Speeches 1982 - Kaduna (Nigeria)

3. In society you are called to be a leaven for Christ: to witness to Christ in the school, in the Government office, in the company works, in the club gathering, in the town development union, in age grade meetings, in the university, in the market, in the trade union, and in politics. In all these secular spheres you will promote justice, unity, honesty, and public-spiritedness. Together you will seek Gospel-inspired and concrete answers to problems of bribery, corruption, lack of discipline, ethnicism and other such evils.

In your Church organizations you will be models of unity, discipline, hard work, loyalty to your leaders, forgetfulness of self, rejoicing when others have done well, not seeking fame but only the Kingdom of Christ, and not struggling for the first place in society, or wanting to be called master: “For you have one master, the Christ”.

It is above all in the family that you will be able to communicate Christ. You will be exemplary husbands and wives, setting up a community of love and life, and exercising as fathers and mothers a real ministry in educating your children. It is through you that members are provided for the Body of Christ, and candidates for the priesthood and religious life. Nigeria looks to you with confidence to train good citizens for society.

4. As you engage in your numerous initiatives in the apostolate, you will place great importance on prayer and union with Christ. I am happy to know that your chaplains emphasize this, that you receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation often, that the Holy Eucharist is the centre of your Christian lives and of all your activities. Indeed, your evangelizing zeal comes above all from the Eucharist.

With God’s grace, the days of recollection and the yearly retreats that you hold for spiritual rejuvenation can also help you to continue to grow in the faith which you have received.
5. I owe a special word of greeting to you, beloved catechists of Nigeria. Your role in initial and continuing evangelization is of such importance that I could not make a pilgrimage to Nigeria without this happy encounter with you.

From the very beginning when the first missionaries arrived in Nigeria more than a hundred years ago, you have been constant and indispensable partners of the priests. You assisted them at every turn. When they did not know the local languages, you acted as interpreters. You prepared people for the various sacraments. You baptized the dying when no priest was available. You animated the local Catholic community and led it in Sunday worship when there was no priest. You spearheaded most Church development projects. In all this you have abundantly contributed to the spreading of the Gospel.

6. Your special area of competence and dedication is catechetics, and its “twofold objective of maturing the initial faith and of educating the true disciple of Christ by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the person and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ”. You introduce neophytes to the faith, whether they are young, middle-aged, or old. You teach them Catholic doctrine, prayers and hymns. You help them to take part in the sacred liturgy, especially the Holy Eucharist.

You visit the sick on behalf of the whole Church. You make contact with non-Christians. You animate lay apostolate associations at grassroots level. You attend parish and diocesan meetings and help build bridges of understanding. You help the young to grow to Christian maturity by inspiring them to generosity and chastity You discover likely candidates for the priesthood and religious life and bring them to the priest. Moreover, you facilitate people’s contacts with the priests. Often you are able to be of special assistance when no priests can be found. For these and all such services, I express the gratitude of the universal Church.

My beloved catechists, the Church needs you. She continues to need you. No matter how many priests or religious the Church may have, you remain irreplaceable. You are nearest to your fellow laymen. You give them an idea of the Church at close quarters. You silently offer them models to imitate. You show them that commitment to the faith and the sacrifice needed to spread it are possible for lay people and not only for clerics and religious.

7. I am happy to know that your dioceses have programmes for your in-service training, in such forms as yearly seminars for all catechists, deeper and longer formation courses for some, and even training for periods of years in catechetical institutes with more facilities than one diocese can afford. I thank you for your cooperation in all this. I thank your bishops and priests who make this possible. I also thank the National Directors of Religious Education who make a significant contribution.

Catechists of Nigeria, the Pope loves you. He trusts you, and he will always count on your help in the great work of evangelization. He blesses you in the name of Jesus.

8. I am also very happy to greet you, the leaders of the Catholic Women’s Organization of Nigeria. Although I have met leaders of the National Laity Council in which you are also included, my special encounter with you is justified by the unique place which you occupy in the family, in the Church and in society.

You are convinced Catholic women, worthy wives and esteemed mothers. You have learned to love your husbands, care for your children, and spread your love to members of your extended family and to society as a whole. You are diligent in bringing up your children and in helping to prepare them for their vocation in life. In particular you educate them in charity and chastity, in generosity and discipline. These are truly vital roles.

