In response to the injunction of Jesus in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, the Seminary family never seizes to dedicate one weekend annually to reflect on the mystery of the Word of God which the apostles were meant to proclaim as they carry out this injunction. This is why the Bigard family decided in this year’s Mission and Pastoral Weekend (as it is called) to reflect on the theme: “You Shall be my Witnesses” (Acts 1:8). This year’s Mission and Pastoral Weekend kicked off on Friday 21st October 2022 with a round table discussion and ended with a conference on the 22nd October 2022.
The round-table discussion which began the weekend program was entertaining and educative and centered on the theme “Who is a witness?” After the opening remarks by the Fr. Rector, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Albert Ikpenwa, the discussants deliberated on what being a true Christian witness is especially in the 21st century. They also made it clear that witnesses should be able to do so with the type of life that they live, for as Pope Paul VI says “The modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).” They also highlighted the danger posed by materialism to true witnessing. During the closing remarks, the HOD of Theology, Rev. Fr. Dr. Clement Obasi thanked the discussants for their wonderful rendition and praised the audience for paying rapt attention and maintaining a conducive atmosphere.
The second day began with the opening prayers said by Rev. Fr. Dr. Patrick Malo followed up immediately by the Bigard anthem. It was event-filled as the Seminary played host to erudite scholars who handled different topics. The opening remark was made by the Rector duly represented by the Vice Rector I, Rev. Fr. Dr. Kevin Udenwagu, during which he welcomed all present and also introduced the guest speakers in the persons of: Rev. Fr. Dr. Ferdinand Odo and Rev. Fr. Dr. Ronald Onyenali CMF. This was followed by the keynote address which was given by the HOD of Theology and moderator of the mission club Rev. Fr. Dr. Clement Obasi where he identified that the general theme of the mission weekend was in tandem with the motto of the Seminary; ‘Eritis mihi testes’ meaning “You shall be my Witnesses”. He said that the mission we have received is from Christ through the Apostles. The person of Jesus reveals and fulfills this preaching of God’s salvation as affirmed in the Prophecy of Simeon. Thus, as witnesses we should be mindful of Christ’s question “when the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” He therefore admonished all to prepare themselves adequately for his mission. This is important because anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ must be a witness of Christ. After the keynote address came the paper presentations by the guest speakers.
The first speaker, Rev. Fr. Dr. Ronald Onyenali CMF spoke on the theme: “You shall be my Witnesses” (Acts 1:8). He opined that the passage can as well be considered as the Lukean Great Commissioning as it x-rayed Christ sending his apostles to do his will through the power of the Holy Spirit. He emphasized so much the importance of the Holy Spirit in being a true witness for following from Acts 1:2-11, one can see that it is the same spirit who enabled Christ for his mission that also enables and empowers his apostles for bearing true witness to Christ. It was when the Holy Spirit which Christ promised the apostles came upon them, that they were heavily imbued with divine powers from God and spoke in different tongues. This eventually made them effective witnesses of Christ. Thus, the persons who were entrusted with the salvific mission of Christ were imbued with the Holy Spirit and manifested it in their witnessing. This witnessing however, according to him, did not stop at the apostles but extends to us today. He then goes on to cite the words of Pope Paul VI who says that “it is the Holy Spirit who, today just as at the beginning of the Church, acts in every evangelizer who allows himself to be possessed and led by Him. The Holy Spirit places on his lips the words which he could not find by himself, and at the same time the Holy Spirit predisposes the soul of the hearer to be open and receptive to the Good News and to the kingdom being proclaimed” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 75). Thus, the Holy Spirit is very important for the witness to bear an effective and authentic witness. He also traced it down to our formation as seminarians, stressing that as future ambassadors of Christ we must ensure that we emulate him in all our words and actions for if we do not tailor our lives to that of Christ we become anti-witnesses.
The second speaker, Rev. Fr. Dr. Ferdinand Odo, spoke on the topic “Biblical Literacy and Interpretation: Effects on Authentic Witnessing”. He began by drawing an analogy, that in the same way a lawyer that does not know the law and constitution of his country is a disappointment, so also is a priest who does not know the Scripture or how to interpret it very well a disappointment. Thus, for either a priest or a seminarian to bear authentic witness to Christ he must be literate in the Bible and also in interpreting it adequately. He is functionally illiterate if he knows the Bible but interprets it wrongly and out of context. Thus, he pointed out that seminarians and priests must be very knowledgeable in the Bible which is their primary instrument for effective witnessing to God, otherwise they risk being inauthentic witnesses or fanatics. This is because the Bible gives us a better insight to know properly and better the Christ who we have come to bear witness to. It is important to avoid interpreting the Bible with bias, interpreting the parables in the Bible as narratives and interpreting poetry as apocalypse or taking them out of context. He also highlighted some principles which are important to this authentic witnessing of which some are: historical principle, compatibility principle, contextual principle, the Christological principle, the Church as custodian and authentic interpreter of the Bible.
After the paper presentations, the Vice Rector I presented awards to the paper presenters. The program was brought to an end with the closing remarks/vote of thanks carried out by Rev. Fr. Dr. Ohajuobodo Oko during which he thanked everybody especially the paper presenters for their wonderful presentation. He also encouraged all to imbibe the culture of “unlearning in order to relearn and subsequently learn”. The closing prayer was said by Rev. Fr. Dr. Benjamin Ezulike at exactly 11:46 am.