A VALEDICTORY SPEECH PRESENTED BY
ANYANWU UGOCHUKWU STOPHYNUS (BIGARD VALEDICTORIAN, CLASS OF 2016)
AT THE 46TH CONVOCATION CEREMONY OF BIGARD MEMORIAL SEMINARY, ENUGU,
ON THIS DAY 2OTH OF MARCH, 2017.
Your Excellency, Most Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese
The Rector Magnificus, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Albert Ikpenwa
Your Excellency, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Senate President of the Federation
Very Reverend Monsignori
Revered Professors and Members of the Academic Staff
Reverend Fathers and Deacons
Religious Men and Women
Divine Theologians, Erudite Philosophers,
Highly Esteemed Fellow Graduands
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen!
I am Stophynus Ugochukwu Anyanwu, from the Catholic Diocese of Ahiara, Imo State. I stand before this august and esteemed convocation assembly today as the Valedictorian of Bigard 2016 set to give this valediction in the name of my graduating colleagues. Our feeling on this momentous occasion is fittingly captured by Wilfred Peterson who says: “when we become more fully aware that our success in large measure is due to the loyalty, helpfulness and encouragement we have received from others, our desire grows to pass on similar gifts. Gratitude spurs us on to prove ourselves worthy of what others have done for us.” On this stance, I pray you to permit us to say we are very grateful to all whose encouraging support and approbation were instrumental to this great feat we are celebrating today. In primo loco, to the undivided Trinity, whose power working in us can do more infinitely than we can ever think or imagine be hallowed praise and thanksgiving for the wonders of our being.
Our inestimable and unquantifiable appreciation go to our Local Ordinaries, Superiors, Provincial Bishops who are the proprietors of the seminary for their paternal care in subsidizing our seminary training in this great institution. These father figures are today represented in this ceremony by the Convocation Prelate, Most Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah. We thank you for your episcopal presence. We give our bouquet of thanks to the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu who is the special guest of honour for this occasion for his gracious presence and his love for excellence. Very dear to the hearts of these illustrious sons of the Church capped and garbed today with the excellences of character and learning are our teachers who selflessly inculcated into us the undying and timeless principles which Abraham Lincoln handed to his son’s teacher as he began school. Thus, with high sense of filial admiration, we bow in salutation to the revered Professorial and formation crew of mother Bigard led by the Rector Magnificus, Very Rev. Dr. Albert Ikpenwa for their believe in us and unflinching sacrifices. We cannot forget you our Domestic staff for your immeasurable input to our upkeep. Thanks a million times.
Bigard Tradition deserves our accolades (This is Bigard! Feel at home). The assemblage and catalogue of the alumni and ecclesiastical luminaries of this seminary is tantamount to who is who not only in the Western African Church but also in the Universal Church. Standing as the 46th valedictorian of Bigard, I join my eminent predecessors who have taken their turns to mount this rostrum to proclaim the undying tradition of this ancestress of the Church in Africa, pro Bigardensis legationes fungimur (We are ambassadors of Bigard). The Bigard Anthem melodiously rendered at the commencement of this occasion encapsulates our pride, heritage and patrimony. On the hallowed soil of this seminary that is Great and Mother, each generation passing through her is handed on the depositum fidei, to engage in radical evangelical witness. It is therefore an emboldening sentiment to state a fortiori that the 2016 graduating set has graciously learnt from the feet of this ‘Gamaliel’ like her venerable predecessors. As I gratefully salute all of us, I encourage you to toil today with the same selflessness, same apostolic courage and same faith of being true to her motto: Eritis mihi Testes (You shall be my witnesses).
This convocation is a unique moment of incomparable significance and riches. In this unique assembly, in this privileged point of time and space, there converge together the past, the present and the future of the Church — the past: for here, gathered in this spot, we have the Church of Christ with her tradition, history, patrimony, doctors, saints; the present: for we are taking leave of one another to go into the world of today with its miseries, sufferings, sins, but also with its accomplishments, values, virtues; and lastly the future is here in the urgent appeal of the peoples of the world for more justice, in their will for peace, in their conscious or unconscious thirst for a higher life, that life precisely which the Church of Christ wishes to give them through us.