I am informed that you are a well-organized, disciplined and effective group at the various levels. Your officers also take part in the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, the World President of which attended your National Convention at Onitsha last April. You organize leadership training courses, home-keeping seminars and Christian doctrine conferences. For all this I praise you.

9. You are particularly active in your various initiatives in favour of the family. You help to arrange and run marriage training centres for girls. You work in Diocesan Marriage Advisory Councils. You help families in difficulty. And you defend life at every stage, from the first moment of conception. I praise you in particular for your firm stand against abortion. Abortion is the murder of an innocent child. It has to be condemned by society. I also praise your efforts to help unmarried mothers and offer them an acceptable alternative to abortion. In all of this you mirror the human tenderness and the divine love of Jesus Christ.

Your struggle for the Catholic religious education of your own children and other children merits strong support. Religion is central in education. The Church must be involved in the education of the young. To do this, she needs your help.

Respected leaders of the Catholic Women’s Organization of Nigeria, through you the Church is able to have a great impact on society. Through the many and varied activities that express “the fullness of true feminine humanity” you are able to work for the transformation of the world – to permeate all creation with the spirit of Christ.

10. All these and other initiatives, dear laity, catechists and Catholic women, depend on Christ for their fruitfulness. He – Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, the Son of the Virgin Mary – is the source of all your strength. The ultimate criterion of your dynamism is not to be found in human ingenuity, or activity, or even organization. It is to be found in union with Jesus Christ, above all in Eucharistic worship. The real test of the Christian vitality of the village, the parish, the diocese and the nation is found in the answer to the question: What place does the Holy Eucharist have in your lives? For it is through sharing in the Paschal Mystery of his Death and Resurrection that Jesus makes us effective collaborators in spreading his Kingdom on earth. It is truly the Mass that matters. It is through the Eucharist that Christ guides our lives and builds our communities of love, understanding and mercy.

Today I ask our Blessed Mother Mary to unfold to all of you the Eucharistic mystery of her Son and to keep you for ever in her love.




Kaduna (Nigeria)

Sunday, 14 February 1982

Mister Governor,
all authorities,

This speech, this text, was intended for Muslim religious leaders. I am now addressing the same words to you, who are representing the whole population of Kaduna State, and especially the Muslim population.

Dear friends,

1. I am happy to have this encounter with you, the Muslim religious leaders in Nigeria. I warmly greet you and through you I send my greetings to the many millions of Muslims of this great country. I have come to Nigeria to visit my brothers and sisters of the Catholic Church, but my journey would be incomplete without this meeting. Be assured therefore that I am very pleased at this opportunity to express to you my sentiments of fraternal respect and esteem.

2. All of us, Christians and Muslims, live under the sun of the one merciful God.

We both believe in one God who is the Creator of Man. We acclaim God’s sovereignty and we defend man’s dignity as God’s servant. We adore God and profess total submission to him. Thus, in a true sense, we can call one another brothers and sisters in faith in the one God. And we are grateful for this faith, since without God the life of man would be like the heavens without the sun.

Because of this faith that we have in God, Christianity and Islam have many things in common: the privilege of prayer, the duty of justice accompanied by compassion and almsgiving, and above all a sacred respect for the dignity of man, which is at the foundation of the basic rights of every human being, including the right to life of the unborn child.

We Christians have received from Jesus, our Lord and Master, the fundamental law of love of God and love of neighbour. I know that this law of love has a profound echo in your hearts too, for in your sacred book, together with the invitation to faith, you are exhorted to excel in good works (cf. Sura 5,51).

3. In the world today there are many dangers which threaten the family, that precious nucleus of society wherein each human life begins and develops. I would assure you that Christians have a special concern for the family, for its unity, enrichment and protection. I speak of this concern with you because I am confident that you too are aware of the importance of the values of the family and wish to cooperate with Christians in efforts aimed at strengthening and supporting family life.

Permit me to mention some additional areas where Christians and Muslims can cooperate more.

We can engage in dialogue, in order to understand each other better at both the level of the scholars and in person-to-person relationships, in the family and in places of work and play.

We can promote more honesty and discipline in private and public life, greater courage and wisdom in politics, the elimination of political antagonisms, and the removal of discrimination because of a person’s race, colour, ethnic origin, religion or sex.

