REPORT ON THE MISSION CONGRESS OF THE CATHOLIC ABEOKUTA DIOCESE
The Mission congress took place on the 15th of July, 2023 at the Divine Mercy Pastoral Centre, Obada-oko, Abeokuta, Ogun State. In attendance were the Bishop - Most Rev. Dr. Peter Olukayode Odetoyinbo, Priests, Male and Female religious, catechists, representatively of the lay apostolate organizations- Laity, CMON, CWON, HCA of the Diocese. The congress was a coming together of all the “stakeholders” in the missionary enterprise of the Diocese (the Local ordinary, Priests, Religious and all the faithful) to discuss, evaluate the state of the mission of the Catholic Diocese of Abeokuta with the aim of identifying the progress and problems while proffering solutions to them. It was also a preparation for the 5th National Mission Congress which will take place on the 24 – 27th of October 2023 in the Archdiocese of Owerri. The theme of the Congress was: Do not be afraid am with you (cf. Isaiah 41:10), an assurance that Prophet Isaiah needed to carry out his mission among the hostilities and realities in Israel even among the chosen people of God.
The Congress began with the celebration of the Holy Mass at the Chapel of the Pastoral Centre. The Bishop made a call for the need for priests, religious and laity of the Diocese to rededicate the mission of Christ and the Church in the Diocese of Abeokuta. Christ commissioned the apostles and every baptized Christian to “go to the whole world proclaim the good news and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them all I have taught you, behold I am with you always till the end of the world” (Matt 28: 18-20). Therefore, everyone, baptized - Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons and Laity have this obligation to proclaim the Good News and teach all nations.
After the mass, the Bishop welcomed everyone to the mission Congress with his keynote address. He said that just as God offered comfort to the son of Israel, God is also offering his comfort and solace to the Diocese of Abeokuta and in a special way for those priests, religious, catechists, prayers leaders who carry out the mission in the difficult situation and parts of our Diocese. However, he highlighted the challenges confronting the mission as fear, worries and anxieties, pains which they encounter every day as they struggle to adapt to difficult political, academic, religious, social and economic policies and situations. Some of the challenges include:
1. The insecurity, banditry, kidnapping, arm robbery, fraudulent practices, deadly high ways, family challenges, health issues and many others which threaten their peace of mind and discourage them from carrying out the mission.
2. Various modern ideologies, policies and problems that have severe influences on our spiritual, psychological, family, economic and political life.
3. The continuous eroding of values, increase in moral decay, lack of regard for human life and loss of the sense of sacred even by the Priests and religiousas a result of the use of social media.
4. The influence of Pentecostalism on our Catholic faith is another obvious effect.
5. The introduction of the traditional religious ceremonies recognized by States that have brought to fore the challenges the mission will face in our State and Diocese. This is clearly seen in our choice of choruses, pattern of prayers, other practices which sometimes do not conform to the traditional teaching of the church as said in order to meet up with the new reality of worshippers, which does not explain why we must abandon out traditional culture and practices as Catholics.
6. The lowering of catholic teaching and values by Catholics in the way and manner they lead prayers, celebrate the liturgy and this has affected homes and even schools.
7. Nonchalant attitude toward deepening of the faith.
8. General lack of interest in deepening the Catholic faith. As a matter of necessity, our catechesis must be taken seriously, especially for the young ones, for we need to catch them young and deepen their faith. Intense preparation should be done in preparing the children for sacraments. The more constant and consistent we are in guiding, and teaching the H.C.A, C.Y.O.N, C.W.O.N, C.M.O.N, Marriage Counseling, Schools, intensify catechetical Sundays etc, and other societies the better we will at least sustain the mission within and encourage the mission without i.e outside the Catholic members to others Muslims, Pentecostals, traditional worshippers alike.
9. The struggle for survival, meeting up with the physical and financial needs of the children have kept many parents from fulfilling their duty as pastors of their home. Many families today have been separated by the hardship and difficulties they experienced in their marriage.