I have a very brief story for this convocation assembly. It is the story of what I have come to tag the ‘concurrence of four Junes, the sixth month of the year.’ June 26, 2005, was the final day of my examination for Senior School Certificate, June 18, 2011 was the last day for Degree examinations in Philosophy; June 8 &12, 2014, were the examinations winding up the two-year marathon with studies in Biblical Greek and Hebrew; June 7, 2016 was the paper and pen examinations for the Divinity Degree. Stepping out of the examination arenas on these aforementioned dates, so many thoughts flooded our minds…the imminent departures looming, the future opening up and the uncertainty of where our paths will be leading. The silence that heralded these unvoiced sentiments on each occasion was thunderously broken by noisy choruses of ‘Ite Missa est’ by some of us. It was only this last shout in June 2016 that led me back memory lane to reflect and make the necessary connections. The encounter with this expression has been an important experience for me because of the mind content of it has finally ended and no more (some jokingly said they will not read the sign post again) by those who uttered it at the different circumstances enunciated above. Hence, when the onus of presenting the valedictory speech for this convocation fell on me, I settled for the theme: ITE MISSA EST (Go Forth, The Mass is ended). ‘Ite Missa est’ for the choir in my story could mean the final Nunc Dimittis (At last); it can also be a mandate to mission. The two emerging concerns of my presentation is found in the catchy expressions; Go forth; The Mass is ended.
1. ITE MISSA EST
At the end of every Eucharistic celebration, the deacon or priest dismisses the assembly with these resounding words ‘Ite Missa Est’. The solemn conclusion of the liturgical celebration would seem to be an admonition from our Holy Mother Church that we should go forth from the Mass, not with the feeling that something is ended, but rather that something is begun: that the Divine influence of the Mass may radiate into our dealings with the world. The Mass does not have closure. Rather, the Mass opens us into life. Consequently, the dismissal formula ‘Ite Missa est’, as a farewell blessing, is an invitation to and a mandate for mission. In antiquity, missa simply meant ‘dismissal’ but with Christian usage, the word ‘dismissal’ has come to imply ‘mission’.1 This liturgical expression is not accidental, it, rather marks the beginning of mission; an expression of the missionary nature of the Church. It means from missa to missio (The Mass has ended; the mission begins).2 This in fact is what Pope Benedict XVI in Africae Munus calls Eucharistic
1 Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, 2007, n.51
2 Emmanuel Anagwo, “From Mass to Mission: The Task to Create a Just African Society” in The Church in Africa, edited Luke Ijezie et.al (Cathan Publication 2013), 254-274.
Consistency.3 This whole Liturgical Ecclesiology and Mission Theology is summed up in that Igbo hymn: Pubanu ndi otu Kristi, Aja Missa agwugo, Gabanu n’ime uwa, K’unu wee doo ya aso. Unu bu ihe nk’ uwa, Unu bu umu Chineke. Gosinu mmadu nile Eziokwu nke Chukwu (Go forth Christian people, the mass is ended. Go forth and be a beacon of hope and light to the hopeless and darkened world).
2. THE IMPOSING CHALLENGES OF ITE MISSA EST TO OUR GENERATION
Ecclesiastical institutions of higher learning and secular universities, acting like the deacon or priest at the end of a Eucharistic assembly, through her convocation ceremonies declare to each graduating set, Ite missa est. The Church in Nigerian has no dearth or scarcity of personnel with Pontifical degrees and certificates. Neither is the Nigerian society where graduates are churned out in their geometric numbers yearly in want of paper certificates or academic dons. But the lassitude and indolence of our generation betray an ambivalence in the sense that the Ite missa est has always been taken as the final Nunc Dimittis like the choir in my anecdote rather than a commissioning to mission.