Both of us can spearhead the principle and practice of religious freedom, ensuring its application especially in the religious education of children. When the right of each child to worship God is complemented by his or her right to religious education, then all society is enriched and its members are well equipped for life. Religious education takes on increased importance today, since certain elements in society seek to forget and even to destroy the spiritual aspect of man.

4. Why do I speak of these issues with you? Because you are Muslims, and like us Christians, you believe in the one God who is the source of all the rights and values of mankind. Furthermore I am convinced that if we join hands in the name of God we can accomplish much good. We can work together for harmony and national unity, in sincerity and greater mutual confidence. We can collaborate in the promotion of justice, peace and development. It is my earnest hope that our solidarity of brotherhood, under God, will truly enhance the future of Nigeria and all Africa, and add to the good ordering of the world as a universal civilization of love.

May the Almighty and Merciful God turn his face towards you and bless you. May he guide you. May he fill you with his peace and give joy to your hearts.




Ibadan (Nigeria)

Monday, 15 February 1982

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

1. I am overjoyed to have this meeting with you, men and women of the different dioceses in Nigeria, who are living the religious life of consecration to Jesus Christ. Through your commitment of perfect charity you express the hope of the Church and become her crown and glory. You are a comfort for her. You are ambassadors for her. This encounter could not be omitted.

Having been already consecrated to God by Baptism, you give special witness to Christ in the Church and in the world by your renunciation – for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven – of marriage, earthly possessions and the doing of your own will. Through your vows you make this sacrifice freely, out of love for God and your fellowman, in a spirit of dedication and service.

Consecrated chastity has great witness value is a world rampant with selfishness and the misuse of sex. In addition, in Nigeria and throughout Africa the sacrifice of fatherhood or motherhood is no small matter. Poverty calls people to give up attachment to money and what money can buy. And obedience swims against the world current of revolt, pride, vanity and oppression. As the Second Vatican Council says, the religious state is a proof that the Kingdom of Christ and its overmastering necessities are superior to all earthly considerations.

Even more important than the various works which you carry out is the life which you live: in other words, what you are. You are consecrated persons striving to follow Christ with great intensity of love.

2. Your love of God and union with him in prayer expresses itself in the activities of the apostolate.

In many ways you are called to collaborate in the cause of evangelization. Through a multiplicity of works you strive to communicate Christ and to offer service in his name. Through a whole network of ecclesial initiatives you pursue the definitive aim of catechesis: “to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ”. Wherever a child is in need, wherever someone is suffering, wherever a brother or sister feels alone or rejected, the religious has the opportunity to work for the Kingdom of God. But prayer and union with God always remain the soul of your apostolate. Without Jesus we can do nothing.

3. I appreciate your efforts for the continuing theological and spiritual formation of your members, your initiative of post-novitiate training centres, the regular meetings of your major superiors, and the area meetings which involve every religious. Through such activities you are able to reflect more deeply on religious life, grow in an understanding of charity and the meaning of your mission, consolidate unity among yourselves and coordinate your apostolate. Having been refreshed and renewed in faith and love, you will be in a position to give yourselves with ever greater availability to the service of the local and the universal Church.

4. I wish to make a particular mention of religious brothers and to praise them and to encourage them. Your vocation, my dear brothers, is not an easy one, especially because the spirit of the world does not appreciate evangelical poverty and humble service. You are called to follow Christ in a life of total self-giving which does not generally bring public acclaim.

Many people cannot understand your vocation because they cannot grasp how Christ’s invitation, when accepted, can truly bring joy and deep fulfilment: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. The Christ who emptied himself is your model and your strength. You yourselves, then, must never begin to doubt your own identity. Your understanding of your vocation, your transparent happiness and infectious peace, and your zealous commitment to your apostolate and to the good of the people whom you serve are an eloquent witness to the power of Christ’s grace and to the primacy of his love.

5. All religious, both brothers and sisters, must be aware that temptations will not spare them. Your three vows will sooner or later be tested in the crucible of problems, crises and dangers. Your intense love of Christ and his Church will teach you how to remain faithful. In particular, you will have to seek ever more authentic ways to live lives of evangelical poverty in a country in which the gap between the rich and the poor is widening all the time. In the Nigeria of today you are also expected to be a leaven in society through a spirit of humble service, exercised particularly among the poor. This type of consecrated service is the opposite of complacency, arrogance and privileged position.

