See Beyond “communiqués by the Catholic Bishops,” Bishop in Nigeria Urges
CANAA || By Father Don Bosco Onyalla, Nairobi || 23 January 2017
The Catholic Bishop of Oyo diocese in Nigeria, Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, has encouraged Nigerians to look beyond press statements, which Catholic Bishops release and besides appreciating such communiqués as a key way of witnessing to Christ, acknowledge other initiatives undertaken by the Church.
“I find unfortunate, the way some people are beginning to look at the issuing of communiqués by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria,” Bishop Badejo stated in an interview on Saturday explaining, “People talk about it as if it is the least that the Church can do but it is actually one of the highest sources of witnessing to Christ.”
Bishop Badejo who also Chairs the Pan-African Episcopal Committee of Social Communications (CEPACS) went on to argue, “The issuing of Communiqués is a way of teaching and making the voice of the Church heard and it is one of the highest responsibilities that the conference can undertake. Even if the Church were to do nothing at all but speak, that would have been a great witness to Christ. But the Church is doing lot more than that. The problem is that we belong to a society today where people see what is not and forget to think about what is.”
He encouraged Nigerians to recognize other significant initiatives launched and sustained by the Church for the benefit of all in society and sited education and health services.
“People tend to completely ignore the effort the Church has consistently made to affect the Nigerian society in her mission of education,” Bishop Badejo said, adding, “The setting up of schools, educational institutes, formation centers, even seminaries and formation houses are activities of the church that have transformed the society.”
He went on to explain, “A lot of people have been in this society who did a lot of good they may not have done without the formation they received from the educational institute that the Church has set up.”
Acknowledging the role of Catholic nuns in the health sector, Bishop Badejo stated, “The Church has shown likewise commitment in the area of health. Some people completely ignore the work of the sisters in this regard. They are a silent but active working group and they belong to the Catholic Church.”
Below is the full text of the interview availed to CANAA, which Bishop Badejo had with the magazine of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary in Nigeria.
NiCE: My Lord, we would like you to begin by telling us about yourself, especially for the benefit of our readers who may not know much about you.
Bishop: My name is Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo. I am the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Oyo. I have been a bishop for about nine years now and this year is my 30th year as a priest. I was ordained for the old Diocese of Oyo which is now the new Oyo diocese out of which Oshogbo Diocese was carved out in 1995. The Formal Bishop of the Old Oyo Diocese, Bishop Julius Babatunde Adelapo, whom I succeeded as the Bishop of Oyo Diocese was the one who sent me to study communication at some point. It was due to that fact that I was appointed as the director of communications for the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.
NiCE: Talking about religious and social values, how will you describe the relationship between them?
Bishop: I think that religion is the source of all values in some way. Positive values and ideals are all of divine origin. Since God has created every human being in his own image and likeness, the more a human being desires to become like God the more he generates and lives according to values but the more he lives against the values in society the more he departs from the source of his existence which is God himself. So there is a very close link between religion and what we have come to know as social values. We speak of some values as social values today because they have been divested of their religious orientation over the years. In any case, values are what make society more livable, more humane and more accommodating to the human species.
NiCE: What is your assessment of the mass media in terms of promoting or demoting values in Africa especially that of peaceful co-existence?
Bishop: Since 1935 when the Catholic Church began to write on the means of communication, she has always declared that the means of communication are a positive gift from God to humanity because they enable humanity to extend themselves beyond just talking from one person to the other. As noted in one of the documents of the Church, communio et progressio, they are supposed to advance the progress and the mutual benefit of all human beings. Unfortunately in the hands of some unscrupulous human beings, they are used today more for exploitation, for dividing people and even sometimes to promote struggle, strife and war. In the last couple of years, the messages of the Holy Father have tried to address these matters. Of particular interest here is the one that tries to address the issue of globalization where the Pope asked whether the means of mass communication which have made the world one village, have made us neighbours or brothers and sisters. The answer is no. But that is what they actually should be doing.
NiCE: As you rightly noted, core values are directly and indirectly threatened in our society today. How does the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria and other bodies of leaders in the African Church respond to this situation: besides issuing communiqués, are there other efforts made in this regard?