A fortiori, ours is a cosmetic generation that is complacent in hearkening to the duty call of Ite missa est. It is an age where the excellence of character and learning; theory and practice, orthodoxy and orthopraxis have become parallel lines that can never meet. Ecclesiastically, academic portfolios and dignity of exalted offices occupied find difficult translation in witness of life. Secularly, university dons and professors who should be quintessence of civility are perpetrators of most heinous crimes. Ite missa est charges our generation to radical evangelical witness for: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”4
Our generation like the unbelieving Jews of the Eucharistic discourse of John 6, has staged a walkout protest against godliness and sacrality. It is now in an unholy alliance and romance with cynicism and secularism. Jesus asks us like the disciples of yesterday: Do you want to go away with them? Ite missa est grants us the apostolic parrhesia – boldness to respond like Peter: Ad quem ibimus Domine? Verba vitae aeterne habes; (Jn 6:69)5.
Ite missa est unseals for us the stark reality that so many people are living in the desert; in the deserts of poverty, of hunger and thirst, of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. We seem to hear from every corner of the world especially in Nigeria an immense and confused voice, the questions of all those who look towards the Church of our day and ask us anxiously: “Have you not a word for us?” For us politicians? For us intellectuals, workers? And for us women? For us of the younger generation, for us the sick, refugees, migrants and the poor? With these pleading voices that will not remain unheeded, Ite missa est ushers us into a new field of studies and lecture rooms where our professors and teachers are the battered faces of malnourished and dying children, victims of genocide and xenophobic attacks, victims trapped in rings of prostitution, workers unjustly remunerated, shortchanged pensioners, prisoners unfairly detained, victims of sicknesses that defile classical theology, exegesis and philosophy. They are our examiners and judges. From our long meditation on Christ and His Church, Ite missa est mandates a first announcement of peace and salvation for these waiting multitudes. This is a prophetic function that emboldens all to stand up and act for Christ in the world around oneself. It offers us the courage of truth and force of character and credible lifestyle to confront oppressive forces in a fearless and uncompromising manner.
Ite missa est urges an alternative response; Arise let us go! These were Jesus’ words to his three apostles whom he took to Gethsemane for prayers before his passion and crucifixion. These words came after Jesus’ many attempts to wake them from slumber. This statement actually declared to them that the time of sleep
3 Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation, Africae Munus, 2011, n.154.
4 Pope Paul VI, Address to the Members of the Consilium de Laicis (2 October 1974): AAS. 66 (1974), p. 568.
5 Lord to whom we shall go? You have the words of eternal life.
and indifference was over. ‘Arise let us go’ is an invitation to action and apostolic witness, rousing from a lethargic faith, from the sleep of the disciples of both yesterday and today. In our time and in our peculiar circumstance, it is an invitation to us to get up from self-delusion, from framed ignorance and spiritual blindness of ‘the priests in the diatribes of prophet Jeremiah’ who were oblivious of the pains of the daughter of Israel6; from insidious spiritual worldliness that has no concern that the gospel has a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. ‘Arise let us go’ is a declaration that our Church communities must not turn worshipping assemblies into fundraising arena where business mentality, charismatic charlatanism and endless declarations of the coming rapture/Armageddon thrive. The distressing situations of the time open up a new Areopagus for shining out as a Church that goes forth; acting as missionary disciples who are leavens to the corroded human structures and systems.
3. THE CHURCH WHICH GOES FORTH
The Church which goes forth is a community of missionary disciples who are enlivened by the spirit of the Good Samaritan and the Beatitudes with the mandate of Ite missa est. She extends her preferential attention to the poor and is expected to open her minds and those of her members to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes which modern society itself creates. Many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned by the indifference of the rich and those who should care for them. The Church is called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care.7 A missionary disciple who goes forth takes on the smell of the sheep and the sheep are willing to hear his voice. He is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom in bearing witness. Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium notes that a Church which “goes forth” is a Church whose doors are open,8 appreciating the words of the Council Fathers opening Gaudium et Spes: “The joys and the hopes, the grief and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anxieties of the followers of Christ…”9 Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission. I dream of a ‘missionary option’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that our personal idiosyncrasies, and even the chains of degrees we have can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than our personal comfort. As missionary disciples to our generation we need some guides to engage in radical evangelical witness.
