John Paul II's 1st Apostolic Visit to Nigeria
Saturday, 13th February
Dear young men and women of Nigeria,
This afternoon the Pope belongs to you!
I am truly overjoyed to see you here in your teeming thousands from all parts of your vast country.
You have displayed for me your youthful agility, your fascinating acrobatics, your joy and your optimism. I am very grateful to you; I am very happy to be with you. Long before we met, you were in my thoughts and prayers. And now the time has come for a personal encounter. Permit me to share some thoughts with you.
1. Youth is the age of hope, of promise, of enthusiasm, of plans and of ideals. Youth does not want to give up in the face of difficulties. Youth does not want to put up with the shortcomings of the status quo. Youth believes in a better world and is determined to do something to help bring it about.
You must be known for your generosity and openness to others. You must be grateful to your parents. You will love them, respect them, help them, and obey them. You will accept your teachers, respect them and follow their instructions. You will be known for self-sacrifice, diligence at your studies or work, and efficiency in your assigned duties. You will sacrifice yourselves in Catholic lay apostolate organizations in order to bear witness to Christ. You must be a dedicated laity zealously pursuing your mission to communicate Christ. Some of you will be called to become priests, brothers or sisters, with a special role of service in the Kingdom of God.
2. My beloved young people of Nigeria, you must be outstanding for discipline, strength of character and reliability. This will show itself in several ways. You will be chaste. You will resist all temptations which attack the sanctity of your body. You will bring your chastity to the priesthood, religious life or marriage. You will have many opportunities to express discipline through Christian temperance. The attractions and pressures of the world often lure young people into self-indulgence or escapism. Temptations to the excesses of drink and to drug abuse are all around you.
Will-power reinforced by humble prayer is essential to anyone who is trying to act in a fully human way.
3. It is a major decision for you to choose a permanent state of life. For most of you it will be marriage. But for many of you it may be the priesthood, the brotherhood or the sisterhood. You will need the advice of your priests, your parents and your teachers. You will need God’s guidance. Pray. Rely on Christ. Open your hearts to him. Open your hearts wide to Christ. Do not be afraid. Be generous. The one who gives sparingly will reap sparingly. The one who gives with generosity will reap an abundant harvest. You can count on God’s grace.
4. A good Christian is a good citizen. You must love your country, obey its laws, respect your leaders, and pay your taxes. You are called to take your due part in political, social, economic and cultural affairs. When you are eligible, you should vote and be voted for in political elections.
I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the national programme of youth service. I commend the young men and women who generously give of themselves for this period of service outside their state of origin, forging new bonds of friendship and strengthening fraternal solidarity and national unity. At the same time I am grateful for the consideration given to priests and religious, whose assignments must not conflict with their priestly and religious status.
5. As young people, you should constantly strive to identify the ills of your society, such as bribery and corruption, the embezzlement of government or company funds, extravagant and unproductive spending, the parade of wealth, neglect of the poor and the friendless, nepotism, tribalism, political antagonism, denial of the rights of the poor, abortion, contraception and other evils which also ravage other countries. As true youth you will see, judge and then act according to the criteria of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
6. In all things, you will radiate joy, peace, brotherliness, optimism and the hope of a better Nigeria. This is your contribution as Christians; this is what you learn from the Lord. This is the challenge of his word, which must take root in your lives and bear fruit. Remember how Jesus challenges you over and over again in the Gospels: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God...”.
I wish to show my appreciation of the many forms of organized Catholic youth apostolate at the various levels (national, diocesan, parish and station). I praise the many associations through which you fulfil your commitment to the lay apostolate and reaffirm your desire to serve humanity in the name of Christ. I pay tribute to your priest chaplains who help you so much, and also to the religious brothers and sisters and to the laypeople who help to make your organizations a vital expression of the life of the Church.
7. Young people of Nigeria, I have come to encourage you in the great mission you have to help build a better world, to advance Christ’s Kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace. It is to him that I wish to direct your gaze. As was said to the early Christians: “Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection”. In his name – in the holy name of Jesus, the Saviour of the world, the Redeemer of man, the friend of youth – I want to express to you those sentiments that I have shared with young men and women throughout the world: Young people of Nigeria, you have an incomparable dignity as children of God, as brothers and sisters of Christ.
Young people of Nigeria, Christ died for you, to redeem you. Christ loves you and I love you too!
Young people of Nigeria, “let us love one another, since love comes from God”.
Homily at Mass for Families, in Onitsha
With the Apostle Paul I say to you: “You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other”.
With these words I greet you, husbands and wives, fathers, mothers and children. I greet you, Nigerian families, and in you I greet the past and the present and the future of the Nigerian people.
