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John Paul II's 2nd Apostolic Visit to Nigeria

Saturday 21st - Monday 23rd March 1998

Blessed Pope John Paul II was a pilgrim to Nigeria a second time in 1998, on his 82nd apostolic voyage. He especially came for the beatification of Father Cyprian Tansi.

During his pilgrimage JPII spoke:
at the Arrival Ceremony at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport & to the builders of the Nunciature in Abuja,
in the Homilly at Mass for the Beatification of Father Cyprian Tansi & afterwards at the Angelus,
at a Meeting with Muslim Leaders & in the Homily at Mass in Kubwa Arena, Abuja,
at his Meeting with Nigerian Bishops & at the Departure ceremony.

There's good short video footage of his visit here.

Pope John Paul II's Address on Arrival at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport
Saturday, 21 March 1998 - in English, Italian & Spanish

"Your Excellency the Head of State, General Sani Abacha, Government Leaders, My Brother Bishops,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, Beloved People of Nigeria,

1. With profound gratitude I praise Divine Providence for granting me the grace of returning to you and of setting foot once more on this blessed land! To you who have gathered to welcome me, and to all the sons and daughters of Nigeria, I offer heartfelt greetings of love and peace.

I address a special word of gratitude to my Brother Bishops for their invitation, and to the Head of State, as well as to the other Government leaders and authorities, for making this visit possible. I see the presence of all of you here today as a sign of friendship and a manifestation of your desire to work together to serve the well-being of the entire nation.

2. I come to Nigeria as a friend, as one who is deeply concerned for the destiny of your country and of Africa as a whole. The main purpose of my visit is to celebrate with the Catholic community the beatification of Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, the first Nigerian in the Church's history to be officially proclaimed "Blessed".

This beatification in the very land where Father Tansi was born and exercised his priestly ministry honours the whole nation of Nigeria. It gives to all Nigerians an opportunity to reflect on the direction and insight which the life of Father Tansi provides for today's society. In him, and in all who dedicate their lives completely to the service of others, is revealed the path along which Nigerians should travel towards a brighter future for their country. The testimony borne by Father Tansi is important at this moment in Nigeria's history, a moment that requires concerted and honest efforts to foster harmony and national unity, to guarantee respect for human life and human rights, to promote justice and development, to combat unemployment, to give hope to the poor and the suffering, to resolve conflicts through dialogue and to establish a true and lasting solidarity between all sectors of society.

3. Violence has not ceased to bring great pain and torment to certain peoples of Africa. Arriving in West Africa, my thoughts turn to the people of Sierra Leone, who have suffered so much in recent times. We must all hope that, with the continuing help of those responsible for peace in Africa, the return to constitutional order and democratic freedom will open the way to a new period of reconstruction and development.

In this respect I duly recognize the contributions made by Nigeria and other countries to help in this difficult situation. In particular I wish to express my sincere gratitude to all those who cooperated in the successful rescue operation at the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Makeni.

I wish also to encourage the people of Liberia as they come out of a situation of tragic conflict and work to rebuild their nation. Justice and peace are the path of development and progress. May God strengthen those who walk this path in the service of the human community.

4. Dear Nigerian Friends, in your own country you are all called to muster your wisdom and expertise in the difficult and urgent task of building a society that respects all its members in their dignity, their rights and their freedoms. This requires an attitude of reconciliation and calls for the Government and citizens of this land to be firmly committed to giving the best of themselves for the good of all. The challenge before you is great, but greater still are your capacity and determination to meet it.

The life and witness of Father Tansi remind us of the Gospel saying: "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Mt 5:9). Blessed are all who, in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, work for genuine peace. Blessed in the eyes of God are those working to lead the continent of Africa to a new phase of stability, reconciliation, development and progress.

Ultimate success in this venture will come from the Almighty, the Lord of life and of human history. Certain that He will sustain you in the work now before you, I make my own the words of the Psalmist: "May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!" (Ps 29:11).

As I begin my visit, I express my deep esteem and affection for every Nigerian. I would willingly meet you all! May God be close to every son and daughter of this beloved land. God bless Nigeria!"

