Pope Francis in his message to all Catholics on World Mission Sunday held on Oct., 19, 2014, dwelt on the joy of the mission, while reflecting on the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 10:21-23. The disciples returned from the mission of the master full of joy. But Christ admonished them not to rejoice because of the power they had exhibited, but because their names have been written in heaven. According to the Holy Father “Joy is a dominant theme of this first and unforgettable missionary experience“.
In the world today especially in Nigeria, mission and missionaries have been faced with a lot of challenges which many a times hinder this joy of the mission. Bigard Pastoral/Mission Club fully aware of this ugly situation, chose as her theme for this year’s Pastoral/Mission weekend: CHALLENGES OF PASTORAL MINISTRY IN NIGERIA TODAY.
The weekend, kicked off on Friday night, October 17, 2014. The night began with an opening prayer, and continued with an opening remark/welcome address, by the Moderator of the Bigard Mission Club, Rev. Fr. Dr. Blaise Emebo. He urged all in his address to contribute meaningfully to the event which is both spiritual and intellectual and grasp the opportunity offered by the mission weekend towards formation. With this he officially flagged off the 2014 Mission/Pastoral weekend on behalf of the Rector, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Ukoro Theophilus Igwe.
The high point of the night’s event was a roundtable discussion between Seminarians of the Theology faculty and the Philosophy faculty of the seminary, on the need for collaboration between the Clergy and the Laity for an effective pastoral ministry. This was followed by reactions from the Seminarians and the Formators.
Moderating the intellectual encounter was Mr. Esomonu Andrew. Mr. Adike Godwin, Mr. Ofodile Ambrose and Mr. Ability Clement represented the Theology faculty, while Mr. Ubani Christian, Mr. Agbo Innocent and Mr. Iheduwa Felix represented the Philosophy faculty. The night ended with a Vote of Thanks by Mr. Ibeh Kennedy, a member of the Mission Club, and the closing prayer by Rev. Fr. Donatus Ogudo.
On the second day, Saturday October 18, 2014, the Formators and Seminarians gathered again at the Seminary auditorium for another interesting session. A keynote address was presented by Rev. Fr. Dr. Blaise Emebo. The day was spiced with paper presentations by erudite resource persons, moderated by Rev. Fr. Dr. Francis Igboanugo.
Sr. Ifechukwudelu Udora, former Mother General of the Daughters of Divine Love Congregation, represented by, Sr. Dr. Sylvia Ezeanyino, spoke on the topic: CURRENT PASTORAL CHALLENGES IN NIGERIA: COLLABORATIVE MINISTRY. She emphasized that the mission of Christ is that of the Salvation of God’s people, a salvation which is integral, covering body and soul, culture and society. According to her “the challenges facing this mission is the fact that it is a demanding task which calls for more effort and sacrifice“.
In the second paper – THE ROLE OF THE PRIEST IN THE NEW WORLD, Prof. Osita Ogbu of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, ably represented by Rev. Fr. Dr. Anthony Eze addressed the role of priests in the new world. He established a relationship between character Christianity and faith. According to him, “to be a Christian is very difficult because it is a moral path through which only men of character can stride. Faith is trust in God in all His manifestations and trust is built on character.”
He defined character as “Doing the right thing all the time and manifesting our core values. Character reflects the inner will and our character is revealed by how we respond to pressure and stress, it is fortified by our principle.” He went further to say; “the central role of the priest is to strengthen the faith of the faithful. Our churches are full but faithlessness is growing. The new world is now affecting the way the work of God is carried out. Therefore, to save souls we must be holy; to mold character, we must be people of character.” Finally, he proffered that the new world requires new tools and a re-orientation of the priests.
IS OUR ICEBERG MELTING? EVIDENCE FROM GLOBAL AND LOCAL CONTEXT AND THE NEED FOR NEW MISSIONARY CATHOLICISM, was the title of the paper presented by Rev. Fr. Dr. Hyacinth E. Ichoku, who was the last guest speaker. After giving the origin of the topic ‘IS OUR ICEBERG MELTING?‘, he went further to present to the audience a statistical analysis of the numerical growth of the Catholic Church, Orthodox, Anglican and Pentecostal churches from 1910 to 2010 in Latin America, Europe, Middle East, North America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, etc. He pointed out that there has been a decline in Catholicism in these parts of the world, giving the causes of the decline in each of them.
He also explained that people are leaving the church due to: “lack of satisfaction with the worshipping method, marriage, and search for greater enlightenment and reading of the word of God“.
He gave the following suggestions as a means of ameliorating the situation:
- The Church must read the signs of time
- The Church must listen to public opinion in some issues since we are now in the era of democracy whereby people want their opinions to be heard
- We are now in the global age where people want to confirm what they learn using the technologically provided medium like the internet (Google) thus the ministers should be enlightened.
- Our people are hungry for the word of God therefore they need good homilies on Sundays.
- This is an era of personal marketing whereby the customer is the king thus ministers must go out to meet people.
- Availability of the priest to the parishioners, learning their culture, accepting feedback, regular taking of the statistics of members as well as having concern for members.
He concluded with the following recommendations: “there is the need for the review of the curriculum in the seminary program for the training of future priests and the criteria for choosing candidates for the priesthood. There is need for more emphasis on reading the scriptures. While we must remain Catholic, we must also be versed with the missionary method of the Pentecostals. And finally, there is the need to understand the psychology of marketing and apply it to evangelization.”
The end of each paper presentation was followed by a call for questions, reactions and suggestions from the audience. The papers will be published later in the Mission Club journal.
Finally, the Bigard Mission Club presented gifts to the paper presenters. The vote of thanks was given by Rev. Fr. Dr. Aloysius Obiwulu and the session was brought to a close with a closing prayer by Rev. Fr. Vitalis Ukwuaba.
On Sunday October 19, 2014, some seminarians were sent to parishes in Enugu Diocese to disseminate the message of this year’s mission weekend to the people of God outside the seminary.
In this year’s mission weekend, missionary experience and joy, like in the days of the Disciples in Luke 10:21-23, descended like morning dew on and was richly felt by the Bigard family. To God be the glory.