HOMILY BY ARCHBISHOP I. A. KAIGAMA, AT THE NEW CATHEDRAL ON-GOING BUILDING, PAPAL GROUND, KUBWA, ABUJA, 6TH NOVEMBER, 2021 ON THE CELEBRATION OF FORTY YEARS: FROM INDEPENDENT MISSION TO ABUJA CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE.
Readings: Sirach 50: 22-24; I Corinthians. 1: 3-9; Luke 17: 11-19
With St. Paul in the second reading (cf. 1 Cor. 1:3-9), we give thanks to God our Father for the grace He has given us in Christ Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit has accomplished many things in us in the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja and acted toward us in accord with His mercy (cf. Sirach 50:24).
After forty years, what started as missio sui iuris (independent mission) has evolved to what is today the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja. From November 6th, 1981, charged with the responsibility as the first Ecclesiastical Superior of the newly created mission, the late Dominic Ignatius Cardinal Ekandem saw the obvious need for sustained pastoral development in the Federal Capital Territory, and with a burning zeal and foresight, established solid foundations. He sought pastoral assistance from dioceses and religious congregations, to establish structures that would eventually define Abuja ecclesiastical jurisdiction, building parishes, the Pro-Cathedral, hospitals and schools such as Regina Pacis, Christ the King College, the Minor Seminary and orphanage, among others.
We deeply appreciate the Religious and the diocesan clergy who lent their support to the evangelization and infrastructural development of the jurisdiction from its infancy. Mention must be made of Society of African Missions (SMA), Holy Ghost Fathers (CSSP), St. Patrick’s Fathers (SPS), and Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, Holy Rosary Sisters, and Immaculate Heart Sisters, among others. A dynamic lay faithful, both still living and those gone before us, contributed with great passion and dedicated service to the tremendous progress recorded thus far. A lot has been achieved and working together, a lot more can be achieved.
Nine years after its establishment as an ecclesiastical jurisdiction, our very endowed John Cardinal Onaiyekan became the Coadjutor Bishop, then Bishop, and subsequently, the Archbishop, during whose tenure most of the 40 years we are celebrating have been fruitfully spent. He ordained many priests, created many parishes and provided many facilities.
We recall the sacrifices of the early priests such as then Fr. Matthew Kukah, late Msgr. Dominic Inyang, late Fr. Willy Ojukwu, Msgr. Kenneth Enang, Fr. Innocent Jooji and Msgr. Aloysius Udoh, women religious as Sr. Mary Tuku, HHCJ, late Sr. Theresa Nwanuro, HHCJ, and lay men such as Sir Peter Aliu, Barr. Joseph Daramola, late Chief Ignatius Nomhwange, late Chief David Danlami Dodo, Sir Damian Obiakor and Sir Jonathan Abanobi. I believe that Fr. Kukah’s experience (such as starting a worshipping community under a tree in Abuja) has prepared him for his Episcopal ministry in Sokoto, a diocese comprising of four large States as well as Bishop Michael Gokum and Bishop Donatus Akpan for their present duties as Bishops. Special gratitude to Bishop Anslem Umoren, Msp, for his invaluable input and support as the Auxiliary Bishop.
Unexpectedly, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, appointed me to succeed as chief shepherd, the internationally acclaimed John Cardinal Onaiyekan. I humbly came by the grace of God, to add my little block to the huge foundations and pillars already in existence. With our creation of new pastoral areas, increasing and fortifying the commissions; the frequent meetings of the presbyteral council, pastoral council, church societies, and the annual General Assembly, we hope to consolidate on the achievements already recorded. We will intensify our services for more positive pastoral and spiritual impact on the many who come to Abuja in search of the Golden Fleece, and many in the “other Abuja” in the periphery where ethnic groups of Gbagi, Koro, and Gwandara extraction live under poor economic and infrastructural conditions.
I call on all our pastoral agents to redouble their effort, and individuals or groups to contribute towards the evangelization drive by sponsoring modest church buildings or the purchase of land, or the building of parish houses, especially in the fifty one newly created pastoral areas.
Like Abuja ecclesiastical jurisdiction, I am, by God’s grace, forty years a Catholic priest, sustained by God’s providence despite my weaknesses and imperfections. As a teenager going fishing for the first time, I sat nervously on the river bank, afraid to enter the water. While others were in the river struggling to catch fish, two fishes jumped out of the river and landed in front of me. I simply grabbed them and they became my first ever catch of fish! God provided fish for me a fearful teenager, and since then, this God of providence has always provided for me in my life and priestly ministry, as I try to do my own part. Like the grateful Samaritan leper in the Gospel (cf. Lk. 17) I say, “thank you Lord”.
One of my nephews is however unhappy with me. He wrote to me claiming that I was not using my church position to support our biological family: “I’m absolutely dismayed by your willingness to build others/strangers but not the family”. My dear fellow priests, we must remember that we have been called to build the people of God. We are no longer our own or called to make tainted profit (cf. 1 Tim. 6:5; 1 Pt. 5: 2) for our biological families. According to Fulton Sheen, we become priests when we empty ourselves and no longer seek our identity.
By our priestly sacrifices and selfless dedication to our pastoral duties and the commitment of our lay people, our Archdiocese in the next forty years will truly be a home of communion, participation and mission, especially as we inaugurate our Archdiocesan phase of the synod on synodality, called by Pope Francis. Like the body parts, each of us must contribute to our pastoral, educational, medical and other social services, in a society where people have come to identify the Church as a provider of social amenities, employment, relief to the poor, etc., even though she receives no government subventions as elected political leaders lavishly do.
With 79 parishes, 23 chaplaincies and 51 pastoral areas; a total of 323 diocesan and religious priests and other priests on secondary assignment in the Archdiocese, 380 Sisters, 132 major seminarians; working in the Archdiocese and our Catholic population over 900,000 Catholics with vibrant youths, through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother, we implore the Lord of providence to catapult our Archdiocese in the next forty years to more pastoral heights through our labour of love; to make us shining witnesses in our troubled nation, and at the end of our lives, to enable us see God face to face in heaven.
Happy 40th anniversary!