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New Year prayer for peace – Part 1

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Released students gather at the Government House with other students from the Government Science Secondary school, in Kankara, in northwestern Katsina State, Nigeria upon their release on December 18, 2020. (Photo by Kola SULAIMON / AFP)

Almighty God and Father: As the New Year 2021 dawns, I dream of peace for the world and for my country that has gone through a protracted nightmare on account of gross leadership ineptitude and executive highhandedness, heightened political instability and the polarisation of the citizens, ever worsening economic fortunes, unremittingly deteriorating social infrastructure, and a precarious security situation brought about by the relentless violent campaign of Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists, killer herdsmen and murderous bandits, as well as the rampant kidnapping for ransom, which has so completely overwhelmed the law enforcement agents, that these days state authorities often negotiate with and pay huge sums of money to criminal gangs, in order to secure the release of some abducted citizens.

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As the New Year dawns, I dream of peace for the world and for my country that has been shaken very seriously in the last one year by a strange killer virus known as COVID-19, which has not only dislodged many to their early graves, but also caused major dislocations in the way we live and interact with one another.

Although, I have watched with pain and sorrow the crimes and atrocities that have defined our national existence in the last few years, which call to heaven for vengeance, and though I have seen the frightening and distressing trends in our national landscape, which portend imminent state failure; I have nevertheless not abandoned my dream of peace for the New Year. In spite of the blood and tears I see all around the national landscape, I have chosen to hold on to the dream of peace, security and prosperity for the world and for my country. I am not entirely distracted by the agony and pain of the victims of governmental abuse and the executive impunity in our land, nor am I overwhelmed by the selfishness and greed, the hatred and the violence of the merchants of death that hold sway all over the place, which today make true peace impossible in the world and in our society. Yes, I still dream of peace for the world and for my country, for indeed what is life without such a dream?

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As we prepared for Christmas last month, we recalled the prophetic words of Zephaniah to the distressed people of Israel. It was at a time when they found themselves in socio-political and economic circumstances similar to our own today. The prophet told them: “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! …The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exalt with joy over you, he will renew you by his love; he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival,” Zephanaiah 3:14-18.

At the onset of the New Year, my hope for a world of peace, security and prosperity is once again rekindled as I reflect everyday on Prophet Isaiah’s classical celebration of hope in one of those cheering Advent readings: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on the inhabitants of a country in shadow dark as death, light has blazed forth.… For a son has been born for us, a son has been given to us, and dominion has been laid on his shoulders; and this is the name he has been given, “Wonder Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince-of-Peace,” Isaiah 9:1-6.

As the New Year 2021 dawns, I dream of peace for our troubled world and country, appropriating for us those gracious promises of the Lord through Prophet Isaiah when he says that, “I will make rivers well up on barren heights, and fountains in the midst of valleys; turn the wilderness into a lake, and dry ground into springs of water,” Isaiah 41:17-18). Yes I dream of peace for the world and for my country at this time, because I believe that our All Powerful God, whose glorious visitation by way of the Incarnation we have just celebrated at Christmas, is able to bring about a transformation by which, indeed, “the wolf will live with the lamb, the panther lie down with the kid, calf, lion and fat-stock feast together, with a little boy to lead them…. No hurt, no harm will be done on all my holy mountain, for the land will be full of knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea,” Isaiah 11:4-9.

I dream of peace in the New Year because I take seriously the declaration of Jesus Christ in Luke 4:18-19 that, “the spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord. I recall too that Jesus says, I have come that they may have life and have it to the full,” John 10:10.

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To those who have been humiliated by suffering, he says, “Come to me all you who have laboured and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls…” Matthew 11:28-29. Again he says in John 14:27: “I leave you peace, my peace I give you. The peace which the world cannot give, is my gift to you.”

Lord, in the face of a nation where political dissent is treated as if it were treasonable felony, I nevertheless approach the New Year 2021 with a great deal of optimism, believing as I do in your love and providence, and in the mystery of rejuvenation. I dream of peace for the world and for our troubled country, because I know that peace is possible if today we begin a revolution of hope that will include a genuine commitment to the life of righteousness and truth and the fairness and justice that make for peaceful co-existence. I dream of peace because I am a believer who knows that with God all things are possible, and yes, the God whom St. Paul says is capable of turning even the worst tragedy into utmost good for his beloved children and to his own glory. Did he not create the world out of a formless void? Did he not bring water out of rock? Did he not put back flesh on dry bones? Did he not raise the dead back to life? Is faith in the resurrection not the cardinal point of Christianity?