4. VADEMECUM FOR GOING FORTH: MY PROPOSITIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Given the fierce urgency of the now for effective evangelical witness in our church and society, I propose three models that can help us to go forth after the mass has ended. They will be paradigms for advancing towards missionary and pastoral conversion which Ite missa est charges:
(a) A Kenotic Church
A Church which must satisfy the imposing injunction of Ite missa est must adopt the image of a self- emptying and sacrificing mother, the pelican bird. A kenotic Church should be one troubled in conscience that so many people are living without the strength and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without pastoral care of ministers who should do so. We must (like Christ) come down from our royal thrones, put off our outer garments and wash the feet of the men and women of our day no matter how filthy they are. With our certificates, connections and careerist bent, there is the great danger for us to find the spirituality of the Good Samaritan discomforting with preference to pharisaic Christianity. Like the priest and Levi on the Jerusalem-Jericho walk, we may be
6 Uzochukwu J. Njoku, “Africa, ‘Clouds of Evil’ and The Challenges of Contemporary Religious Vocation” in Uzochukwu Njoku (ed.) Oche-Amamihe Wisdom Journal of Theology and Philosophy; vol.2. no.3, 2011, 53-54. 7 Pope Francis, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, n. 15
8 Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 46.
9 Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, 1: AAS 58 (1966), 1026.
interested in the rituals of the synagogue, in ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, in sounding theologically correct but overlooking the dying man molested by robbers. Like Pope Francis our interest should not be much on a self-serving Church but a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.10
(b) A Prophetic and Missionary Church
George Ehusani in his text ‘The Prophetic Church’ notes that a prophetic Church is a Church on mission. It is a standard bearer; a sentinel of truth, reconciliation, justice and peace. A prophet is one who proclaims the truth of God fearlessly and a missionary is one able to take risks for others. Many religious leaders prefer the comfort zone of neutrality in order not to lose their friendship with ‘Caesar’ than take up the spirituality of Jesus the gadfly that is against all forms of injustices. I urge us all to make lively our prophetic ardor by an authentic rereading of the corpus of Vatican II Council. For it remains a compass with which to orient ourselves in the vast ocean of the third millennium because the timeliness of their teachings are pertinent to the new exigencies of the Church and the society.
(c) A Listening and Servant Church
Using the image of a rabbit with large ears, Elochukwu Uzukwu in his book, A Listening Church11 proposes a pastoral ministry with large ears and leadership of communities in the service of listening. To be true evangelical witnesses, we must attentively like the listening chief, listen to the flock entrusted to us, feed them and never lord it over them. A leadership which cultivates the ministry ‘with large ears’ makes it easier for all to listen, to hear, and to do what the Spirit is saying to the Churches and also obey the logic of service and solidarity. Our Church must understand the power of service and not the service of power. One wonders if the Church in Nigeria is on this lane today or she tuned off from the seeming disturbance of the cries of those burdened by injustice and oppression. With our degrees, certificates, authority and power, can we still exhibit the listening qualities of accessibility, love, and sensibility to the plight and concerns of the people? If not, we must travel less with them because they are encumbrances to the soul of the apostolate which is ‘being merciful like the Father.’
5. ECHOES FROM THE YEAR OF MERCY
The Church has just concluded the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. This celebration remains important for us on two fronts: We completed our seminary formation and some of our colleagues were called to the presbyterate and diaconate within the year of Divine Mercy. Mercy must, then, become our name tag and identity card as we adhere to the mandate of ‘Ite missa est’. We must avoid the vendetta as well as the Jonah spirituality12 and put on the garb of the Father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it. We must always note that the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.13 The greater the sin, the greater the love we must express. As Pope Francis states in Misericordia et Misera: ‘The Jubilee now ends and the Holy Door is closed. But the door of mercy of our heart continues to remain wide open.14 Championing the course of salus animarum – must be our way of reflecting the primacy of the Father’s mercy than glorying in the suppression and sacramental starvation of God’s faithful. The
10 Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 2013, n.46
11 Elochukwu E. Uzukwu, A Listening Church, Autonomy and Communion in African Churches (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996), 127-130.
12 The Jonah Spirituality is a vendetta spirituality that would wish the destruction of sinners than patiently wait for their conversion.
13 Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 47.
14 Pope Francis, Apostolic Letter at the Conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordia et Misera, 2016, n.16.
model of a Merciful Church is very apt for the Nigerian Church in the wake of current happenings; for this model has therapeutic effects. The Church in Nigeria must constantly rise up and be on her way to mission.
