Talking from the Safety of the Sacristy

1. Christian leaders have often being reprimanded for taking truth to power. Critics have always demanded clerics to operate within the confines of the sacristy. To be sure, the Church does not operate in a vacuum. It subsists within a secular society. Although the relations between Church and State might involve diplomacy, like Christ, pastors of souls have a divine mandate to speak truth to power no matter whose ox is gored. In the wake of untold hardship occasioned by visionless leadership, it would be a grave scandalous for a Christian leader to stand aloof. It is either he sides with the rich or makes a deliberate preferential option for the poor.

2. It is interesting to note that during the presentation of Pallium to the new Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Most. Rev. Dr. Mathew Ishaya Audu which held recently at the Divine Mercy Cathedral, Lamingo, Gov. Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau while congratulating the Archbishop emphasized that: “Every religious leader has the responsibility to speak the truth to power and the public.” Is it not scandalous that while some clerics are either playing the ostrich or scampering for safely amidst volatility, a secular leader is reminding the Church of its obligation?

3. Since it is difficult for righteousness to thrive in the face of injustice, it would be a mortal sin for any cleric to be neutral while injustice prevails. By saying, “Why spend money on what is not bread and labouring on what does not satisfy” (Isaiah 55:2), the Prophet Isaiah invites Church leaders to invest in breaking down the barriers of racism, classism, nepotism and injustices everywhere – Our thirst for justice must elicit a strong determination to end all forms of discrimination and prejudices in our country.

4. Like Archbishops Oscar Romero of the Republic of El Salvador, Central America and Helder Camara of Brazil, Pastors of souls must be driven by righteous indignation to make a preferential option for the poor (especially vulnerable women and children) who are underreported in our country. As St. Augustine wrote in The City of God: “Remove justice and what are kingdoms but great bands of robbers?” Strengthened by the Eucharist, the Church must thirst for holiness to ensure moral rectitude.

5. Justice is the twin brother of peace. As the Reggae Artist, Peter Tosh says in one of his songs titled Equal Rights: “Everyone is crying out for peace, yes, none is crying out for justice.” By keeping the lines of communication open with those who hold different values, the Eucharist is able to make the Church thirst for meaningful dialogue towards sustainable peace. Although various parts of the country have not known peace because of activities of suspected killer-herdsmen, kidnappers and armed bandits, everyone is charged to thirst for peace in genuine terms while remembering that peace is a consequence of justice.

6. Rather than thinking naively that the sounds of microphone should only be confined within the Church, it is imperative for the Church in Nigeria to thirst for charity. For example, by asking the disciples to supply the elements for the multiplication of loaves (Cf. Matthew 14:13-21), Jesus charges believers to thirst for charity which in the words of Archbishop Helder Camara does not only give food to the hungry but asks why they are hungry.

7. This challenges those in authority to redistribute the earth’s resources towards ending hunger in the world. In the light of social capital, Christian leaders must learn from the heroic action of the Good Samaritan (Cf. Luke 10:25-37) and the scintillating encounter between Jesus and the woman of Samaria (Cf. John 4:4–42). This is where Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah asks: “Does the priest have the luxury of looking at the world from the safety of his sacristy, occasionally merely sprinkling holy water and incense as his congregation trudges on in pursuit of their daily lives?”

8. While speaking to priests on March 28, 2013 during the celebration of Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis called on them to be “Shepherds with the smell of the sheep.” He urged priests to go out and spend quality time with the people, not just closed off in their Churches but make concerted efforts to go and listen, serve and offer help to others. “It is not a bad thing that reality forces us to ‘put out into the deep,’” where “the only thing that counts is ‘unction,’ not ‘function,’” he added.

9. In Evangelii Gaudium, (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis also maintained: “I prefer 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 – I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends up by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures” (No.49). He reiterated further: “My hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, ‘Give them something to eat.’”

10. It behooves on Pastors of souls to hearken to the demands of their calling to have as their greatest concern, the poor and marginalized who are often victims of an unjust, global economic system that prices profit over people and political correctness over truth. Since the poor and marginalized need care and attention, the Church must show example by walking the talk through talking truth to power. That way, the world would be a better place to live in. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.

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