Leadership (Abuja)

6 January 2013

Nigeria: Jonathan Tasks the Church On Nation Building

President Gooodluck Jonathan in Abuja on Sunday admonished the Church to champion the course of nation building through character moulding of the citizenry.

The President gave the charge in Abuja at the 30th Anniversary Thanksgiving Service of John Cardinal Onaiyekan's, Episcopal ordination as a Bishop and appointment to the College of Cardinals.

"The church, the government and the political actors have the same responsibilities and we believe that the church is at the centre of society building. "Some of the challenges we faced today is because of the character our people have. If the church moulds the people, especially starting from the children, Nigeria will be a better place," he said.

The president also seized the occasion to appreciate efforts of the church at promoting inter-religious dialogue in the country. He recalled that in March 2012, the Pope sent a Cardinal in charge of inter-faith dialogue at the Vatican to Nigeria for inter-face in inter-religious cooperations.

"There is no doubt that immense progresses have been made in this critical area and I am grateful for all the work that had been done by the church. "We all know that no religion preaches or encourages violence. The two major religions in our land preach brotherhood, love and peaceful co-existence which are their foundation.

"Those who do otherwise, do not worship God because it cannot be the same person, who worships God that will encourage killing people, who are also created by God. "We believe that God created all of us and anybody who raises weapon to kill the very one created by God cannot be said to be worshipping God."

Jonathan noted that the appointment of Onaiyekan to the position of cardinal was a clear recognition by the Vatican of the immense contributions of the church in Nigeria to the worldwide catholic movement.

"I see in his appointment as a recognition for those who work and toil for peace, bringing hope to their people and building bridges for reconciliation among men. "I also see it as a great privilege to our country at this time, and in particular to me, since I am serving as the president now."

He described the cleric as "a simple, humble and totally unassuming man yet a man of great distinction, learning and knowledge who always sees himself as a citizen and of course a messenger and servant of God". Jonathan noted that the smooth progression of the cleric in the church hierarchy stood him out as a man of great piety and intellectual strength.

The president expressed the hope "that one day, and I pray it will not be too long, we will also celebrate a Papal Father from Nigeria". Earlier, in a sermon, Onaiyekan said the circumstances of the birth of Jesus Christ, a ruler of justice and peace, should be a great lesson for the country, particularly in the area of religion.

The sermon was centred on the story of Epiphany and circumstances of the birth of Jesus Christ, "the infant king of Bethlehem". Onaiyekan noted that a true religion "must be open to all, embrace peace and devoid of blood shedding.

That Nigeria is deeply religious is a precious asset. "It is, however, sad that our image abroad is tainted with fanatism, religious intolerance, killing and shedding of blood. "We must not allow this to continue. We have to strive to live in peace in our nation with our differences of tribe, culture, tradition, language and religion.

"We must see the image of God in everybody around us and apply the golden rule that we should do to others only what we can do to ourselves," the cardinal said. He said that the congratulatory messages he had received since his appointment cut across religion, tribe, business and politics.

He said the thanksgiving service was in commemoration of his 30 years of ordination as a Bishop and his appointment into the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict the XVI. He recalled that on Jan. 6, 1983, he was ordained Bishop by Pope John Paul II at St. Peters' Basilica in Rome.

Onaiyekan said 14 of them were ordained on the fateful day among which were two Nigerians and four Archbishops. The cleric also noted that the date Jan. 6 was significant in his life as remarkable things in his life had fallen on that date.

According to him, he was ordained a Deacon on Jan. 6, 1969; Bishop on Jan. 6, 1983; took over as Bishop of Ilorin Diocese Jan. 6, 1985, Bishop of Abuja Diocese on Jan. 6, 1992 and the thanksgiving on his elevation to Cardinal on Jan. 6, 2013.

The Senate President, Sen. David Mark, in a goodwill message said the church in the country was faced with many challenges brought about by few disgruntled elements.

He, however, said the challenges could be addressed with the prayers, understanding and unity in the church. Mark thanked the president for sending him as head of the Federal Government's delegation to the Vatican for the consecration of Onaiyekan.

The Deputy Governor of Kogi, Chief Yomi Awoniyi, who represented Gov. Idris Wada at the service, said the occasion was a moment of pride for the government and people of the state.

He said Onaiyekan, who hailed from the state, rose from a humble beginning to the peak of his Episcopal career. The Coordinator of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), Prof Ishaq Oloyede, who represented the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar at the service, underscored the need for religious tolerance and cooperation among various religions.

He described Onaiyekan as a "genuine man of God, academician per excellence, promoter of peace and a pride to the nation and Africa".

Born on Jan. 29, 1944 in Kabba, Kogi, Onaiyekan attended St. Michael Secondary School, Aliade, Benue, and later enrolled at the Major seminary of St. Peter and Paul, Ibadan, Oyo State, and ordained Priest on Aug. 3, 1959.

He was consecrated into the prestigious College of Cardinals on Nov. 24, 2012 in Rome and five other cardinals from the US, Lebanon, Colombia and Philippine. Onaiyekan is the fourth Nigerian Catholic priest to be appointed a cardinal.

Those that preceded him are late Dominic Ekandem, Francis Arinze and Olubunmi Okogie.

Cardinals are the Pope"s closest aides in the Vatican, running in key departments around the world where they head dioceses to oversee the more than 1.2 billion members of the Roman Catholic Church.

NAN also reports that Onaiyekan was the immediate past President of the Christian Association of Nigeria and former President of English Speaking Bishops in Africa among others. (NAN)

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