6. FROM MISSA TO MISSIO
Sentire cum ecclesia et pro bono ecclesiae, I humbly exhort you our dear seminary professors to constantly promote these models of the Church in day to day encounter with the candidates under formation so that the program of the missa may fittingly translate into the missio afterwards. There is greater and urgent need to drill the priestly candidates on the Social Magisterium of the Church for in them we find a true guide to our witnessing in the world of today. Priestly candidates should be excoriated from funga mundi spirituality and clericalism with a constant reminder that their mission demands that they courageously denounce injustice, with charity, prudence and firmness. The programme of Missio is daily complicated by hyper technology and information technology. Many people of our generation especially the youth are vacating the pews of our churches and flooding to the Media. As Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI noted ICT opens up a new Areopagus and market place for sharing ideas and announcing the good news. Priestly formation must enable candidate to occupy their prominent position in the media.
Dear friends in formation, the missa is on. The missio will soon commence. As you get set to go forth, strive always to embrace the spirituality of the Good Shepherd whose power of telepathy and clairvoyance perceived the sufferings and dejection of others and his flock. Shun careerism, indifference, materialism, mediocrity and insensitivity. Cultivate genuine love for the Church and salvation of souls. In so doing, you will begin to confront the Eden logic of shifting blame from Adam to Eve and to serpent for your pitfalls.
And to you my lay audience, I have this candid word for you. Foster Eucharistic consistency by being harbingers of justice, peace and reconciliation to the Nigerian society that has lost it saltiness. Let the Gospel and reliance on the Magisterium of the Church be your anchorage and guide in political affairs.
7. CONCLUDING REMARKS; DO NOT BE AFRAID!
Dear colleagues, the task before us is daunting and unnerving because of the complexities of our generation. But I exhort you, Do not be afraid! Armed with the missionary mandate at the end of this convocation like in every mass, we must go into the world to heal and transform it. The fruits of the convocation like the mass empower us with the dismissal mandate which helps to renew and strengthen us to face the trials and tribulations of ministering in a world filled with landmines.
As I wind up this valedictory speech, I make mine the apostolic words of Pope Paul VI addressed to the Council Fathers at the end of the Second Vatican Council on December 8, 1965; ‘The hour for departure and separation has sounded’. In few moments we are about to leave the convocation assembly with our academic laurels to go out to meet mankind and to bring the good news of the Gospel of Christ and of the renovation of His Church at which we have been working together for four years in both the theologicum et philosophicum of Mother Bigard. Do not be afraid. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The Lord will make up for the poverty of our strength.
I leave you as parting words charging you to fan into flame your evangelical fervor and prophetic ardor this interesting excerpt from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger15 “We have received the faith to give it to others. We are priests meant to serve others. And we must bring a fruit that will remain. All people want to leave a mark which lasts. But what remains? Money does not. Buildings do not, nor books and certificates. After a certain amount of time, whether long or short, all these things disappear. The only thing which remains forever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity. The fruit which remains then is that which we have sowed in human souls: love, knowledge, a gesture capable of touching the heart, words
15 Pre Conclave Homily, Missa Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice, Monday 18 April, 2005
which open the soul to joy in the Lord. Let us then go to the Lord and pray to Him, so that He may help us bear fruit which remains. Only in this way will the earth be changed from a valley of tears to a garden of God.”
Finally, I express my personal encomiums again for the camaraderie, conviviality and fraternity occasioned by this convocation to you my Lord, my Apostolic Administrator John Cardinal Onaiyekan and the Ahiara Diocesan Authorities, the Deputy Senate President, parents and relations, friends and families of my fellow graduands, the Rector and Staff of Bigard, the Rector, staff and students of my Diocesan Spiritual Year Seminary, among whom am exercising my pastoral internship; To all my classmates, Bigard 2016 set and all Bigardians for believing in me any time, any day; To you all gathered in this hallowed auditorium for this occasion for being a wonderful audience! This is my story for this convocation assembly. Ex abundantia enim cordis os loquitur! I have spoken from the abundance of my heart. Thanks.