President Goodluck Jonathan and Rev. John Cardinal Onaiyekan yesterday condemned killings in the name of religion across the country, saying those who take the life of other people created by God do not know God.
According to the president, killing is contrary to the dictates of true religions because the major religions in the country do not encourage violence and hate. Instead, he said, they preach brotherhood, love and peaceful co-existence.
Speaking in a church service at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral, Garki, Abuja, during the 30th episcopal ordination anniversary and celebration of the elevation of Archbishop Onaiyekan to a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, the president maintained that whoever kills in the name of religion cannot claim to worship God.
He said, "We all know no religion preaches or encourages violence and hate. Both major religions in this our land preach brotherhood, love and peaceful co-existence. This is their foundation and, of course, the motivation for us as Christians.
"Those who do otherwise, as His Grace also said -- I cannot be a person who will worship the god that will encourage the people to kill people he himself created. We believe that God created all of us and anybody who uses weapons to kill the very one created by God cannot be worshipping God."
Admitting that the country faces a lot of challenges, Jonathan said the church, just like the political leaders, have the responsibility to mould the characters of Nigerians to put them on the right path.
He said, "The church, the government, the political actors have the same responsibility. For us, we believe that the church is at the centre of society building because some of the challenges we face today is because of the kind of characters our people have.
"If the church moulds us, moulds the people, and society moulds its children, then Nigeria will surely be a better place."
On the Vatican's elevation of Archbishop Onaiyekan, the president said it was a measure of the Vatican's recognition of the immense contribution of the church in Nigeria to the worldwide Catholic movement.
This, he added, was why he sent a high-powered federal government delegation to Rome to witness the investiture of Cardinal Onaiyekan in November last year.
He further observed that the Cardinal's elevation was a recognition to those who work and toil for peace, giving hope to their people and building bridges for reconciliation among many.
Cardinal Onaiyekan had earlier said since justice and peace always go together, no ruler could be great without justice, fairness and concern for the needy.
He stated that the fact that Nigerians were a deeply religious people was enough to be grateful to God, adding that those who use religion to divide the people or even kill presumably for religion could not be worshipping God.
"But if our religion means that we exclude anyone else, looking down on them with spiritual arrogance, we then run the danger of missing its path that leads to God," he said.
In his sermon, Cardinal Onaiyekan lamented that the image of the country has been tainted because of fanaticism, religious intolerance, killing and shedding of blood.
"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."
He however stressed that the birth of Jesus Christ should serve as lesson for the country, especially in the area of religion, adding that true religion must be open to all, peaceful and abhor the shedding of blood.
He recalled that he was ordained a deacon on Jan. 6, 1969; a 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.
Senate president David Mark, in a goodwill message, lamented that churches in the country were faced with many challenges brought about by a few disgruntled elements.
He said the challenges could however be addressed with prayers, understanding and unity.
Mark, while congratulating Onaiyekan on his elevation, said "irrespective of tribe and tongues and creed, we are all gathered here today because of you."
The Kogi State governor, Idris Wada, who was represented by his deputy, Yomi Awoniyi, described the Cardinal who hails from Kogi State as "a role model and inspirational figure in contemporary and emerging generations".
He hailed Onaiyekan for his faithfulness which defines his rise "against all odds" to the height that he has attained.
For his part, the coordinator of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), Prof Ishaq Oloyede, who also represented the Sultan of Sokoto Sa'ad Abubakar at the service, called for religious tolerance and cooperation among the various religions.
Prof Isaq Oloyede described Cardinal Onayeikan as a a genuine man of God, a pride to the nation and Africa, a promoter of peace and a scholar who cannot be regarded as secondary by any standard.
He further called on Nigerians not to allow miscreants to "penetrate and exploit our multi-cultural and religious" diversity.
President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, called on religious leaders to use religion to conquer the problems of insecurity and terrorism, kidnapping, and other vices plaguing the country.
Paying tribute to the Cardinal who, he said, has made Nigeria proud, he however called on him to mobilise his intellectual resources in the abolition of gay marriage and other issues battling against the church.
Onaiyekan is the fourth Nigerian Catholic priest to be appointed a Cardinal. He was preceded by the late Dominic Ekandem, Francis Arinze and Olubunmi Okogie.