The Scandal Of Owo, Nigeria: Salvation In Jesus Crucified

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Homily of Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, Catholic diocese of Oyo at the Funeral Mass held on June 17, 2022for Multiple Victims of the St. Francis Owo Catholic Church Massacre

WISDOM 3: 1-9c; 1 Cor 15:51-57; psalm 27 Lk 12: 35-40

I BELIEVE I SHALL SEE THE LORD’S GOODNESS IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING

Your Graces, My Lord Bishops, particularly My Lord bishop Jude Arogundade, Bishop of Ondo Diocese, Your Excellencies, particularly the Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, Monsignors, Rev. Fathers, Religious, Traditional Rulers especially the Olowo of Owo, Oba Ajibade Gbadegesin Ogunoye III, the families and relatives of our departed ones and of other victims of the tragedy that has brought us together, the Christian Association of Nigeria, people of other faiths and confessions, my dear people of God, especially the faithful of St. Francis Catholic Church which is the scene of the crime that has brought so much hot tears to our eyes and caused us yet more heartbreaks over this dear country, Nigeria in these last two weeks, I greet you all.

Eloi Eloi lama Sabachtani

It would not be an exaggeration to begin this homily with the lament of the suffering servant, the psalm of David 22 which goes “ My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from me from the sound of my groaning? My God I call by day, but you never answer, by night I find no rest. Yet you are the Holy One, enthroned on the praise of Israel” (ps 22: 1-3). That same lament filled the mouth of Our Lord Jesus Christ at the peak of his agony on The cross at Calvary.

Believe me dear people of God, when I say that this is not a homily I am happy to preach and I know it is not an occasion which any of you ever prayed to witness. No doubt we all gather today in deep sorrow and mourning for this funeral Mass of over 40 of our departed people who were brutally murdered, mindlessly massacred while at worship in St. Francis Catholic Church Owo on Pentecost Sunday, June 5, 2022 here in Ondo State, the sunshine State. Indeed, if the sun shone on Ondo, state at all on that day, it surely did not penetrate the sordid darkness within the hearts of the murderers who visited St Francis with guns blazing on that Sunday. The event catapulted the Catholic Church in Owo, the Catholic diocese of Ondo and Ondo State of Nigeria into the limelight of world attention, unfortunately for the very wrong reasons. Since then, the entire world has condemned the crime perpetrated against humanity and against God in this State. We thank all for their messages, gestures and visits. We thank the governor of the State particularly, the Bishop of Ondo medical personnel , groups and individuals who have done all in their power since then to bring succour to the affected people and to the Church. Thank you,

We have seen tragedies in Nigeria and we have seen brutal murders but few can really compare with the brutality and gruesomeness of the event on that Pentecost Sunday. On a visit to the Church with innocent blood still spattered on the floor and walls of the sanctuary I could almost hear the victims as they were attacked right inside the Church, cry out like Jesus Christ, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachtani: My God, My God why have you forsaken me”? May that desecration of the sanctuary, the desecration of the body of Christ and that crime against humanity expressed in their lament not go unpunished. “Eloi, Eloi lama Sabachtani”

Thus are we battered but not crushed

As our deceased brothers and sisters, lay here there are almost 75 others who sustained different degrees of injuries in the same incident . Among the dead is an aged 85 year-old, Bridget Ozulumba, as well as young people and children like Chukwuemeka Emmanuel Njoku who was 2 and Mathilda Ogungbade who was 3. None of the dead or injured did anything wrong except that they came to worship God at the foot of the cross and altar on that day. There, sudden death was inflicted upon them and deep sorrow upon their dear ones left behind. These dear ones died right at the foot of the cross… What a pity and yet what good fortune! For as the Christian religion teaches us to always lay all our troubles and sorrows down at the foot of the cross, we know that they our dead are safe in the arms of Jesus. That is why we can still sing “WHEN PEACE LIKE A RIVER ATTENDETH MY WAY……By His promise, They all shall have the crown of life. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

People of God, tragedy and sorrow, small or great, have the capacity to batter and crush us only if we succumb to them. Yes it is for moments like this that the word of God was written for us by Saint Paul in the letter to the Corinthians: “Trials of every sort come to us but we are not discouraged. We are perplexed but do not despair, persecuted but not abandoned, knocked down but not crushed” We carry everywhere in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body” (2Cor. 4: 8-10)