The Pope comes to you today in the name of Christ, who prayed for Peter, so that having been strengthened in his faith he might confirm his brethren. I come to you in the name of the Son of God who became man and lived among us, in the heart of a human family. Jesus is close to the joys and sorrows of family life. He understands the family’s hopes and disappointments, and he shares in the events that make up each family’s history.
In this Eucharistic celebration I wish to gather together, as it were, the love, the unity, the compassion, the forgiveness, the patience, the hopes and aspirations, the work, the sufferings and the worries of all the families of Nigeria, in order to offer them as a spiritual sacrifice to our heavenly Father, through his Son Jesus Christ, and in union with Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross. I wish to pray with you and for you, in order to show Jesus that we believe in the power of love to uproot evil and to banish it from our hearts. I have wished to come among you in order to encourage you to carry out Saint Paul’s instruction to “put on love”, so that the peace of Christ may reign in your hearts.
1. Brothers and sisters, your families have so many positive and praiseworthy values, based on your family traditions. You have strong family ties. Children are regarded as a blessing and are desired as the crown of marriage. The extended family system provides a loving human environment for the care of orphans, the old and the poor.
There are however some shadows. Traditionally your culture did not exclude polygamy, even though most marriages were and are monogamous. Sometimes women were deprived of some of their rights. And the modern enemies of the family, the disturbing degradation of some fundamental values – divorce, contraception and abortion – have not spared your country.
My appeal and invitation to you, Christian families of Nigeria, is the same appeal and invitation that I addressed to all the Christian families of the world in my recent Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris Consortio”: “Family, become what you are”.
2. The family comes from God. It is the Creator who has arranged the loving covenant of one man and one woman. He has blessed their love and made it a source of mutual help. He has made it fruitful, and established its permanence until death. In the Creator’s plan, the family is a community of persons. Therefore, the fundamental form of life and love within the family lies in respect for each person, for each individual member of the family. Husbands and wives, consider and treat each other with the greatest respect. Parents, respect the unique personality of your children. Children, show your parents obedient respect. All members of the family must feel accepted, and respected, because they must feel loved. In a special way, the old and the sick.
Respect in its deepest sense means fidelity. Respect means acceptance of one another, trust and attachment, patience and forgiveness when necessary, beyond and in spite of personal difficulties, which can never justify a lack of love. Husbands and wives, love each other; sacrifice yourselves for each other and for your children. Resist all temptations to betray each other.
3. Because the love of husband and wife is a unique sharing in the life of God himself, it should be genuinely and generously open to new life. It should be open to all those whose life is diminished or threatened by needs of one kind or another. Christian families of Nigeria, let your example shine before the whole world: stand up for life. Do not accept an anti-life mentality rooted in “a corruption of the idea and the experience of freedom, conceived not as a capacity for realizing the truth of God’s plan for marriage and the family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation, often against others, for one’s own selfish well-being”.
You will do a great service to your country, to the Church and to the whole of humanity, if you try in every way possible to safeguard the love for the child that is part of your culture and your family traditions. Love your children as Mary and Joseph loved and protected and educated Jesus.
I know that in your country the childless couple bears a heavy cross, one that has to be borne with courage all through life. To couples who cannot have children of their own I say: you are no less loved by God; your love for each other is complete and fruitful when it is open to others, to the needs of the apostolate, to the needs of the poor, to the needs of orphans, to the needs of the world.
4. And if we now ask Nigerian families: What is your specific contribution to your country? Then again I say: Become what you are, “the first and vital cell of society. It is from the family that citizens come to birth, and it is within the family that they find the first school of the social virtues that are the animating principle of the existence and development of society itself”. It is the family that takes each man and woman out of anonymity, and makes them conscious of their personal dignity, enriching them with deep human experiences and actively placing them, in their uniqueness, within the fabric of society.
Brothers and sisters, if you love your country, then love your family life. If you wish to avoid having a society that runs the risk of becoming more and more depersonalised and standardized and therefore inhuman and dehumanising, then strengthen the structures of family life. Love your families. Respect them.
And you, young people, prepare yourselves for marriage by prayer, by self-discipline, mutual respect and chastity. For the full and genuine gift of self can only take place in permanent married love.
5. Christian families of Nigeria! Your dignity and responsibility as disciples of Jesus comes from the fact that you are called to be holy, and to help each other, the ecclesial community and the world to become holy. Again we hear Saint Paul’s words from the second reading: “Let the message of Christ in all its richness find home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other in all wisdom”.
