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We’ll celebrate Easter without congregation, says Martins

By Isaac Taiwo
11 April 2020   |   4:19 am
Obviously, this is one of the very unusual times. I am not sure there was a time like this that we celebrated Easter without the presence of the people.

Martins. PHOTO: BBC

Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Adewale Martins, spoke to ISAAC TAIWO on this year’s unusual Easter celebration without congregation, COVID-19, government’s efforts and what Nigerians should do at this time, among other issues.

How is the church celebrating this year’s Easter without the congregation due to the lockdown?
Obviously, this is one of the very unusual times. I am not sure there was a time like this that we celebrated Easter without the presence of the people.

However, the fact of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ is a reality that we must celebrate one way or the other. So, we shall be celebrating all the activities of the season live for our people to watch on the television; not just to watch, but for them to participate in the celebration as we go along. We hope this would create in them, the atmosphere of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for this season.

So, we shall celebrate this Easter in an unusual way. Nevertheless, it is going to be in a way that we can tell the whole story and the celebration will still give us the whole feelings of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is your Easter message to the country?
We are going through a very difficult time, a time that perhaps not many people alive today had ever gone through.

However, our people must constantly know that God knows what we are passing through and that He is in total control of what is happening to us at this time. He knows that this is not normal and that the evil one is at work, inflicting so much pain on mankind and causing destruction of lives.

However, the fact is that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is an assurance of victory over evil, sin, and over anything that is called despair. Our people must just have the hope that Jesus has given us victory by his death and resurrection.

We must not fall into sin of despair, because this would be like falling into the sin of Judas Iscariot, whose despair led him to commit suicide. We must not allow that to happen to us; we must always remember that our God is alive and omnipotent, watches over us and is in total control and all will be well.

All will be well is the important message that I have for our people. Of course, apart from that, we must also take all the precautions given to us, which would help us not to fall into the trap of Coronavirus. We should wash our hands thoroughly with soap regularly, keep a social distance from others and if we need to cough, cover our mouths and avoid handshake.

We believe celebration of this Easter will give us total victory that the resurrection of Christ brings.

How do we monitor the congregation, in terms of compliance with government directives?
In different parishes, the priests are constantly in touch with their flock. Through our regular means of communication, such as WhatsApp, life streaming of information and other means, we have been continually encouraging people in this direction. We believe they would continue to adhere to those instructions.

Any kind of welfare package for members and the less privileged out there?
Yes, indeed. It has been part of our programmes of activities even before COVID-19; we have been reaching out to the less privileged in our midst.

Of course, what is happening now has given us an added responsibility and we have also keyed into this. We have a WhatsApp Committee in each parish and have also directed that Welfare Committee be activated to ensure they get packages for the people in different parishes.

We believe that with the over 180 parishes that we have, this effort would go a long way in ensuring that our people are well taken care of. This is not be restricted to only the parish members, but also to others within their different areas who are in need as long as they are available at the point of distribution.

Apart from that, we have also reached out and assisted smaller parishes and ensured that what the big parishes are enjoying, they also benefit.

In addition, we are collaborating with the Lagos State Government, in terms of making one of our health facilities available for use. In our own little way, we are making donations that would complement the efforts of the state government.

What is your take on the government palliative measures, would say that government is doing enough?
What I have been hearing was that the government has continually been asking well to do people and companies to support it in reaching out to the populace.

Invariably, we have about 13 million people among our population of 200 million people that are less privileged. So, the entire effort to reach out to everybody is a Herculean task.

I have heard people complaining that the method of sharing relief packages is disgusting and that the quantity being given out is embarrassing. We can only ask government to review its processes of getting this relief packages distributed, so that our people can feel its presence and the fact that they are being taken care of, particularly at this time.

So, we recognise what the government is doing.

Some people feel that if government were proactive enough, this problem would not have degenerated to this level. Would you say government is doing enough to contain the spread of the virus?
What we can say about the Lagos State Government in particular is that it tackled the problem right from the beginning with commensurate effort when the news broke that the virus has entered our border. One must commend the state government, because it really took proactive steps by identifying the index case and subjected him to necessary treatment at the designated environment.

With the commendation from the World Health Organisation (WHO), compared to other countries, it gives us an indication that our governments made some meaningful efforts immediately they learnt of the presence of the disease.