Bishop: let me begin by saying that I find unfortunate, the way some people are beginning to look at the issuing of communiqués by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria. People talk about it as if it is the least that the Church can do but it is actually one of the highest sources of witnessing to Christ. The issuing of Communiqués is a way of teaching and making the voice of the Church heard and it is one of the highest responsibilities that the conference can undertake. Even if the Church were to do nothing at all but speak, that would have been a great witness to Christ. But the Church is doing lot more than that. The problem is that we belong to a society today where people see what is not and forget to think about what is.
People tend to completely ignore the effort the Church has consistently made to affect the Nigerian society in her mission of education. The setting up of schools, educational institutes, formation centers, even seminaries and formation houses are activities of the church that have transformed the society. A lot of people have been in this society who did a lot of good they may not have done without the formation they received from the educational institute that the Church has set up. The Church has shown likewise commitment in the area of health. Some people completely ignore the work of the sisters in this regard. They are a silent but active working group and they belong to the Catholic Church.
During the jubilee year 2000, the Church decided to be even more aggressive in relating to social issues. That is the source of the setting up of the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC). Practically every diocese in Nigeria today has an office of JDPC. They do a plethora of things for people: Women empowerment, skill acquisition, legal assistance, helping to free prisoners, credit facilities for people who are disempowered, monitor electoral processes and even teach about the rights of citizens in a democracy. So there is a continous intervention of the church in the society.
The Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria at many stages of the country’s life has been a very effective organ of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria to intervene in issues of the society. When I was serving at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, the secretariat became practically the center for the exchange of ideas of people who matter, we took issues on and addressed them and even got the attention of the military government at the time that kept warning us that we were probably going beyond our boundaries. We knew we weren’t going beyond our boundaries; we were just trying to make the voice of the Church heard in things that matter in the society. More recently the conference has taken a different strategy from criticizing government on the pages of the newspaper or on the television. In the last one year the conference has paid about three visits to the president of this country and his cabinet to enumerate the things that the conference taught should be looked after in this country that the president has to pay attention to.
NiCE: The pulpit which has been a very important means of communicating values is greatly abused today. How can it be helped to retain its glory as a place where God directs his people on the right path?
Bishop: The Catholic Church recently had a conference in Abuja on Pentecostalism and that was a very good opportunity to interrogate the abuse, misuse, underuse, and overuse of the pulpit to promote all sorts of charlatanism, ideas and sometimes anti-values. There are people today who from the pulpit preach that contraception is okay. Some people preach from the pulpit to justify abortion, to justify even divorce and they call themselves pastors. Over the ages people have invented theologies and doctrines and preach homilies to sustain injustice. Even apartheid has its own apostles and its own theology at the time.
To rescue the pulpit we must first realize that the pulpit is no longer just a traditional piece of wood with something flat at the top where you can put the bible and speak to people. The pulpit has moved to any where human beings gather, or can listen to anything. It may be at a gathering of Muslim friends, in the market place, when I visit somebody, or on the road where I meet a group of police men who may be trying to extort money. It has amazed me several times how receptive people are when you don’t have the entire paraphenelia of the Church surrounding you.
Our hospitals and schools are privileged pulpits. When people are ill they are most open to spiritual socilitation and if we give them healing in the body while shoudn’t we attempt to give them healing in the soul. Similarly, if the children in the classroom learn mathematics, geography and history from us, while not bible; while not values. If those people who work for the agents of darkness have realized faster than us that everywhere is a pulpit we have ourselves to blame that we didn’t realize it fast enough. So we have to get our hearts together and move in the right direction, make our skills acceptable and make our message acceptable. It is not true that Christianity has been rejected in the world.
NiCE: Human freedom is supposed to lead to the observance of values that are not opposed to faith, reason and good morals. The opposite seems to be the case today. By what means is the Church helping the human person towards a proper use of freedom.
Bishop: The Church believes that human freedom although created by God and given as a gift of God depends on a well formed conscience. The conscience is not the source of values; God is the source of values and the conscience is a witness to them. The conscience needs to be formed in other to witness effectively to values. The Church has always formed consciences by education, catechesis and homilies. Unfortunately, the formators of consciences today are far more numerous than they were fifty years ago. Fifty years ago anybody who wanted to think about anything spiritual or moral turns to the Church quite naturally. Today, they turn to anything except the Church. They listen to radio, listen to new music and watch new videos. All these have a domineering influence on them. So, people choose wrongly today because their consciences have been badly formed.