In planning your apostolate and the professional training of your members, each congregation should take full account of the local Church or diocese. The diocese is a spiritual family of which the bishop is the father and head, and religious must avoid the temptation of running programmes parallel to those of the diocese. Rather the entire diocese – priests, religious and laity – should coordinate its apostolic plans and strategy and give corporate witness to Christ.

6. I wish to add a special word to the monks and cloistered nuns of Nigeria, because of the specific contribution which their way of life makes to the Church and the nation. You rightly place particular emphasis on divine worship, on prayer and contemplation. The Church herself ratifies your vocation because of her conviction that apostolic fruitfulness is a gift of God. By assiduous prayer you are associated with Jesus, who is “living for ever to intercede for all who come to God through him”. United with Jesus in his intercession, you are thus able to obtain graces for the active apostolate and for the whole world. I personally rely on your help.

You live lives of real self-sacrifice. You thereby give to all Christians, and indeed to all people, a silent but eloquent testimony of God’s sovereignty and of Christ’s primacy in your lives. By the work of your hands and by your intellectual endeavours, you show the close relationship between work and prayer. At the same time you express your solidarity in work with all your brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Through monastic silence you help create an atmosphere for enabling people to listen to God and to receive his inspirations. It is no wonder that priests, religious and laity flock to your monasteries and convents for the sacred liturgy, prayer, spiritual retreats, recollection days, advice and even simply rest. In such ways you can help promote the maturity of your people in the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection.

7. And to all of you, beloved religious of Nigeria, I wish to express my deep affection in Christ Jesus. I am very grateful to you for your lives of consecration and for all your generous service to the Church. I ask your continuing prayers for the intentions of the Apostolic See and for the needs of the universal Church. May our Blessed Mother Mary, our model of love for Jesus and of dedication to him, help you to live out faithfully your vocation of love and faith, of joy and hope.

For in the words of Saint Peter, without having seen Jesus “you love him; though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy”. Dear brothers and sisters, “set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ”.





Monday, 15 February 1982

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

1. Before I leave your shores I am indeed happy to have this meeting with you, representatives of the many who have organized this visit of mine to Nigeria.

For many months you have planned, revised your plans, held meetings in Rome, in Lagos, in your Provincial Centres, on the diocesan levels and at other venues. You have contacted the Government, various organizations, companies and individuals. The result is the beautifully orchestrated and smooth programme which is already in its fourth day.

I express to you my deep appreciation. Your many sacrifices have helped to strengthen faith, to increase charity and to cement friendships. You have contributed much to the life of the Church it Nigeria and to the happiness and well-being of so many of your fellow-citizens.

2. The arrangements you made have enabled me to exercise my own pastoral mission as a servant of Christ’s Gospel and as the universal Shepherd of God’s people. With you collaboration I have been able here in Nigeria to proclaim Christ, the Light of the world.

3. By working together you have reflected the unity of the Church; you have shown how greatly you value solidarity in action and how much you want to be, like the early Christians, “of one heart and soul”. It is my hope that the pattern of collaboration and hard work that you have followed during the preparation of my visit will continue to inspire you in all your activities in your local Churches, and in the continued support that you are asked to give to your bishops and priests.

In the words of Saint Paul: I shall always be “thankful for your partnership in the Gospel... And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart”.





Monday, 15 February 1982

My dear brother Bishops,

“Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord”.

I am overjoyed to be with you today. Last month you were my guests at the Vatican, and during these days I am your guest. We understand each other. We love each other. We communicate freely. My brief tour of your vast country fills me with joy and hope I regret that I am not able to visit more centres, but you know the reasons why the programme had to be limited. Everywhere you made excellent preparations. Your people are enthusiastic, hospitable, full of faith. They understand the immense treasury of grace that is theirs in our Lord Jesus Christ. I praise his Father, who has given to your people deep insights of faith into things that have been hidden “from the learned and the clever”.

1. I praise you and express my fraternal solidarity with you in your day-to-day ministry, in the ecclesial reality in which you are pastors of the flock. You have done honour to the missionaries who began this good work a century ago.