There may be shortfalls here and there, those notwithstanding, we must continue to listen to people, to know where we are still having some shortfalls and make every effort to take care of those shortfalls.

What is your take regarding the lockdown order?
Personally, I cannot think of any more viable option. The option of keeping a distance from one another by staying at home is certainly a method that is necessary as far as I am concerned. There are, of course, shortfalls, such as many people living in a house, which may not make it as effective as it ought to be.

However, if those people are able to keep themselves and heed instructions, there is the chance of survival. If they are able to heed all the hygienic instructions and would not bring in the virus from outside, they would be safe.

So, I believe that if people that go to market or continue to gather make conscious effort to obey the instruction on social distancing, not touching the face and constantly washing hands as much as possible as well as restriction of movement, the virus would not spread.

Any advice, from the spiritual point of view, to Nigerians and government on quick solution to the pandemic?
The All-Powerful One that we all know is God. The governments, with their advisers and experts, can do their beats, but the One who has the power to do all is God Almighty Himself.

We all need to plead with God more than ever before to assist us in overcoming this challenge we are facing now. We know that the problems we have sometimes arise from our own carelessness, the way we use our environment, the way some scientists carry out their experiments and all kinds of possibility theories.

We all need God to help us overcome and give our leaders wisdom to direct. We should also ask for forgiveness of our sins. His mercy would help us to overcome our challenges.

Some think what we are passing through is a result of God’s anger. Do you subscribe to this?
As far as I am concerned, God does not do evil or just without any cause bring evil upon mankind. Of course, there are times He permits that evil happens for certain reasons, but He does not delight in seeing His creatures suffer without cause.

It is true that many have gone astray from the right way and this may have offended God. Perhaps it is true that there are some evil practices that people carry out today, such as homosexuality, lesbianism and things like that. I believe God can allow some evil to happen to pull the ears of the erring ones, but does not just delight in seeing His creatures suffer.

The summary of my submission is that I do not believe God would deliberately bring evil, but that He can permit evil to make people retrace their steps to come to the right way and do what is right.

What word of encouragement do you have for Christians who cannot go to church tomorrow and Nigerians in general?
Again, this is very an unusual period. I just want people to recognise the fact that they may not be able to congregate for good reasons, but God is still close to us.

That we are not able to come together to worship does not mean that God has forsaken us. If it is through television, life streaming or online worship, we should do it with our whole heart and mind. When the service is going on on television, we should not treat it like just any other programme that people watch on daily basis.

When a Christian programme is going on, we should participate in it. When we are to stand up, we should and when we are to sit down, we should sit down. We should even dress up properly to participate. That way, we will get the feelings of real worship, though not physically present at the point of service. We should not think that God is far away.

For other Nigerians, we should not lose hope or fall into despair, as yielding to despair is a sin. We should have hope and be constant in prayer and trust God.

What of Nigerians who have enough to give to the needy and the government?
We have always said the fact that we are to quarantine one suspected case does not mean that we should quarantine ourselves out of generosity. This is a time we have to be sensitive to the needs of other people.

Whatever anyone gives to the needy is being given to God and He never fails to reward anyone who does good. I encourage people to go out of their way to be generous at this time, particular to those that are in need. We need to show the spirit of generosity to people at this point in time.

For our government, we thank God that some generous people have been making donations towards, we only wish that those who are in charge of caring for people with these donations would use them for the purpose they were donated.

Anyone who decides to embezzle or misappropriate this kind of money is only attracting God’s vengeance to him or herself, because God would not just be looking at people committing this kind of atrocity. The money must be used for its good purpose and no one should use the money otherwise.

God is always there to avenge for the poor who cannot fight for themselves. This is my advice for those in authority and in charge of taking care of the needy.

Would you say government was right in inviting Chinese doctors to assist the country curb the pandemic at this point in time?
I think it is a very complex issue, in terms of what the ultimate goal is, coupled with the question about what kind of work they would be doing while they are here.

My own is that whatever they would be doing should be for the betterment of our nation and that nothing should be done contrary to our ideals as a nation.

The doctors too should pass through the regular process and be subjected to the protocols of visitors that are just arriving into the country and they should be healthy themselves.

I heard government officials saying they would not be involved in interactions with Nigerian people, but handle only medical issues. Government should not brush aside the fear and concern of Nigerians. It should listen to the people and their concerns.