JPII's Homily at Mass for the beatification of Father Cyprian Tansi
Sunday, 22 March - in English, Italian & Spanish

"God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor 5:19)

Dear Brothers and Dear Sisters,
1. God has given me the joy, for the second time, of coming here to Onitsha to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with you. 16 years ago you welcomed me to this fair land, and I experienced the warmth and fervour of a faith-filled people, men and women reconciled to God and eager to spread the Good News of salvation to those near and far.
St Paul speaks of "the new creation in Christ" and goes on to tell us: "God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men's faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled.. the appeal we make in Christ's name is: be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:19-20). The Apostle is touching here on the history of every man and woman: God, in his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, has reconciled us to Himself.

This same truth is presented even more vividly in today's Gospel. St Luke tells us of a young man who left his father's house, experienced the painful consequences of this action, and then found the road of reconciliation. The young man comes back to his father and says: " Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants" (Lk 15:18-19). The father welcomes his son back with open arms, he rejoices because his son has returned. The father in the parable represents our Heavenly Father, who wishes to reconcile every person to himself in Christ. This is the reconciliation which the Church proclaims.

When Bishops from all over Africa gathered for a Special Session of the Synod to discuss the problems of this continent, they said that the Church in Africa has to become, through the witness of her sons and daughters, a place of true reconciliation. Being first reconciled among themselves, the Church's members will bring to society the forgiveness and reconciliation of Christ our peace. "Otherwise" — the Bishops said — "the world will look more and more like a battlefield, where only selfish interests count and the law of force prevails" (Ecclesia in Africa, 79).

Today I wish to proclaim the importance of reconciliation: reconciliation with God and reconciliation of people among themselves. This is the task which lies before the Church in this land of Nigeria, on this continent of Africa, and in the midst of every people and nation throughout the world. "We are ambassadors for Christ .. and the appeal that we make in Christ's name is: be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20). For this reason, the Catholics of Nigeria must be authentic and effective witnesses to the faith in every aspect of life, both in public affairs and in private matters.

2. Today, one of Nigeria's own sons, Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, has been proclaimed "Blessed" in the very land where he preached the Good News of salvation and sought to reconcile his fellow countrymen with God and with one another. In fact, the Cathedral where Father Tansi was ordained and the parishes where he exercised the priestly ministry are not far from this very spot in Oba where we are gathered. Some of the people to whom he proclaimed the Gospel and administered the sacraments are here with us today — including Cardinal Francis Arinze, who was baptized by Father Tansi and received his first education in one of Father Tansi's schools. In the great joy of this event I greet all those taking part in this liturgy, especially Archbishop Albert Obiefuna, Shepherd of this local Church of Onitsha, and all the Bishops from Nigeria and neighbouring countries. With particular affection I greet the priests, the men and women Religious, the catechists and all the lay faithful. I thank the members of other Christian Ecclesial Communities, of the Muslim community and of other Religious Traditions who have joined us today, and the various state and local authorities present at our celebration. In a special way, I ask God to reward those who have worked so hard, giving generously of their time, talents and resources, so that this beatification might take place on Nigerian soil. I make my own the words of the Psalmist as I invite all of you: "Glorify the Lord with me; together let us praise his name" (Ps 34:3)!

3. The life and witness of Father Tansi is an inspiration to everyone in the Nigeria that he loved so much. He was first of all a man of God: his long hours before the Blessed Sacrament filled his heart with generous and courageous love. Those who knew him testify to his great love of God. Everyone who met him was touched by his personal goodness. He was then a man of the people: he always put others before himself, and was especially attentive to the pastoral needs of families. He took great care to prepare couples well for Holy Matrimony and preached the importance of chastity. He tried in every way to promote the dignity of women. In a special way, the education of young people was precious to him. Even when he was sent by Bishop Heerey to the Cistercian Abbey of Mount Saint Bernard in England to pursue his monastic vocation, with the hope of bringing the contemplative life back to Africa, he did not forget his own people. He did not fail to offer prayers and sacrifices for their continuing sanctification.

Father Tansi knew that there is something of the Prodigal Son in every human being. He knew that all men and women are tempted to separate themselves from God in order to lead their own independent and selfish existence. He knew that they are then disappointed by the emptiness of the illusion which had fascinated them, and that they eventually find in the depths of their heart the road leading back to the Father's house (cf. Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 5). He encouraged people to confess their sins and receive God's forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He implored them to forgive one another as God forgives us, and to hand on the gift of reconciliation, making it a reality at every level of Nigerian life. Father Tansi tried to imitate the father in the parable: he was always available for those searching for reconciliation. He spread the joy of restored communion with God. He inspired people to welcome the peace of Christ, and encouraged them to nourish the life of grace with the word of God and with Holy Communion.