So, dear grieving families, friends, the parish of St Francis OWO, all gathered here, I appeal to you to refuse to be crushed by the tragedy which we have before us because of your faith in Christ. Today difficult though it is, let us choose more to give thanks to God that he gave our departed brethren the life, the faith and the privilege of belonging to him and of returning to him even in this incomprehensible manner. Let the words of the first reading give you some comfort. “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of the Lord, no torment shall ever touch them…” (Wisd. 31ff) Surely the man on the cross will never deny nor abandon the faithful who died at the foot of his cross. We give thanks to him for that consolation and more: Did he not also tell us today? “ Blessed those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. In truth I tell you he will do up his belt, sit them down at table and wait on them” (Lk 12:37). So to you who mourn and to you who hurt, I say may our loving God wipe your tears. May Divine Mercy rain down on you. May the Holy Spirit be your companion and comforter.

Lord, if you had been here. All to Jesus I surrender

I would still understand it if someone here would say to me “Preacherman, come on, you don’t feel the anger I feel, you don’t know the pain I feel. Where was God when this disaster was unfolding”? Has God stopped being mighty? The pain could even be worse in the face of the enemies’ derision and mockery: Don’t we always pray that God should help us so that the enemy might not mock us asking: “Where is your God”? Yet we still find consolation. David, while in deep pain wrote it, into the psalm “My tears have become my bread, by night by day, as I hear it said all the day long. Where is your God”? The same David concluded that psalm: why are you cast down my soul, why groan within me? Hope in God, I will praise him still, my saviour and my God”. (Ps 42: 3, 10)

Like Martha in the Gospel of St John, let us say: “I know my brother, sister, father child will rise again at the resurrection on the last day”. (Jn 11:24). It is a hope that will not disappoint us for Jesus said. “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, he shall live…”(Jn 11: 25) So, my dear people, the summit and summary of all our sentiments today is our surrender to Jesus Christ on whom we keep our gaze as the author and finisher of our faith. (Heb 12:2). We see him at the stations of the cross. We see him in his persecution, suffering and murder. We see him when his limp body was given to his mother, Mary. After each Station of the Cross, in the church we sing…WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS ON WHICH THE PRINCE OF GLORY DIED.

How many more must die

However to surrender to Jesus Christ is not to succumb to evil. On this kind of occasion it is opportune to ask: “How many more must die before the senseless killings in Nigeria stop”? In these coffins a part of Nigeria lies dead too…Because lying down here with these deceased ones are the joys and hopes and aspirations of their families and loved ones, of the Church of God, of the various communities from where they come and indeed of this country. Even the ones who are maimed and wounded themselves wherever they are, represent Nigeria with all her self-inflicted wounds, bruised brutalized and violated. So I ask, For how much longer shall this continue? From President Muhammad’s BUHARI, from the federal government the lawmakers, security agencies and all leaders with responsibility for the State at all levels, I ask….How many more must die?

To surrender to faith is not to surrender to bestial murder, injustice, discrimination or oppression. Our Christian faith, strong as it is, is thoroughly tested when we remember that the massacre in OWO is not an isolated case in our country and that we see little on ground to indicate that it might be the last. In fact we have a long, bloody list, always growing over the last 30 odd years. From the victims of the “religious” riots in March 1987 in northern Nigeria, the victims of the bomb blast on Christmas day 2011 in a Catholic Church at Madalla town, near Abuja City, the victims of January 5 and 6, 2012 attacks at Mubi (Adamawa State), to many kidnappings and/or killings of lay faithful, priests, Consecrated men and women, seminarians, some of whose churches and residences were attacked, thousands of innocent people, especially Christians have lost their lives. Even as I speak many priests and citizens of Nigeria are in the hands of kidnappers. According to SB Morgen Intelligence, a Nigeria-based research firm, almost 900 Nigerians were killed in violent attacks in the first quarter of 2022 alone. Well, how many more must die? Jesus Christ came and died so that we might live. He himself declared: “I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). So we are not walking corpse merely waiting to be killed .. nor are we suicide cases. So We are compelled to ask: Nigeria, our leaders, Are you still our leaders? Are we at war? How many more must die?

