By Patrick Ochoga, Benin City
Catholic Bishops of Nigeria in collaboration with the high powered delegation of Pope Francis converged Friday in Benin, the Edo state capital for the three day Centenary celebration of appearance of the apparition of Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ at Fatima, in Portugal.
The eminent heads of the faithful drawn from the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, said the event remains unique and special for the unity, peaceful coexistence, progress and development of the various component units and people of the nation.
This is as the Benin monarch, His Royal Majesty, the Ogidigan, Oba Ewuare 11, also yesterday tasked the Catholic Bishops, the faithful and entire citizens to pray fervently for President Muhammadu Buhari and other leaders as well as for the unity and peace of the country.
Oba Ewuare 11 said peace and togetherness of all segments of the nation remain sacrosanct for the growth and development of all facets of the economy.
The Catholic Bishops led by their President, Arch Bishop Ignatius Kaigama and other eminent clergies had on arrival in the state paid a courtesy visit to the Benin monarch at the royal palace and Governor Godwin Obaseki at the Government House Benin City respectively as part of the three day conference programmes holding at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) field.
Arch Bishop Kaigama harped on the need for “the world to allow peace to rein” and to ask fro God’s intervention in the affairs of the country to bring about genuine reconciliation, peace towards avoiding all the provocative and very dangerous statements capable of tearingthe nation and her people apart.
“And that is what we have come for, to pray; to ask God to intervene in the affairs of Nigeria, to bring about reconciliation, bring about peace and to help us avoid all these negative, provocative and very dangerous statements that we make that bring about divisions amongst us,” he said.
The cleric declared, “We have come on a very special mission to pray together as one family, to ask for God’s intervention in the affairs of our country, Nigeria and to also bring God’s blessings to you and your people of this kingdom.”
“We are happy to have arrived at a very appropriate moment when you were having a very useful function of inaugurating a group (establishment of an alternative dispute resolution committee) that will help you in the administration of your own kingdom. It is very, very touching, Benin is known for its wonderful tradition; today we cached a glimpse of that tradition in this palace. We are bringing you greetings from all over Nigeria, the bishops you see here, the cardinals you see here are all from different parts of the nation.”
Speaking on the epochal event Bishop Kaigama explained further that, “And this is the beauty of our church, the Catholic Church; we are different nations, different cultures but united. We thought we won’t step into this land without coming to you; you are the traditional royal father, so your Royal Majesty we came to pray and to celebrate the 100 years anniversary of the apparition of our Lady of Fatima.”
“This is unique and special to Catholics; this woman called Mary is the mother of Jesus; we believe that Jesus is God and therefore Mary is the mother of Jesus who is God. We give her honour and adoration. We give her so much adoration and veneration and we have come together not only the bishops but also the laity all over Nigeria will gather in Benin for the next three days to remember this event.”
The bishops commended the traditional ruler for the positive collaboration of the kingdom with the church and numerous supports.
Kaigama stated that, “Our Lady appeared in Fatima, Portugal and asked for prayers, for the world to allow peace to rein and that is what we have come for, to pray; to ask God to intervene in the affairs of Nigeria, to bring about reconciliation, bring about peace and to help us avoid all these negative, provocative and very dangerous statements that we make that bring about divisions amongst us.”
Meanwhile, Oba Ewuare 11 said that the ancient palace has had many things in common with the Catholic Church, stressing that he had a soft spot for the clergies while serving in Rome as Nigerian Ambassador even as he expressed reservation that the then clerics were treated well and therefore called for adequate redress of such ugly tendencies.
Among other top clerics on the entourage are the Catholic Bishop of Abuja Cardinal John Onaikan, the representative of the Apostolic Nunsio in Nigeria Monsignor Harvier who also represents the Pope in the country as well as Archbishop of Benin Diocese Most Rev. Augustine Akubueze, Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, emeritus Bishop Ekpu and several others.
Oba Ewuare 11 said, “I am sure you have all been praying for me, the kingdom and the palace. We want to please appeal to you all to pray fervently for us for success. We have a lot of challenges; we want peace, we want security. We keep praying to God Almighty, we pray for our leaders in Abuja, the President for his good health, for all the governors, most importantly that God should give us more wisdom, to add wisdom to our wisdom to rule our people.”
“I am delighted today that the presence of many states in Nigeria and also many countries in Africa are now reflected on the map of Africa but that old map (at the Vatican), I only saw Borno and Benin, what is now called Nigeria, there was no Nigeria at that time; and of course you know by the diplomatic relationship between Benin and Portugal and the establishment of what was going to be Catholic presence at the time that eventually metamorphosed into Aruosa Cathedral,” pointing out that the way the palace chiefs in Benin kingdom dress as we were told was modeled along the Catholic priests then.”
“You all coming here today, perhaps, you are not aware that my secondary school was Immaculate Conception College, that was where I completed my secondary school and I believe what the reverend fathers in that school imbibed in us was morality, the uprightness and truth have been helping me in particular all this while. It further straighten the image connection with my ancestors to always tell the truth and stand by the truth and therefore, I am also trying now to pass on this concept of true light to many of our chiefs in the palace and to many of our people in Benin, I am always like a preacher usually sometimes.”
“So, I cannot but say this before the end of my brief remark that, I cherish the way Catholic masses are conducted in a very sober manner; I have always cherished it, I have always liked the ambiance, the environment and not too much keen of shouting, you can like quiet environment. I like sober environment, particularly, when you are praying to the Almighty God you don’t need to shout. You must pray with a lot of reverence, with a lot of sober mood.”
He added, “That is what I believe in; you must revere the Lord God Almighty at all times. We here in Benin, we pray to God Almighty. Today, you have come for this conference and as you have explained, we recognize a lady, a very iconic lady in the religious world, spiritual world; sometime I begin to wonder that when God created the world he first created man in our own image, so the Bible said. But looking at man, Adam, he found him lonely or something like that and decided to behold him to his companion.”
“However, eventually after all the temptations, she is to carry man and every other human being that wants to come to this planet earth in her womb for nine months. So, one will not be surprised that you now give recognition to the woman at Fatima, lady Fatima, that carried Jesus for nine months. It shows to me the power of women, that women should not be relegated aside.”