10. Exodus of many youths, especially Catholic ladies from the Church. Some have been taken out of the Church through marriage, despite the promises signed in the dispensation form.
The Bishop therefore enjoined everyone to rededicate themselves as priests, religious, catechists, married couples and baptized Catholics to the mission especially at this period of Synodality when the Church calls everyone to participate in Communion with one another in order to fulfill the mission.
The second aspect of the congress was the talk delivered by Very Rev. Fr. Martin A. Olowoyeye, P.M.S Director, Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan. The topic was: Mission in the Catholic Diocese of Abeokuta, Challenges and Prospects. He traced missionary of the church to the Bible where ‘mission’ was seen as the divine activity of sending intermediaries whether supernatural or human to speak or do God’s will. The link between the Old Testament and the New Testament on mission is “sending” with the Holy Spirit as the principal agent of every missionary endeavour.As applied to the Church’s activity, mission is a mandate given by Christ “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” (Mk 16:15).
He cited many Church documents on mission; Sancta Dei Civitas (Pope Leo XIII, 1880), Maximum Illud (Benedict XV, 1919) Rerum Ecclesiae (Pius XI, 1926) Evangelii Praecones (Pius XII, 1951) Fidei Donum (Pius XII, 1957) Ad Gentes (Vatican II, 1965) Evangelii Nuntiandi (Paul VI, 1975) Redemptoris Missio (John Paul II, 1990), Ecclesia in Africa (John Paul II, 1995) and a host of other documents including the World Mission Sunday messages of Popes down the ages.The Church is bound to the mission of Jesus Christ. It is for the purpose of the divine mission that we co-exist in the Church in our various hierarchical order. From the Pope, the Cardinals, the Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Religious and the Lay Faithful. It is for the same mission that that we co-exist as Bishop, Priests, Religious and Lay Faithful of Abeokuta Diocese because the divine missionary mandate and the growth of the Church must be brought about externally by the action of men and in a human manner in particular locations and situations.
The Pontifical mission societies as instruments for the mission. The Pontifical Mission Societies (P.M.S) are a worldwide network at the service of the Holy Father to sustain the mission and the young churches through prayer and charity. There are four Pontifical Mission Societies namely: 1. The Pontifical Mission Society for the Propagation of Faith (P.O.F) 2. The Pontifical Mission Society for the Holy Childhood Association (H.C.A) 3. The Pontifical Mission Society for the Missionary Union (of Priests and Religious), (P.M.U) 4. The Pontifical Mission Society for St. Peter The Apostle. (S.P.A). Each of these arms has its own identity and function.It is called ‘Pontifical’ because these societies have been given responsibilities by the Pope to support the preaching of the Gospel. The primary role of each of these arms is evangelization. Each society, focusing on a particular but important aspect or group of the Church discusses methods, ways of being missionary in its own capacity to the world.
MISSION IN THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF ABEOKUTA
The creation of the Catholic Diocese of Abeokuta was announced on Friday, November 21st 1997 by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. It was carved out of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos. Most Rev. Dr. Alfred Adewale Martins was installed as the first Bishop and the Diocese was erected on January 24th, 1998. The Diocese started with 9 Parishes and 9 incardinated Priests. Ten years after (2007) the Diocese had 17 Parishes and one Quasi Parish, in the year 2014, the Diocese had 32 Parishes, 26 years after the pronouncement, Abeokuta Diocese now has 70 Parishes. Abeokuta Diocese, like Ogun State in which it is situated, does not only connect to the parent Archdiocese of Lagos with the other closely related A/Dioceses of Ibadan and Ijebu-Ode, but it also links the Diocese of Port Novo in the Republic of Benin. Some indigenes of the Parishes share the same ethnic and kinship ties with their Benin counterpart in the adjacent Parishes of Ketou, Pobe, Sakete and Adjara.We cannot talk about mission in the Diocese of Abeokuta without reference to the deeply rooted works of the Fathers of the Society of African Mission (S.M.A) and the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostle (O.L.A). In the year 1866, Pere Francis Xavier Boghero made a visit to Abeokuta but the foundation of the permanent mission in Abeokuta is dated in the official chronicle to 29th June, 1880; the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul (perhaps the reason behind the Cathedral been named “Ss. Peter and Paul”). Pere Theodore Holley was the first superior of the mission.
