The Holy Father, Pope Francis I, has called for an Extraordinary Missionary Month of October. In his Mission Message for 2019, the Holy Father called on all men and women to revive their missionary awareness and commitments. The Holy Father also enjoined all to commemorate the centenary of the Apostolic Letter, Maximum Illud, of Pope Benedict XV. It is fitting to note, however, that the title of Pope’s Mission Message is the same with that of October Missionary Month: Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World.
In line with the above, Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, embarked on a 3-day program organized on two-fold capacities. First, in observation of the seminary’s traditional Mission/Pastoral Weekend organized annually to mark the year’s Mission Sunday. Secondly, in response to the Holy Father’s call for an Extraordinary Missionary Month to be celebrated throughout the whole month of October. And so, here in Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu the celebration lasted from Friday, October 18 through Sunday, October 20, 2019.
The celebration was officially flagged off in the Seminary Auditorium on Friday, October 18, 2019 at exactly 20:15 hours by the Rector, Very Rev. Fr. Albert O. Ikpenwa. In attendance were seminarians, staff, and others who came to be part of the celebration. Following an opening prayer was an opening remark by the Moderator of Bigard Mission Society, Rev. Fr. Clement Obasi. Disposing all to the events of the night, he called for calm and attentiveness as the events of the night unfolded.
The high point of the night’s events was a table discussion by seminarians selected across different levels. Their discussion focused on the apostolic letter, Maximum Illud. The discussants highlighted some events that factored the publication of the apostolic letter, namely the aftermath of World War I, and French Revolution which not only left the Church in grave devastation but also dampened the missionary spirit of the Church. Maximum Illud, they noted, was therefore, born out of the passion to revitalize the Church and boost her missionary enthusiasm.
Going forward, the discussants traced the origin of the term mission in the Church; an inquiry that opened up further discussions on the document. They started by giving an overview of the apostolic letter, its nature, strengths, with emphasis on the missionary message it conveys. Other considerations were made, namely, general evaluation of the document, influence of the apostolic letter in evangelization in Africa and Nigeria in particular, and finally, vocation boom within the context of economic downturn in Nigeria.
On the strength of the apostolic letter, the discussants praised its impacts in redirecting the missionary compass of the Church. They explained that it was the apostolic letter that stressed the universality of salvation calling for an end to all forms of nationalism and ethnocentrism. It also argued against the merging of the preaching of the gospel with the economic and military interests of the colonial powers. The apostolic letter, it was, that made case for respect for local cultures and the incorporation of indigenes in the missionary preoccupations of the Church, hence the establishment of indigenous seminaries and other houses of formation. Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, they noted, is a direct beneficiary of this monumental intervention for the seminary was born just five years after Maximum Illud. Interestingly, Bigard Seminary has produced 3 cardinals, 33 bishops, and numerous priests currently working around the world even as she still nurtures numerous young vocations.
There were some reactions from both the staff and students. Some clarifications and interventions were also made. At this point, the moderator thanked the discussants as well as others for being a good audience. He, thereafter, disclosed that some resource persons had been invited to the events of the next day. Fr. Johnbosco Okoye led in the closing prayers at 21:58 hours.
The events of the second day, Saturday, October 19, 2019, started at 9:05hours. After the opening prayer, the moderator, Fr. Clement Obasi, presented his keynote address. In his address, he praised African Church, and indeed, Nigerian Church for the missionary feat they have achieved. He noted, however, that there are still much to be done in Africa with respect to Mission. How then do we go about this divine task? He asked. He called all to listen to the various perspectives of the resource persons who had been invited to speak on the topic.
The 1st paper presentation came from Rev. Fr. Dr. Nicholas Ibeawuchi of Claritian Congregation. His paper came under two sub-themes, namely, “On Maximum Illud” and “Baptized and sent”. On the former, Fr. Ibeawuchi made the following considerations:
- The apostolic letter was written as an impetus to the future mission of the Church.
- Before Maximum Illud, mission in some parts of the world was not separated from political conquest.
- The document saved the Church from political entanglement
- The apostolic letter upturned the challenges of World War I, World War II, Slavery, Scramble for Africa, and Colonization.
- The document, it was, thatmade case for the training of local priests.
- The apostolic letter, in a sense, was an anticipation of the Second Vatican Council.
On the latter, Fr. Ibeawuchi noted that mission is the fundamental duty of the Church. He classified mission into three categories, namely, mission to those who have never heard the gospel; mission to those who have heard the gospel; and mission to those who have heard the gospel but have already lost interest. In the end, he formulated some practical approaches to evangelization some of which include, respect for and dialogue with the culture of the evangelized, understanding, appropriation, application, and rooting of theology to the existential conditions of the evangelized.
The second paper presenter, Fr. Benjamin Achi, is of Enugu diocese and currently the Communication Director of the diocese. Focusing his intervention on what he called “Authentic Witnessing and the Challenges of Religious Leaders”, Fr. Achi highlighted some factors that currently bedevil the missionary project of the Nigerian Church. He explained that mission in Nigeria would have stabilized the more if Christians that claim a huge chunk of Nigeria’s population, decide to be authentic Christians. He noted that many religious leaders had been compromised at the expense of mission. It is sad, he further pointed out that Nigeria, which some sources often refer to as the poverty capital of the world, has the highest number of pastors flying private Jets. Most of these luxuries, he explained, were gotten from false prophesies, commercialization of the gospel message, and exploitations of the already impoverished people.
Bemoaning this ugly trend, Fr Achi stressed that any religion that alienates itself from the social conditions of its society or even exploits it loses its missionary feet. How can the Church in Nigeria rise against the unjust structures of Nigerian society when she too is afflicted by the same vice? he asked. He submitted that the scandals currently oozing out from the religious space is an affront to mission and must be stamped out.
There were questions and clarifications at the end of the presentations bordering on vocation boom and the problems of conflicting witnessing that often come from religious leaders. These questions were answered by the presenters.
In his closing remarks, Fr Clement Obasi thanked the presenters for their insights and perspectives on the subject of mission and for honoring the invitation. He remarked that the centenary celebration of Maximum Illud came at a point when Bigard Seminary is preparing for 95th anniversary, a celebration that will inaugurate her centenary. Thanking the rector for his presence and material support, he recognized other Fathers on the staff, and students for their contributions to the success of this year’s mission project.
His remarks gave way for a vote of thanks by Vice Rector I, Very Rev. Fr. Francis Igboanugo, and later, closing prayer by one of the spiritual directors in attendance. There was group photographs at the front of the Seminary Auditorium.