As the Year 2021 dawns, Almighty Father, I pray for the rejuvenation of the multitude whose life has been a calligraphy of agony and a mosaic of misery. Eternal Father, you who at the dawn of creation breathed your Spirit upon the formless void and brought order out of the primordial chaos, let the dawn of a new year bring a sudden twist in fate for those who in the preceding years eaten as it were by the locusts, gracefully sowed their tears and invested their sorrows in your loving hands. Let those who have been sowing in tears now reap in joy. Let there be a change in fortune, Oh Mighty One, for those who, while the siege was on, held on to your Word of life and faithfully awaited your powerful visitation in our land. Forbid Lord that the flood of tears of those who toiled and grieved in hope should end up in the ocean of decay. No, Lord, make it possible in this New Year that their pool of tears shall become a valuable resource to be transformed into an oasis of fortune.

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Make all things new in our own day as you promised in the Book of Revelations. Fulfil the promise you made through the Prophet Ezekiel that: “I will give them one heart and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their bodies and give them a heart of flesh…”

In this New Year, Oh God of Majesty, I pray that the dream of Prophet Isaiah may come true in our day that: the wolves and the sheep will live together in peace, and leopards will lie down with young goats…that cows and bear will eat together, and their calves and cubs will lie down in peace…that lions will eat straw as cattle do…and that even a baby will not be harmed if it plays near a poisonous snake. Yes, let Isaiah’s dream be realised in our day that they shall hammer their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Let the dream of the Psalmist be fulfilled, that kindness and truth shall meet, and justice and peace shall kiss; that truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice look down from heaven.

As the New Year begins Lord, help us understand that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; that unless the Lord builds a house, the labourers labour in vain. Help us to understand Oh Wonderful Counsellor, that to have peace in the world we must first have peace in our hearts. Impress upon this generation the fact that we cannot shake hands with clenched fists; yes, that just as we cannot get a rose through planting a noxious weed, we cannot have peace while harbouring hate in our hearts. Impress upon us the fact that good ends cannot justify immoral means. Disarm our hearts Lord, for war begins in the hearts of human beings. Let our hearts nurture peace and cultivate love instead. Help us understand those famous words of St. Irenaeus that the glory of God is the human person fully alive. Help us recognise with Thomas Merton that the God of peace is never glorified by human violence. Enable us appreciate with Martin Luther King Jr. that darkness cannot drive out darkness, just as hate cannot drive out hate, and that returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Make us understand with Saint John Paul II that violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of humanity; that violence is a grave crime against humanity, for it destroys the very fabric of human society. Help us accept the truth that as a personal or social method, violence is totally incapable of changing anything.

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Lord show the men and women of our age that the Christian teaching of indiscriminate love, embracing friend and so-called enemy, has become a practical necessity, for humanity is on the verge of committing suicide. Show us that the basic Christian teaching of unconditional love has become an imperative, in an age when indiscriminate destruction threatens the human community and the planet entrusted to its care. Help us to break the cycle of violence in the world and in our society. Teach us the unalterable law that hatred only ceases by love. Make the men and women of my generation know that the brave and the heroic are not those who can kill, oppress, dominate, and cause untold hardship. Make us know that the brave are those who can forgive, those who can love in return for hatred. Help us to see that it is in loving and forgiving those who tortured and killed him that Jesus revealed the full potential of humanity. Reveal to us the mystery of love, which is the subtlest form of exorcism. Explain to us that there is a different way of responding to evil and to the machinations of our enemies that have the potential of breaking the endless cycle of retaliation that now threatens us all with ultimate violence.

Help us to see Oh Lord how peace is the outcome of a sustained life of truth, justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and human solidarity. Make us understand Oh Lord that it is no use preaching peace unless we preach the things that make for peace. Help us to accept the wise words of Pope Paul VI that if you want peace you must work for justice. Enable those who seek peace to heed the words of Prophet Micah by acting justly, by loving tenderly, and by walking humbling before you Oh Lord. Help us understand that a society cannot live in peace with itself unless every human person is treated with dignity and all human life is reverenced as sacred. Help us realise that peace cannot be privatised, and that there is no room in this global village for pockets of peace amid poverty, oppression, violence and strife. Show us clearly that it is not your will that in the same society some people should live in abject poverty, while others lead a life of conspicuous consumption.

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Enable us to know that all human beings are created in your image and likeness, and therefore each human person is inviolable. Impress upon us that “we are each responsible for all.” Let us know that the fate of the renown politician threatened by the assassin’s bullet is the same as the fate of destitute poor threatened by starvation; that the fate of the businessman violently harassed by kidnappers is the same as the fate of the petty thief that is to be summarily executed by an angry mob; and that the fate of the innocent worshipper threatened by the terrorist’s bomb is the same as the fate of the unborn child threatened by the abortionist’s forceps. Yes, help us to appreciate the words of Pope Paul VI that true human development is the advancement of the human person, the whole person and all the people.

Preach to us once again Oh God of mercy the Sermon on the Mount. Speak directly to our hearts, and make us understand that powerful message of yours known as the Beatitudes. Spell out clearly for our comprehension the nine lessons that constitute the kernel of the gospel. Help us to appreciate the fact that contrary to the general perception, the poor are truly blessed, the gentle are truly blessed, those who mourn are truly blessed, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are truly blessed, the merciful are truly blessed, the pure in heart are truly blessed, the peacemakers are truly blessed, those persecuted in the cause of justice are truly blessed, and those abused and maligned for your sake are truly blessed.