The evangelization strategy used by the early missionaries was “getting at a man’s soul through his body”. This strategy, brought about a wider socio economic impact, which made the Church to open her doors to numerous and widely acknowledged high quality medical and educational facilities and institutions to all and sundry. Consequently, in the medical sector we have: the historic Sacred Heart Hospital, Lantoro, and the Leprosarium and the mission health centres in Ayetoro, Ajebo, Ajilete, Ado Odo and Imeko. In the educational sector, the mission’s prominent institutions include: the historic St. Leo Teachers’ College Abeokuta founded in 1948, but unfortunately taken over by the Government and its gorgeous site converted to the present day Nigerian Navy School, St. Peter’s College (formerly Fr. Coquard Memorial College at inception in 1956), Our Lady of Apostles Convent School, Itesi Abeokuta, St. Stephen Secondary Commercial School, Ado Odo (formerly a Secondary Modern School) and perhaps the most famous today; St. Bernadette Nursery and Primary School, Onikolobo. That is where we are coming from. That is our past. The past was not perfect, it had its challenges.
Challenges: Some of the challenges especially for the Church in Nigeria include:
1. Insecurity: The insecurity of our nation has affected the mission of the Church. The target of Christians especially of Catholics and Catholic Priests is very worrisome. Last year (2022), at least 145 Catholic Priests were killed and 30 others were kidnapped in 39 terror attacks. This year again, we have had lots of Priests killed. Abeokuta has its horrific tales too with the death of Rev Fr. Luke Adeleke in 2021 on his way back from Outstations; he died in active service. Many Priests who were kidnapped are yet to recover from their traumatic experiences. Yet they have to keep working.
2. Anticlericalism: is gaining more grounds today. Priests are confronted more than ever before. Familiarity and the refusal of Priests to dance to the tune of those who are influential wherever we find ourselves could lead to anticlericalism.
3. Health challenges: Without good health, Bishops, Priests, Religious and Lay Faithful cannot function properly. We should endeavour to take good care of our health. We must try to plan retirement and welfare packages for Priests and Religious.
4. Diverse cultures and languages: Abeokuta Diocese is blessed with many ethnic groups, cultures and languages. Of course, missionary activity must be carried out within a particular group, culture and language. However, we must have pastoral consideration for everyone which includes the indigenous groups of a particular community.
5. Lack of infrastructure/amenities: While Abeokuta township may enjoy good road network, we must realize that it is not the same with those on the outskirts. The bad roads, unavailability of good water and light affects the mission activity. Where the means is available, the Church can also make provision for the community.
6. Unending demands from home parish: Many of our Parishioners are not indigene of our Parish communities. As such, most of them are committed to the course of their home Parish. This further affects their missionary commitment to where they live.
7. Mission amidst harsh economic realities: The poor economic realities of our nation is obvious. In recent times, the economic hardship has worsened. In this year 2023, we have encountered and survived the ‘cashless policy regime’ and now the ‘removal of fuel subsidy’ is biting on everyone. The cost of daily maintenance of rectories, schools, hospitals has doubled. Not to talk of weekly or monthly maintenance.
8. Youths and attraction of modern worship centres: Ogun State, where Abeokuta Diocese is located does not only have Pentecostal centres and churches, but is the headquarters to these Churches. Along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, most of our youths have become their members even many adults too. Some will tell you they are attracted to their building, the environment, the way their pastors preach etc. they do not need our permission to go to such places. They just go without any feeling of guilt or remorse. Some go there because they feel that is where their problems will be solved. This has created a big challenge in the Church. For several decades now, we have been treating the topic “influence of Pentecostalism on the Catholic Church”. Thesis, books, long and short essays have been written, but I can tell you that it is getting worse and we are losing our young vibrant future soldiers to these churches.