Become holy through God’s gifts of faith, hope and love, through personal and family prayer, through loving trust in our heavenly Father, through good example, through the life of grace nourished and sustained in the sacraments. Become holy by taking part in the life of the Church in your local communities, in your parishes, in your dioceses, with respect and love for your priests and bishops. Become holy in the “service of love” – the love of God and of your fellow human beings, especially your families. Become holy, and help make the life and the many activities of your social and national communities holy.
I praise and thank all those who work to promote the family, especially your Bishops and your priests, who celebrate the sacred mysteries, who instruct, bless, advise, console and reconcile. I thank the catechists and all those working in the lay apostolate.
And in a very special way the men and women religious who are living witnesses of true evangelical values.
I am happy to hear of the excellent work being done by the Pro-Life Association of Nigeria (PLAN), in favour of responsible parenthood in accordance with the teachings of the Church. I am also pleased to know of your marriage enrichment programmes. May God bless these initiatives.
I praise all the families that pray together. Nigerian Christian families, the Pope begs you today to increase family prayer, daily family prayer: husbands and wives together, parents with their children.
Be especially devoted to the Rosary. Pray to Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, the Mother of Christian families. God will not fail to bless the family that prays together, in the name of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
6. My brothers and sisters, I am convinced that our meeting here today will be marked by a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God on the Church in Nigeria. I am here among you in obedience to Jesus’ command: “Go, make disciples of all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. In a few moments I shall baptize and confirm a group of catechumens representing the different dioceses in Nigeria. The seed planted in this land through the Church’s faithful proclamation of the Good News of salvation has borne fruit. Through Jesus Christ, in whom we have redemption through his blood, we have new members in his Body, the Church.
These brothers and sisters will now be cleansed with water by the power of the living Word, which make them sharers in God’s own life and his adopted children. They – and all of us together – will profess the Church’s faith in the power of the Lord’s Passion, death and Resurrection. In Baptism we are not only buried with Christ; we are also raised to life with him, because we believe in the power of God who raised him from the dead.
In Confirmation these brothers and sisters of ours will be strengthened to be active members of the Church and to build up the Body of Christ in faith and love. They will be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the service of the Church in love.
Brothers and sisters, these sacred rites of Christian initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharistic Sacrifice – remind us that we are all witnesses to Christ. May he stir our hearts to ever greater love.
I pray to him, the Lord of life, for all Nigerian families: for those who are trying to be living witnesses of the faith, for those families who do not share our faith but honour the highest ideals of family life, for families that are divided, for those in difficulty, for widows and for orphans.
May the Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, bless all Nigerian families. Amen.
Sunday, 14th February
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, 16th February
1. For the first time since last May the 13th, I am able to have direct contact with a group of representatives of the press, radio and television. And I am happy that it is a meeting with you who have been with me during my latest journey to Africa, the first I have made outside of Italy since the attempt on my life.
Many of you were in Rome last summer to inform your readers, viewers and listeners about the course of my recovery. I wish to thank you once more for the concern you demonstrated during that episode. I attribute its happy ending to the special protection of God and to the intercession of his Blessed Mother.
2. And now God’s providence has arranged that in the space of less than two years I should make a second visit to the African continent. This meeting with you, particularly the journalists and the radio and television representatives of African countries, gives me an opportunity to reflect with you on the importance of the means of social communication in Africa today.
Here you are at the initial stages of the development of your mass media, while the more industrialized countries have already reached a high level of development in this sector. This situation increases your responsibility, while giving you a unique opportunity. Through your action, your professional honesty and your dedication to the cause of truth, you can make a decisive contribution to this continent. By orienting the mass media totally to the service of man and in favour of objective information, Africa can determine its own future development.
3. We know that today in this sector, as in others, there are dangerous imbalances, and that various international organizations have spoken out against them. There is a tendency towards the exercise of outside pressure in the world of the press, radio and television, with the imposition, by the stronger countries, not only of technology but also of ideas. For this reason I feel it is important to stress that national sovereignty is safeguarded through the correct use of the communications media, precisely because these media can become instruments of ideological pressure. And this ideological pressure is more dangerous and insidious than many more obviously coercive means.
4. The Catholic Church will continue to call attention to the role of social communications. Since the Second Vatican Council she has multiplied her efforts in this sector. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of the Pastoral Instruction “Communio et Progressio”. In this document there are three words which stand out prominently: sincerity, honesty, and truth. If each of you succeeds in putting these principles into practice in your own sphere of competence, then the means of social communication will truly become for all humanity the means of social and cultural advancement – the means of true progress.
This is the hope that accompanies the expression of my gratitude for all the sacrifices and services you have so generously given during my pastoral pilgrimage to Nigeria, which is now drawing to a close.
May God bless you and your families and enable all of you to know his love and to experience his peace.