The world is the way it is today because the government that is supposed to regulate society for the better no longer cares about the individual’s holistic wellbeing. So the Church is practically left alone to do that work. The family is the only allied that the church could have today but it has been weakened and arranged against powerful enemies such as the media and the government, and even the social environment is hostile to family lives. Thank God the Church is standing up tall and strong in the preaching and promotion of values but she needs to work harder. We need to invent new means of forming people’s consciences. We need to form new means of confronting the agents of non-values that are among us. We need to form new means of colonizing the media so that people can hear the voice of the Church. That is going to take a lot of effort. It is going to mean putting our money where our mouth is. It is also going to mean a review of the formation of our agents of evangelization to match the needs of today.
NiCE: From Gravissimum Educationis no 5 we understand that the family is the first school of social virtue. Do you think the family still remains the best place for communicating social and religious values today?
Bishop: As long as children are still not being produced on top of trees, the family will remain the first environment where the child learns to appreciate humanity. The family is the first humanizing organization. The Church has the privilege of being the interpreter of revelation but the family is the cradle where all that has to be prepared. In fact after the church has taught any individual it still needs the family to put a stamp on it by the witness of the parents through their direction and encouragement. The fact that the Old Testament began by God establishing the family of Adam and Eve and the New Testament by establishing the Holy Family is more than enough reason for us not to change our view on the fact that the family remains the ideal and privilege place for the formation of the human being.
NiCE: From your lived pastoral experience as a bishop and as an expert in communication, by what means do you think the family can be helped to fulfil its task of communicating values today.
Bishop: By every means. However, many of the means have been seized by agents and organizations that no longer care about the family. Extremely powerful and extremely wealthy people and organizations in the world are arrainged against the family so that the family can lose its control of the coming generation. They realize that once the family forms people’s consciences, certain things such as the arbitrary killing of human beings in the name of abortion or freedom and the permission to arbitrary divorce become repulsive to them. So they try to attack the family right from its roots.
The United Nations many years ago established the age of choice at 18 but in the Unesco Calendar for this year, it is written that children should have the right to chose and to freely think. Some of these organizations have convinced African government especially, because they are struggling financially, to allow the teaching in the school curriculums what they call comprehensive sexuality education. It sounds good but indeed what it promotes apart from abortion and free contraception is lesbianism and gay culture. In this kind of environment the Church has to work much harder. Priests, sisters and other agents of evangelization have to be better formed, more aware and more committed to the monumental job of saving the family.
NiCE: We believe your recent visits to the poor in Benin Republic and the internally displaced persons in Maiduguri gave you a firsthand experience of human sufferings in diverse form. In what way can the media be in solidarity with such people?
Bishop: I must say that there is a segment of the media that is trying its best. But the media in Nigeria is really in captivity. It is in captivity for economic reasons; it is in captivity because it has become a one directional media with focus on political issues and with little or no attention on the issues affecting the poor and downtrodden. The level of human miseries in the camps in Maiduguri is indescribable and yet these people had a lot of hope, a lot of warmth in welcoming and a lot of appreciation. In the Republic of Benin, we met people who didn’t have much but were extremely happy, extremely faithful and extremely Christian. Perhaps, when people have less they believe more, it shouldn’t be but that seems to be the trend.
During my interview with a number of journalist, assembled by some Catholic media practitioners who were with us on that visit, I did mentioned this point to them: that in the final analysis the measure of the value of the media will be how much it has tried to bring the attention of the public to those who cannot speak for themselves. They did agree and some of them are trying but there are many influential people who will do everything to keep the stories out of the public eye. Sometimes, even government officials want to keep these stories low and simply write a few snippets about what government has being doing.
So there is a lot that the media could do but again this depends on the basic formation of consciences because the cameras cant by themselves decide what to record; It depends on the man who is behind the camera, nor can the pen decide what to write, it depends on the one who is holding the pen. If we have conscientious journalist who know that even if there are risk they ought to do what is right, they will be able to bring the attention of the general public to this poor underprivileged people. Many times, many people in the general public want to help but they do not know how. We need the media to bridge the gap.
NiCE: My Lord, what final words do you have for our esteem readers?
Bishop: I thank you for conducting this kind of interview and for the choice of the topic as well. I am sure that it will educate people beyond the confines of the Catholic Church. My final word to the readers is that this kind of interview, published, should be shared with others. Anyone among our readers, who is able to do something to help somebody, should do so gladly because such effort will not go unrewarded. I ask God to bless all of you for your efforts to enlighten his people. Thank you.
NiCE: Thank you very much my Lord.