaign, mostly in Ideato North to unsit APC in Imo State. All the leaders of PDP in Ideato North LGA, including my humble self volunteered to be the polling booth agents to make sure that the results were not tampered with and for a free and fair election for every polling booth. Despite all odds, we succeeded in protecting the votes and results from being altered and Governor Emeka Ihedioha rightly won the election.

He had this to say about the, “Revolution Now” activists:
“Revolution now” is an ideology propounded by a group headed by Sowore, who was supported by different interests. I see it as a wake-up call on the government to sit up. I however feel there is another way to channel that ideology to have more positive effects on the society. The ideology should be enforced at different arms of leadership, the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature.

You cannot attempt to change Nigeria from up down and succeed. If you try that, two things will happen, either you go left or you will be corrupted by the system.
My own approach is that, they should start from the legislators in various constituencies. All constituencies should investigate how their constituency allowances are being used. If not properly used or not even used at all, revolution now starts from that point. Those up will be hearing the message from those down, while the governors would hear that people are revolting . You will now see that the Presidency will adjust itself to satisfy the yearnings of Nigerians.

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