Leaders must be leaders not mere dealers

Few indeed, are the courageous leaders who are able to raise their voice against the ongoing persecution and injustice in many sectors in Nigeria. Few are those who act up at times like these to stem the surge of violence and bloodshed that threatens to engulf Us . We pay tribute to the few leaders around who have showed uncommon courage in denouncing the evil in their areas and taken some action but the general picture is bleak. This murder at OWO shows that far more must be done. Ritual killings, abductions, murders, lynching, kidnappings, armed robbery still increase the bloody tally of innocent deaths and suffering in Nigeria day by day. All this is going on while many of our leaders and people in power do business as usual, feign deaf and dumb or worse still continue with their macabre rallies and dances done merely to grapple for positions and privileges or perhaps even mourn the dead the dying and suffering….I say God is not served nor amused by this and judgment will one day come. I call on President Buhari, and our leaders in the Federal Government and State governments to wake up, sit up and act up to secure life and property all over Nigeria. I ask again: “How many more must die”? “Does life really have any value any more with you”? Are we to believe that insurgents, bandits, Boko Haram, ISWAP and murderous herdsmen are more powerful than the Federal government of Nigeria? Is the glaring weakness and helplessness of all our security agencies real or deliberate? These questions need answers.

Leaders Must Hear our Cry

So many have cried out in frustration for a review of the security apparatus of our country. I urge leaders at every level to listen to the cry for help of the people they claim to serve, shun discrimination and hypocrisy and do their duty. Why, even God Almighty listens to us in our distress. Death occurs in any organism when the lower order dominates the higher one. One wonders whether the lower order of lawlessness and crime has not already dominated the higher order of the rule of law and governance and begun to strangulate this beloved country of ours. The present situation must not continue so that people may not resort to self-help and kill this country entirely.

The Moral Principle of Self Defense

In the Catholic Church teaching there exists a moral principle and right to self defense which does not mean aggression and is only justly mitigated by public security. Life is God’s most precious gift and by that token it must be defended in the face of unprovoked aggression and imminent danger to life. The authentic Christian is pro-life. Because he chooses and defends life, the Christian knows that he/she is called to “love thy neighbor as you love yourself” and so does all in his power to reject violence. Like every citizen, he is called to respect the right to life. In this context, the right to self-defense remains an important Christian value, and an integral part of Catholic teachings which in times like this simply cannot be jettisoned (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn.2261-2265).

Dear people, I see as a corollary of the self-defense principle that we Nigerians must take our country back to the path of righteousness. We must agree with George Orwell who once said: “A people that elect corrupt politicians, impostors, thieves and traitors and keep them in power are not victims but accomplices”. Let us all perform our civic duties with honesty and sincerity. In reality we all need two PVCs to be good citizens namely: the Permanent Voters Card for voting during elections and the Positive Verifiable Character that gives you integrity and trustworthiness, empathy, and accountability, all part of good character that qualifies you for good citizenship and for heaven. We all must work hard for both and put both to good use to save Nigeria

Repent and believe the Good News

Finally, a word to the perpetrators of this massacre and other such crimes in Nigeria. The God of life calls on you to repent. The Church of Christ invites you to a change of heart, to cast away your arms, to repent and embrace peace. Why would you be agents of destruction of life in which you yourself share? Why be an instrument of bloodshed in this beautiful country given to all? Why would you abuse and destroy humanity of which you yourselves are part? You may make us cry and mourn but we shall never stop inviting you to come share in the love and joy of God who loves you as he loves everyone. Fill your heart with love and cast out hatred. Come out of the bush and the shadows into the light of love. Together let us build a country that once more can be filled with laughter, with peace and prosperity. You too can experience the joy of salvation.

My Lord Bishop Arogundade…the governor and people of Ondo State, grieving brothers and sisters, my dear people of God, Let us believe That we shall see the Lord’ goodness in the land of the living…may God console us all…as God lives, our sacrifice shall not be in vain. May Mary the Mother of Jesus who stood at the foot of Jesus’ cross intercede for as all… Amen May God bless our country, Nigeria. Amen

Peace be with you all

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