Your seminaries are full, your religious congregations have a steady flow of candidates, and your lay apostolate organizations are dynamic. You love the one who presides in charity over the universal Church, as well as those who collaborate with him in the work of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. You promote orthodox doctrine and approved liturgical practices, and you encourage priestly discipline. Clerical dress and the religious habit are held in honour in your country. You zealously exercise your teaching office by means of homilies, pastoral letters and other statements.

I am happy to know that your pastoral zeal is also expressed through the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, the National Missionary Seminary, the Catholic Institute of West Africa, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, and your collaboration with the Roman Curia and the World Synod of Bishops. For these and all the other manifestations of apostolic and pastoral love, I thank you in the name of Jesus Christ, the one whom all of us, with Peter, acknowledge as the “Chief Shepherd of the flock”.

In a big Bishops’ Conference such as yours, it is never superfluous to emphasize the importance of unity and concerted action. There are many needs of the apostolate in your nation which you cannot meet adequately unless you stand together and act together. Examples are the common projects which I have just mentioned. Added to these are your regional and interdiocesan seminaries, both junior and senior, your relationship with national and regional civil authorities, your pastoral planning and so forth. Problems too demand well-considered and united action: whatever lack of discipline may exist among some priests, the problem of tribalism or ethnicism, and such national problems as bribery and corruption, dishonesty and violence.

I am aware that the school apostolate has yielded very good results for evangelization in Nigeria, but that the situation of church schools has also created big problems, especially in the past fifteen years. The religious education of children, in school and out of school, is of the greatest importance.

In the various states of your vast Federation you are striving to fulfil your responsibility as bishops in providing for the rights and needs of so many Catholic children. Acting as spiritual leaders and vigilant pastors, and relying on the full support of your priests, religious and laity, you are trying to show the aims of Christian education and help parents to fulfil their God-given role as the primary educators of their children.

In this regard I would draw attention to what I wrote in my recent apostolic exhortation: “The right of parents to choose an education in conformity with their religious faith must be absolutely guaranteed. The State and Church. have the obligation to give families all possible aid to enable them to perform their educational role properly. Therefore both the Church and State must create and foster the institutions and activities that families justly demand, and the aid must be in proportion to the families’ needs. However, those in society who are in charge of schools must never forget that the parents have been appointed by God himself as the first and principal educators of their children and that their right is completely inalienable”. Yes, dear brothers in Christ, in all your pastoral zeal towards the laity and clergy I am close to you in the love of Jesus Christ.

I thank you for your missionary consciousness and for your initiative in sending Nigerian priests, brothers and sisters to a number of other countries in Africa and to the West Indies. I am grateful for the fraternity you show to your brother priests; it is indeed a wonderful practice to do annual spiritual exercises and monthly days of recollection with them. In all of this you show the oneness of the priesthood in the oneness of Christ’s Church.

2. When the first group of you were in Rome last month I already had occasion to speak of my visit to Nigeria as an experience of our unity in Christ and in the Church. The unity that you live in your local Churches we are now experiencing together. This unity is a unity of faith based on the word of God, on the Gospel – a Gospel to be believed, to be lived, to be spread. For this reason I proposed unity and evangelization as the double setting of this pastoral visit of mine to the beloved Church in Nigeria.

Today in Lagos we are truly celebrating the word of God that unites us; we are celebrating the Incarnate Word of God, who died in order “to gather in unity the scattered children of God”. We are celebrating the Gospel as “the power of God saving all who have faith”. We recall how, through the grace of Christ and the merits of his precious blood, the word of God has taken root in your people’s lives, has united them in communities of faith, and has continually brought forth fruits of justice unto salvation.

3. As we meditate on the dynamic process of evangelization that took place we realize that it must go on unceasingly. We realize that people will not believe in Christ “unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher, and they will not have a preacher unless one is sent”. And so today, dear brothers in Christ, we reflect on the words of Jesus: “As the Father sent me, even so I send you”.