9. Weakening of our pious societies: It is not the case that the Catholic Church does not have room for lay people to pray. The Church has established many Pious Societies (St. Anthony, Legion of Mary, Divine Mercy, Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Jude, Block Rosary Crusade, Holy Family etc) to help us on our spiritual journey. Unfortunately, most of us (Priests and Lay Faithful) are not interested in these societies. We have not experienced the efficacy of these prayers, hence we are not bold enough to recommend them to people when they are in distress. Some Priests even look down on these prayer groups as if they have nothing to offer. Also, members of these societies are not available on weekdays which is their days of prayer meeting. And only the elderly belong to these societies.
10. Inadequate Priests for the mission: Abeokuta Diocese even at 25 years is still a young Diocese and in need of more Priests. Considering the large expanse of land that the Diocese, covers one would expect that over 100 Parishes should exist by now, but even if they exist where is the man power? The collaboration and pastoral assistance of Male and Female Religious must have contributed a lot to the pastoral supply of the Diocese. Despite that more Priests are still needed. We must therefore continue to encourage vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life.
There is no doubt that the Church in Abeokuta has experienced immense growth and development in all areas of its existence (Spiritual, physical, financial, structural, pastoral, human and capacity building). The increase in the number of indigenous Priests (from 9 incardinated Priests at inception to 75), Religious (10 male, 11 female), Schools (6 Nur/Pry, 5 colleges), Parishes (from 9 Parishes at inception to 70 presently), Hospitals, Institutions of investment, Divine Mercy Pastoral Centre and the establishment of a Regional Seminary of St. Albert Idowu Offonron within Abeokuta Diocese are evidences of growth and an indication of a promising future for the Diocese.
In the 25 years of its erection, the Church in Abeokuta Diocese can boast of a family Church where Priests and Lay Faithful are co-responsible in the missionary work. If there is no co-responsibility, there will be no increase in the number of Priests, the feats achieved in terms of structural development will not be.
The geographical location of the Diocese, been so close to the economic capital of the country (Lagos) also puts Abeokuta Diocese at an advantage. The close proximity to Lagos will lead to further expansion of the Diocese to enable the creation of more Parishes and the provision of more infrastructure for the people.
The increase in the number of nursery/primary and secondary schools is an indication that the formation of children and youths (the leaders of tomorrow) is a priority in Abeokuta Diocese. When the formation of children and youths are taken seriously, the future of the Church is promising. Our lay faithful should further support the effort of the Church by sending their children to catholic schools. In as much as our missionary mandate is for all (Catholics and non-Catholics), we must ensure that our children are beneficiaries of the Catholic formation.
The pastoral formation of the youths in Abeokuta Diocese is also commendable. Let us not be discouraged with the life style and ingratitude of our youths. There are many good Catholic youths out there. Do not say that the youths are irresponsible, I will leave them alone. If the mother Church gives up on them, then we are no longer mother.
Priests and Religious in the missionary enterprise are either planted or buried. Planting and burial are two different concepts but with the same process of digging and putting inside the ground. While planting yields fresh trees, burial yields nothing. The same process for all Priests and Religious is posting or transfer. But you determine if you are buried or planted. For the prospects and plans of the Diocese of Abeokuta to be actualized, we must plant ourselves.
What is our pastoral or evangelization strategy? Abeokuta diocese should have a pastoral strategy or plan or target for each year. This plan should cut across the various phases of missionary life of the Church. And a quarterly review of this plan is necessary.For this pastoral plan to be achieved, there must be collaboration of the entire Diocese with the Chief Shepherd, collaboration and good rapport between the Priests, Religious and the Lay Faithful. For our mission in Abeokuta Diocese to be relevant in the 21st century, we must make use of the best means of communication of the time. Our Lord Jesus used the best means of communication of his time. Apostle Paul used the best means of communication of his time. Communication and social media are gifts of and for the mission. Our problem in the Catholic Church is not about content. There is no topic in this world that the Catholic Church has not touched; our problem is about delivery.