Cardinal Arinze and dialogue of encounter
THE presence of General Yakubu Gowon in Onitsha, Anambra State of Nigeria on November 28, 2015 is very symbolic. Why is it so important to introduce this conversation with General Gowon and not John Cardinal Onaiyekan (Archbishop of Abuja), Archbishop Augustine Kasujja (Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria), Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama (President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria and Archbishop of Jos), Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo (Apostolic Nuncio to Central African Republic and Chad), Archbishop Brian Udaigwe (Apostolic Nuncio to Republic of Benin and Togo) or Chief Willie Obianor (The executive governor of Anambra State)?
Why singling out General Gowon whereas people from different parts of the world including Catholic Bishops, priests, consecrated persons, traditional rulers, uncountable lay faithful, Christians outside the Catholic Church and people of other religions from different parts of the globe gathered in the Basilica of the Holy Trinity in Onitsha to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Episcopal consecration of His Eminence, Francis Cardinal Arinze on November 28, 2015?
During the homily, Archbishop Jude Okolo had told the congregation that Cardinal Arinze was consecrated Bishop on August 29, 1965. He became the Local Ordinary of the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha from 1967 to 1984. Among the numerous challenges of the young bishop was the Nigeria/Biafra civil war that started on July 6, 1967 and ended on January 15, 1970 under the watch and active participation of General Gowon, the then military Head of State.
While Cardinal Arinze was the youngest bishop in the world then, General Gowon was the youngest Head of State in the world. The civil war displaced so many people including priests and consecrated persons (male and female). Like Jesus Christ, the young Bishop Arinze had no comfortable place to lay his head. After the civil war, he was faced with the task of searching for the flock akin to the Good Shepherd.
Until recently, many people shy away from talking about the genocide of the civil war for fear of opening fresh wounds. On this day of the golden jubilee celebration of Cardinal Arinze, the ice was broken. After the speeches of Archbishops Augustine Kasujja, Ignatius Ayau Kaigama and Chief Willie Obiano, General Gowon was invited to greet Cardinal Arinze. One could notice a dialogue of encounter in the presentation of General Gowon by the Cardinal who called out Monsignor Matthew Obiukwu to greet Gowon.
The Cardinal recalled how shortly after the war he and Monsignor Obiukwu went to visit General Gowon in Lagos to beg him not to send away the missionaries. The Cardinal said: “In that visit I realized that the Nigerian Federal Government had already resolved to deport the missionaries, but Gowon received us well.” Turning to Gowon, he concluded: “As you can see, the Church is still alive.” In response, Gowon thanked and congratulated him.
Dialogue of encounter was the only means by which God could visit the earth in the incarnation (cf. John 1). This dialogue creates space for the low and the mighty to speak heart to heart. Recalling the memories of the civil war, what can we learn from the encounter between Cardinal Arinze and General Gowon?
Is it possible to hope that the broken trust in the unity of Nigeria can be restored? The Church in Nigeria is a symbol of unity. She is alive with the obligation to carry out the mission of building bridges of trust, love and unity across all tribes and ethnic regions in Nigeria. Therefore, the Church must continue to speak out loud and clear on national issues and social justice. Let us pray that the political leaders would listen to the voice of God through the Church and do what is right!
Let us pray that the Church through intra-ecclesial dialogue would remain a model of unity in Nigeria. Let us pray that General Gowon would courageously take the message of peace to the incumbent leaders of government to enable the federal presence of encounter in every region in a way and manner that everybody would experience the joy of belonging in the national cake. As part of the healing process, a sincere dialogue of encounter between the Nigerian government and those who have been arrested in the course of the recent Biafra agitation could multiply this joy. Conflict resolution is better achieved in an atmosphere of freedom.
A prudent study of the current conflict resulting from the radio Biafra would go a long way to save Nigeria and unite the different aspects of the nation. Most regions in Nigeria quietly complain about total neglect in structural development and social amenities but somebody needs to speak out. Therefore, this study must take cognisance of the fact that the human person needs relationships and so needs to open himself/herself to dialogue through acceptance of the other. Dialogical relationship uses the language of the heart as a tool. The capacity to listen leads to wisdom hence listening is an imperative that the government cannot ignore. Dialogue is made of listening and not just hearing. It allows intelligence to open up.
Listening requires silence because what the other has to say is also important. No one in law can be called a criminal if not convicted. Dialogue also involves answering and this generates respect and communion.
Wisdom comes from God hence human beings must listen to God who speaks through human beings, events and signs of every given moment. Dialogue of encounter enhances listening to one another in conflict but it does not exclude speaking the truth that should be presented with prudence.
In 2015, the same year of the Episcopal golden jubilee of Cardinal Arinze, the Catholic Church celebrates the golden jubilee of the “Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions (Nostra Aetate) proclaimed by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965.” This was celebrated in Rome on October 26-28, 2015 and in Kaduna, Nigeria on November 18, 2015. Cardinal Arinze was the fourth president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue that facilitated this celebration of Nostra Aetate. Your Eminence, may your jubilee restore peace to Nigeria and the whole world! Congratulations!
• Omonokhua wrote via email@example.com