I have been sent by Christ and you have been sent by Christ. And together with the rest of the College of Bishops throughout the world we are sent to announce Christ, to proclaim Christ, to communicate Christ and his Gospel to the world. This is why, in anticipation of this pastoral visit, I expressed the hope that it would initiate “a new era of evangelization”. This is my repeated prayer: that zeal for evangelization will envelop the Church here in Nigeria. And why? Because evangelization constitutes the essential mission of the Church, it is her vocation, it is her deepest identity. In this, the Church, which is Christ’s fullness, faithfully reflects the mission of Jesus, who says of himself: “I must proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God... because this is what I was sent to do”.

In practice, the Church’s vocation to evangelize means above all living the Gospel ever more deeply. It means accepting Christ’s call to conversion and accepting the demands inherent in the faith preached by Jesus. The call to conversion was the theme of John the Baptist’s preaching. It was the explicit proclamation of Jesus: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand”. It was Peter’s message for Pentecost: “You must repent”.

Understood in this way, evangelization involves a process of purification and interior change that affects our local Churches. It means conversion unto salvation: the ecclesial community becoming ever more a community of living faith, a communion of prayer, a centre of charity radiating concern for the poor and the sick, the lonely, the abandoned, the handicapped, those with leprosy, those who are weak in faith, those who need support and are looking for someone to show them the love of Christ.

Having herself embraced the Gospel, the Church is called to communicate it by word and action.

The Catholic people, under your pastoral leadership, have the opportunity, the privilege and the duty to give a corporate witness to the Gospel of Jesus in the culture in which they live. They have the power to bring the Gospel into the very heart of their culture, into the fabric of their everyday lives. It is above all when the Christian families have been truly evangelized and are aware of their evangelizing role that there can be an effective evangelization of culture – an effective encounter between the Gospel and culture. The need is great, for as my predecessor Paul VI pointed out: “The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time”.

An important aspect of your own evangelizing role is the whole dimension of the enculturation of the Gospel into the lives of your people. Here, you and your priest co-workers offer to your people a perennial message of divine revelation – “the unsearchable riches of Christ” – but at the same time, on the basis of this “eternal Gospel”, you help them “to bring forth from their own living tradition original expressions of Christian life, celebration and thought”.

The Church truly respects the culture of each people. In offering the Gospel message, the Church does not intend to destroy or to abolish what is good and beautiful. In fact she recognizes many cultural values and through the power of the Gospel purifies and takes into Christian worship certain elements of a people’s customs. The Church comes to bring Christ; she does not come to bring the culture of another race. Evangelization aims at penetrating and elevating culture by the power of the Gospel.

On the other hand, we know that God’s revelation exceeds the insights of any culture and of all the cultures of the world put together. With Saint Paul we ought to praise the divine plain: “O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”. The profundity of the divine revelation is-manifested in the mystery of the Incarnation, which in turn unveils the life of the Most Holy Trinity: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And therefore it is clear, as I have stated before, that “the power of the Gospel everywhere transforms and regenerates. When that power enters into a culture, it is no surprise that it rectifies many of its elements”. At the same time, it is through the providence of God that the divine message is made incarnate and is communicated through the culture of each people. It is for ever true that the path of culture is the path of man, and it is on this path that man encounters the One who embodies the values of all cultures and fully reveals the man of each culture to himself. The Gospel of Christ the Incarnate Word finds its home along the path of culture and from this path it continues to offer its message of salvation and eternal life.

Because of these important considerations, dear brothers in Christ, I wish to implore again from the Holy Spirit that “new era of evangelization” of which I spoke to you in Rome. It will, of course, be a gift of God – a gift added to the interminable list of favours bestowed upon your people through the merciful and loving kindness of our God. On our part, it is necessary to have the profound conviction that our own ministry as bishops is indeed a ministry of evangelization, including the evangelization of culture. As I mentioned in Rome, Jesus himself is indicating to us that evangelization is our “supreme priority”.

4. Before concluding, I wish to add a word about two important aspects of our Gospel ministry.

As we explicitly proclaim God’s gift of salvation, his call to conversion, his merciful forgiveness and his redemptive love, we do so in the context of the Sacrament of Penance and the Holy Eucharist.

