Address of Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama, President of Reunion of the Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA) at the Opening Ceremony of the Fourth Plenary Assembly of the Conference, 3rd May, 2022, held at the ECOWAS Parliament, Abuja, Nigeria.
Your Excellency, President Muhamadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Your Eminence, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Your Eminences, the Cardinals, Your Excellency, the Apostolic Nuncio in Nigeria, and Permanent Representative of the Holy See at ECOWAS, Most Rev. Antonio Guido Filipazzi, Your Excellency, Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, Your Excellencies, Archbishops and Bishops, Your Excellency, Mr. Jean-Claude Brou, President of the ECOWAS Commission, Your Excellency, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, and other Ministers, Your Excellencies, Senior Members of the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Distinguished political, administrative, military, customary and religious authorities, Honourable guests, Dear Partners, Dear Secretaries General of SECAM, CERAO and National and Inter-Territorial Episcopal Conferences, Priests and Religious, Ladies and gentlemen of the Press,
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Still basking in the euphoria of Easter joy, I welcome you to Abuja, first, as Archbishop of Abuja, and second, as President of RECOWA, for the 4th General Assembly of the Reunion of the Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA). I sincerely appreciate your efforts and sacrifices made to be here in spite of the busy nature of your duties and the challenges of travelling today.
As it was on January 24, 2012, in Yamoussoukro in Côte d'Ivoire, February 23, 2016, in Accra in Ghana, and May 14, 2019, in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, so it is today, May 03, 2022, in Abuja (Nigeria), a great moment for us as pastors of souls in West Africa, united by the same mission, the same vision and a common goal within a single organ of pastoral collegiality, the Reunion of the Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA).
Context and theme The theme of our plenary: Fratelli Tutti: Path to Brotherhood and Sustainable Peace in West Africa, is inspired by the encyclical letter of Pope Francis, which invites us to fraternal relationships, rethinking, finding or rebuilding the "WE”. It calls us all to the conversion of our being and our actions for a true fraternity and a sincere peace; it invites leaders to see governance in terms of service and for all of us to be conscious of the question posed to Cain in Genesis 4:9, “where is your brother?”
We are gathered in Abuja for a week to pray, to reflect and to take stock of the activities carried out by RECOWA, in order to design the roadmap for the next three years.
Lighting the candle instead of cursing the darkness We know that in our region of West Africa, political governance in many cases is unfortunately not about service based on charity, justice, truth and transparency. We also face issues of youth unemployment, religious and ethnic crises, climate change, land grabbing; diseases even more deadly than the Covid-19 pandemic, money spent on arms instead of using it to remedy the crippling effect of hunger and to foster development; terrorist attacks, kidnappers’ menace, corruption, etc. On the positive side, our region has a lot to offer the world, from the spiritual, economic, cultural, agroecological and biodiversity points of view. Leaders of the region must therefore use political power to create good governance rather than for personal advancement or allow religious, ethnic, economic or political interests to subordinate the common good. Leaders must enthrone merit, share resources equitably, and do away with the virus of corruption and self centeredness.
In the realm of religion, we must practice true religion by improving the quality of our spiritual lives which must manifest in good deeds such as the care of orphans, widows, the poor and marginalized, youths (cf. James 1:27), and not focusing on quick prosperity and miracles; neither should we succumb to the temptation of agitating for the appointment of priests and bishops based on ethnic considerations.
Christian and Muslim leaders must go beyond courteous formalities to employ practical measures to foster Muslim/Christian dialogue instead of media confrontation, or even mutual physical hostility. We must look out for the interest of one another (cf. Phil. 2:3).
Expected fruits We are hopeful that the results of our reflections, workshops and discussions will have a great impact on us and our people. We, as the chief Shepherds are committed to ensuring exemplary leadership and striving to “smell like the sheep” we are pasturing. Without becoming politically partisan, our prophetic voices must continue to ring out on behalf of the voiceless multitude suffering. We do not pretend that we have the solutions to the multidimensional political, security and social problems. The Church can only continue to play her role in educating the consciences of Christians, non-Christians and people of good will in our society. In the encyclical Deus Caritas Est no. 28, Pope Benddict XVI taught that the Church should not take on the political battle to create a more just society, replacing the State, yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.
Conclusion Your Excellency Mr. President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Your Excellency Mr. President of the ECOWAS Commission, permit me to express our deep gratitude not only for your presence at this opening ceremony of the fourth Plenary Assembly of the RECOWA, but also for the support given to its organizers and the gracious welcome extended to our illustrious guests. The present opening ceremony which takes place in the precincts of the ECOWAS Parliament is a tangible proof of this collaboration.
The importance of this meeting has not escaped the attention of the Holy See represented here by both His Eminence, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the Apostolic Nuncio in Nigeria, His Excellency, Most Rev. Antonio Filipazzi. Kindly convey our warmest filial regards and loyalty to the Holy Father. We sincerely thank our partners for their collaboration: the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), the Conference of the Bishops of the United States of America (USCCB), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD), International Cooperation for Social Development (CIDSE), Africa, Europe, Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN), MISSIO and MISEREOR.
As this is my last General Assembly opening speech as RECOWA President, having come to the end of my second tenure, permit me to prayerfully invoke the Risen Christ to continue to bless, giuide and consolidate our RECOWA family. Entrusting also RECOWA to the fervent intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I say to you all, thank you, merci beaucoup, muito obrigado. Une fois de plus, Je vous souhaite tous la bienvenue au Nigéria; vous qui êtes venus de nos pays de l'Afrique de l'Ouest et d'autres pays. À vous tous un séjour fantastique et une Conférence très fructueuse. I now have the distinct privilege and honour to declare open the fourth Plenary Assembly of the Reunion of the Episcopal Conferences of West Africa.