Make us understand the logic of the Magnificat, the song of Mary. Help us to see that the religion of Jesus Christ is not the opiate of the people, but a force that exalts the lowly and casts down the proud, a force that feeds the hungry and sends the sated away empty. Impress on us the fact that Christ did not bring peace to the world as a kind of spiritual tranquilliser. Enable us to see with Thomas Merton that Christ brought to his disciples a vocation and a task – to struggle to establish peace not only in their own hearts, but also in the human society.

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Enable us Lord to overcome the widespread illusion that life is a property to be defended, that illusion which has given rise to so much violence. Instead Lord, make us grasp the truth that life is a gift to be shared. Grant us the understanding, which brings peace, and the peace, which surpasses all understanding. Make us accept the fact that all pretensions to the contrary notwithstanding, only the meek and the humble shall inherit the earth, and that only the peacemakers shall be called sons and daughters of God. Yes, Lord, convince the men and women of this generation that all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, peace will be the last word of history.

A building is ablaze near the Lekki toll gate, epicentre of the Lagos protests SOPHIE BOUILLON AFP

Let many of us be convinced of this, so that, we may not be afraid to take a chance on peace, that we may relentlessly work for peace in a world of strife, and that we may tirelessly teach peace amid the deafening drums of war. Show us Lord how to take a stand amid the pervading darkness in deliberate clarity, calmness and confidence. Teach us how to be steadfast in perfect peace and cheerfulness, amid tension, gloom, selfishness and hatefulness. Above all, Lord, help us to hold on to our ideals, in spite, of everything. Show us that we cannot build up our hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. Show us that in a world of madness it is crazy to surrender our dreams, and to see life as it is rather than, as it ought to be. Help us to keep our hope as long as we live, for as Dostoevsky says, to live without hope is to cease to live.

God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you are not known for half measures. You are not known to abandon your drowning faithful who cry to you midstream. Rather, faithfulness is in the very nature of your being. The Psalmist assures us that those who know you, who cling to your name, when they call upon you in time of distress, you will be at their side to save them. We read in the book of Exodus that with a mighty hand you saw the oppressed children of Israel through the Red Sea dry shod while the chariots of their merciless pursuers perished in the swamp.

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When on Mount Carmel the corrupt devotees of Baal and Ashterot took on your servant Elijah, you did not abandon him in the hour of need. Instead your vindication brought down a consuming fire. When at the Sea of Galilee the boat in which the disciples of Jesus were travelling was threatened by a violent storm, they were not abandoned to their fate. Your eternal Son spoke the word of power and all was calm again. And when at a time of acute persecution your servants, Peter and John, cried to you from their prison cells, you did not look the other way. You miraculously loosened their bonds and threw open the gates of their jailhouse.

So, visit us Lord this Year, and convict our elite of the life of debauchery by which we have often elevated thievery into a high statecraft. Visit us this year and uproot the monumental pillars of greed and avarice, which constituted a pandemic national perversion that brought the nation to its knees in recent years. Visit us this year and weed clean from our national landscape the thorns and after growths of systemic corruption that like noxious plants have filled the entire environment with a poisonous stench. Visit us this year and dislodge completely the demon of kleptomania, which until now has bestrode our land like a colossus, and has led us along the dark alleys of economic depression, political anarchy, social disintegration and international alienation.

Visit us Almighty Father, and deliver us from blind guides, callous mercenaries and greedy opportunists who plunder the common wealth with utter recklessness. Come and save our nation Nigeria from the hands of primitive feudalists, influence peddlers, contract chasers and prostitutes of power as well as their agents and allies at all levels, who camouflage as politicians. Breathe your almighty breath upon us this year and flush out amid us the pathological thieves, the habitual rogues and the relentless brigands whose persistent impulse to steal and to grab often rides in tandem with their inordinate ambition for power.

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Come down Lord with your outstretched arm and destroy the myth of money and power, security and invincibility; so that, the corrupt elements that still litter our national landscape may give way permanently for uprightness to rise and flower in this country, and that Jesus’ civilisation of love may blossom. Show the men and women of reason in our country how to resist the temptation to apathy and despondency. Show us how to rise up and be counted on the side of reason, truth and justice. Show us how to refrain from joining the bandwagon in a life of greed and graft.

Visit us Lord in the course of this year, and enable us to appreciate the fact that peace does not just happen. Make us understand that it is no use preaching peace unless we also preach the things that make for peace. Show us how to cultivate and promote love, compassion and forgiveness, which alone can bring peace and prosperity. Show us that respect for human dignity and rights are the secret of peace, and that the peace of all only comes from the justice of each. Show us that if, today, we begin to cultivate these virtues, then we would have laid the foundation for a more wholesome life this year and beyond.

• Rev. Fr. Ehusani is Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation

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