In Nigeria your people have been faithful to the mystery of reconciliation and mercy as evidenced in their practice of going to confession. This fidelity is itself a gift of God. In so many areas in the Church throughout the world, the Sacrament of Penance, for various reasons, has been used less than before. The Second Vatican Council and its implementation by the Apostolic See aimed at giving renewed emphasis to certain aspects of the sacrament. These included, for example: the ministry of the Church in the forgiveness of sins; the effect of sin on the whole body of Christ; and the role of the community in the celebration of penance and in the work of reconciliation. But the Second Vatican Council and the Apostolic See in no way willed to initiate a process in which large sectors of the Catholic people would abandon use of the sacrament, or so neglect it in practice as to deny its importance in Christian living. The forthcoming Synod of Bishops will be an excellent opportunity for the Magisterium of the Church to reiterate collegially the vital role of this sacrament and its proper use according to the approved norms of the Church. These norms conform to the divine law and express the authentic renewal willed by the Second Vatican Council and the Apostolic See.

Meanwhile, I ask you to do all you can, dear brothers, to emphasize the importance of the ecclesial nature of the Sacrament of Penance, which is not only in harmony with individual confession and absolution, but which actually requires them, except in those very exceptional cases in which the Church authorizes general absolution.

In calling your people to constant conversion, in preaching the mercy and forgiveness of the Saviour, in emphasizing the community aspect of reconciliation and in promoting the proper use of individual confession and absolution among your people, you are rendering a service of immense value not only to your local Churches but to the universal Church as well. You are extolling the mystery of Redemption and defending one of the most sacred rights of your people. As I stated in my first encyclical: “In faithfully observing the centuries-old practice of the Sacrament of Penance – the practice of individual confession with a personal act of sorrow and the intention to amend and make satisfaction – the Church is therefore defending the human soul’s individual right: man’s right to a more personal encounter with the crucified forgiving Christ... As is evident, this is also a right on Christ’s part with regard to every human being redeemed by him: his right to meet each one of us in that key moment in the soul’s life constituted by the moment of conversion and forgiveness”.

5. Your evangelizing ministry finally reaches its summit, which is at the same time the centre of all sacramental life, in the Eucharist. Here the Gospel is fully proclaimed; here perfect, union with Jesus is offered to the faithful. Here each Christian can receive the saving power of Redemption in its fullness. And here, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, your own pastoral mission is brought to fulfilment.

Here you are truly one with Christ the Good Shepherd, the Chief Pastor of the flock. All conversion leads up to that union which is fully possible only in the Eucharist. All evangelization points to this centre, which is both its source and summit.

It is also in the Eucharist that we ourselves, bishops of the Church of God, find pastoral strength and joy to lead God’s people in the way of salvation and eternal life. Here we assemble, in Christ’s name, his pilgrim Church on their journey to the Father, “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort”. Here we show Jesus to our people and advance with him, in holiness and truth, towards the eternal embrace of the Father’s love, towards the full communion of life with the Most Holy Trinity.

This, my brother bishops, is my ministry and yours – our evangelizing ministry – at the service of God’s people in Nigeria and wherever his blessed providence directs your missionary zeal.
Praised be Jesus Christ, praised be his redemptive love, praised be his Gospel of salvation!

I want to open my heart with a gift I brought to you for this occasion to your Conference: it is an image of-my heart, of my origin; and also of my hope in the future of the Church, of humanity and of every human family in all mother-nations (especially my own mother-nation) in the world. Thank you very much for your participation; thank you from the depths of my heart for your preparation. I expressed my gratefulness to your collaborators before, and to the whole Committee; now I repeat the same to every one of you, and to the entire Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria. If the whole visit is proceeding so well, it is of course the fruit of Divine Grace, of the blessing of our Lord; but it is also a fruit of your ministry, of your apostolic fraternal desire and of the spirit of unity among you and with the Bishop of Rome. I am deeply grateful to all of you for that and for all sorts of spiritual preparation: it isn’t perhaps as visible as an external preparation, but basically all external preparation is just a mirror in which the spiritual reflects its image. Thank you for the spiritual preparation of your Church, of your people, for this special mission: your country, Nigeria, had many missionaries, especially from Ireland We can now bless that land, having given so many of its sons to the missions of the whole Church, and particularly in your own land. Now, the Pope’s visit is a special missionary experience: and I wish to thank all former generations of bishops, priests and missionaries who prepared this special experience, and together with yon I thank our Lord through his Mother.

Speeches 1982 - Kaduna (Nigeria)