On Tuesday, 7th November, 2017, Bigard received some members of the Department of Mission and Dialogue, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja, headed by the Catholic Bishop of Kano, Most Rev. John Niyiring (OSA). A session which took place in the Seminary auditorium at about 8:30am had all seminarians and virtually all Formators of Bigard in attendance. The meeting, which centred the need for mission work in our country Nigeria, dwelt on sensitization on the best way to carry out this mission through dialogue, bearing in mind that the focus should be on peaceful co-existence and not primarily on conversion, even though conversion may occur in the process. Among the delegates were Rev. Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omomokhua (Director of the Department), Rev. Fr. Joseph Tile Nomhwange (SMA), Sylvia Nwobodo and Amazaih Dauji. The Department of Mission and Dialogue, according to the director, co-ordinates the activities of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria in the areas of mission, ecumenism, dialogue within the church, and dialogue with other religious bodies.
In his welcome address, the Rector of Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Albert Ikpenwa, reminded all that with the coming of the Church to Africa, the Church revealed her nature as a missionary Church and a mission Church. In his words, “…as a missionary Church, she sends out missionaries to countries that once evangelized the mission territories in Africa, and as a mission Church, it seeks to lead Africa to explore its Christian vocation more deeply. It is on this discovery of Africa as a missionary and a mission Church that a Pan-African Congress, in which Bigard participated, was held in Lagos, Nigeria, from 25 to 29 October 2016. In the Congress, the need for dialogue in evangelization especially between Christians and Muslims was reemphasized.” Still in his address, the Rector recalled the theme of Bigard Colloquium for the academic year 2017/2018, “Discipleship, a Stage in the Journey of Formation, as well as Commitment for the Whole of life”. Linking it to the mission of the delegates from the Catholic Secretariat, he noted that one of the fundamental duties of a disciple is to carryout the mission of God. Lastly, he warmly welcomed all present and expressed his thankfulness especially to the members of the Bigard Mission Club led by Rev. Fr. Dr. Blaise Emebo.
While addressing the Bigard family, Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua stressed on the necessity of dialogue as the best way of evangelization in Nigeria. He held that dialogue is a necessity for better appreciation of faith between Catholics and other Christians of other denominations as well as between Catholics and adherents of other religions such as the African Traditional Religion and Islam. Fr. Cornelius testified that the Catholic Church in Nigeria has always been in dialogue with Islam. He also noted that the Catholic Church is a member of CAN and has also formed a bi-lateral relationship with Anglicans (NARC, a body that produces her newsletters and proceedings on yearly basis). Lastly, Fr. Cornelius admonished all to join this missionary method of dialogue especially with Islam and stressed the need to put our hearts together and be at peace internally, as this is a necessary condition for a successful dialogue. Fr. Joseph Nomhwange, SMA, one of the delegates, pointed out the meaning and scope of mission, establishing possible ways dialogue can play a vital role in the mission field.
After the speeches by the delegates, Rev. Fr. Dr. Onyekachukwu Amegwu, a lecturer on Missiology and Islamic Studies at Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu, delivered a keynote address in which he noted that since the church is missionary by nature, her members should reach out to people of other faith and beliefs. He admonished that all should develop the fraternal desire to go into dialogue with people of other religions such as the Moslems and the African Traditional Religion. According to him, effort should be made to focus on those areas that unite all while not neglecting or ignoring the points of difference.
The session got most fascinating when the seminarians and priests were called upon to ask questions and bring forth contributions with regard to the mission of the delegates from the Catholic Secretariat. Quite a number of questions were raised. One such question focused on the possibility of going into dialogue with Islam which appears to be unapproachable and therefore not open to dialogue in matters of religion and faith. To this, the delegates maintained that dialogue should focus on the establishment of peaceful co-existence and not directly and primarily on conversion, although the possibility of conversion cannot be categorically excluded.
Bringing this remarkable session to an end, the Vice Rector 1, Rev. Fr. Dr. Francis Igbanugo gave the closing remarks while Rev. Fr. Dr. Raphael Egwu, one of the Bigard Team of Spiritual Directors, said the closing prayers at about 12:16pm.