From JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE, Abuja
President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday blamed the behaviour of some Nigerians and some of the vices they engage in on the current challenges facing the country, urging religious groups to play more critical role in moulding the character of their followers. The president stated this at the Mass put together by the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, to celebrate the 30th Episcopal ordination and celebration of the elevation of John Cardinal Onaiyekan to the status of Cardinal by Pope Benedict XV1. He called on Nigerians to eschew violence and embrace dialogue as a means of settling disputes.
“The Church, the government and the political actors have the same responsibilities and we believe that the Church is at the centre of society building. “Some of the challenges we face today are because of the character our people have. If the Church moulds the people especially starting from the children, Nigeria will be a better place.
“For us, we believe that the church is at the centre of societal building, because, some of the challenges that we face today is because of the kind of character that our people have. If the church can mould characters properly, especially starting from childhood, Nigeria will surely be a better place,” he said. Jonathan who was accompanied by his mother, some cabinet ministers and his aides, also noted that none of the two religions preaches violence, adding that their foundations were rooted in love and peaceful co-existence. “We all know that no religion preaches or encourages violence and hate. Both the two major religions preach love and peaceful co-existence.
This is of course their foundation.” The President appealed to Christians to continue to explore peaceful means of resolve conflicts. Jonathan while re-echoing Onaiyekan who spoke earlier, said. “As His Grace said that he cannot worship the gods that kill the people he himself created. We also believe that anyone who raises weapon to kill anyone created by God cannot be worshipping God. I totally agree with his Lordship”.
He commended Pope Benedict XVI for honouring Nigeria by elevating Onaiyekan to the status of Cardinal and also commended the Head of the Roman Catholic Church for helping to promote inter-religious harmony in Nigeria as well as reconciliation amongst all religious groups in the country. “I believe that his elevation is an evidence of the Vatican’s continued recognition of the immense contributions of the Church in Nigeria to the worldwide Catholic movement.”
The President added, “It is not the Catholic church in Nigeria alone, but the entire world that is celebrating with him.” He described Onaiyekan as a humble man with a great vision and learning who had fully dedicated himself to the service of God. “I see in his appointment, a recognition for those who work and toil for peace like him and for reconciliation amongst men. I also see it as a great privilege for our country.” Jonathan also charged the political class especially the political parties to live up to their responsibilities.
“When John Cardinal Onaiyeken was making reference to the goodwill messages he received from certain individuals, the ANPP, Chairman of PDP, as he mentioned the different group of people, I was quite happy. That goes to show that the church, the government, the political actors are the same and have the same responsibility.” He described Onaiyekan’s meteoric rise to his current position as a “prince of the Roman Catholic Church” as a significant achievement worthy of emulation.
He however, noted that the elevation had placed extra responsibilities on him for more service to humanity. Cardinal Onaiyekan in his message noted that of the 14 of them who were Ordained Bishop in 1983, two were from Nigeria himself and Bishop Kelvin Aje, now retired Bishop of Sokoto. The story of the Epiphany, he said heralded the annual event in the Catholic Church to celebrate the commemoration of the visit of the three wise men from the East at the birth of Jesus.
Onaiyekan condemned killing in the name of religion and warned that Nigeria was fast attracting the negative image of a nation of religious violence He recalled the response of King Harold to the birth of Jesus Christ when he ordered the killing of innocent children and urged Nigerians to pray that their “names may be remembered for good things and not like that of King Harold who ordered the killing of children and Pontious Pilate who ordered the killing of Jesus.”
He also urged Nigerians to understand the inclusiveness of God’s grace to all mankind and the readiness to welcome others to that practical reality, saying that “any God that promotes the killing of innocent people should not be worthy of our worship” Kogi State Deputy Governor, Yomi Awoniyi who noted that it “is amazing how Onaiyekan rose to his current position despite his difficult background,” brought a special message of goodwill He declared that Onaiyekan had by his singular achievements became a role model to the people of Nigeria.
Former Head of State General Mohammadu Buhari also sent his message of goodwill and apologised for his inability to make the event. Senate President David Mark, who spoke on security, noted that the churches in Nigeria were confronted with peculiar challenges including that of insecurity. Some notable dignitaries who attended the mass were Senate Leader Victor Edoma -Egba, Police Affairs Ministers, Caleb Olubolade Others included Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, FCT Minister, Olajumoke Akinjide, President of the Customary Court of Appeal, Abuja, Justice Moses Abubakar.
The Onaiyekan family also attended the mass and a Special choir group from Kaba, Onaiyekan’s hometown. Others include, representative of the Sultan of Sokoto, Niger State Governor, Bishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, President of the Catholic Bishop Conference. Members of the Nigerian Inter religious Council, Victor Attah former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Primate of the Anglican Church, Nicolas Okoh, Onaiyekan who was born on January 29, 1944 and was ordained a Priest of the Catholic Church at Kaba on August 3, 1969, was Ordained Bishop on January 6, 1983, by Pope John Paul.
The main theme was taken from the Book of Isaiah 60:1-6, “the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” while the main message of the day was taken from the Book of Matthew 2: 1-12.