4. "God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor 5:19).

When we speak of the world as reconciled to God, we are speaking not only of individuals but also of every community: families, clans, tribes, nations, states. In His providence, God made covenant after covenant with mankind: there was the covenant with our first parents in the Garden of Eden; the covenant with Noah after the Flood; the covenant with Abraham. Today's reading from the Book of Joshua reminds us of the covenant made with Israel, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in the land of Egypt. And God has now made the final and definitive covenant with all of humanity in Jesus Christ, who reconciled individual men and women — as well as entire nations — to God by His passion, death and resurrection.

Christ is thus a part of the history of the nations. He is a part of the history of your own nation on this continent of Africa. More than a hundred years ago missionaries arrived in your land proclaiming the Gospel of reconciliation, the Good News of salvation. Your forebears began to learn of the mystery of the redemption of the world, and came to share in the New Covenant in Christ. In this way the Christian faith was firmly planted in this soil, and in this way it continues to grow and to produce much fruit.

Blessed Cyprian Michael Tansi is a prime example of the fruits of holiness which have grown and matured in the Church in Nigeria since the Gospel was first preached in this land. He received the gift of faith through the efforts of the missionaries, and taking the Christian way of life as his own he made it truly African and Nigerian. So too the Nigerians of today — young and old alike — are called to reap the spiritual fruits which have been planted among them and are now ready for the harvest. In this regard, I wish to thank and to encourage the Church in Nigeria for her missionary work in Nigeria, in Africa and beyond. Father Tansi's witness to the Gospel and to Christian charity is a spiritual gift which this local Church now offers to the Universal Church.

5. God, in fact, has blessed this land with human and natural wealth, and it is everyone's duty to ensure that these resources are used for the good of the whole people. All Nigerians must work to rid society of everything that offends the dignity of the human person or violates human rights. This means reconciling differences, overcoming ethnic rivalries, and injecting honesty, efficiency and competence into the art of governing. As your nation pursues a peaceful transition to a democratic civilian government, there is a need for politicians — both men and women — who profoundly love their own people and wish to serve rather than be served (cf Ecclesia in Africa, 111). There can be no place for intimidation and domination of the poor and the weak, for arbitrary exclusion of individuals and groups from political life, for the misuse of authority or the abuse of power. In fact, the key to resolving economic, political, cultural and ideological conflicts is justice; and justice is not complete without love of neighbour, without an attitude of humble, generous service.

When we see others as brothers and sisters, it is then possible to begin the process of healing the divisions within society and between ethnic groups. This is the reconciliation which is the path to true peace and authentic progress for Nigeria and for Africa. This reconciliation is not weakness or cowardice. On the contrary, it demands courage and sometimes even heroism: it is victory over self rather than over others. It should never be seen as dishonour. For in reality it is the patient, wise art of peace.

6. The passage from the Book of Joshua which we heard in the First Reading of today's liturgy speaks of the Passover which the children of Israel celebrated after arriving in the Promised Land.

They celebrated it with joy because they saw with their own eyes that the Lord's promises to them had been fulfilled. After forty years of wandering in the desert, their feet now stood on the land which God was giving to them. The Passover of the Old Testament, the memorial of the exodus from Egypt, is the figure of the Passover of the New Testament, the memorial of Christ's passing from death to life, which we recall and celebrate at every Mass.

As we stand before the Altar of Sacrifice, soon to be fed and nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, we must be convinced that each of us, according to our particular state in life, is called to do no less than what Father Tansi did.

Having been reconciled with God, we must be instruments of reconciliation, treating all men and women as brothers and sisters, called to membership in the one family of God.

Reconciliation necessarily involves solidarity. The effect of solidarity is peace. And the fruits of peace are joy and unity in families, cooperation and development in society, truth and justice in the life of the nation. May this be Nigeria's bright future!

"The God of peace be with you all." (Rom 15:33). Amen."

Blessed John Paul II's words at the Angelus
Onitsha, Nigeria - in English, Italian & Spanish

"Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Having offered the holy and acceptable Sacrifice — the same which Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi offered throughout his priestly life — and having been nourished with the Lord's own Body and Blood, we turn in prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary as we recite together the Angelus.

Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Redeemer, we are preparing to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the coming on earth of your Son Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us. Thus we are reminded that God does not abandon his people. No matter what problems or difficulties we may encounter, you teach us to place our trust and hope firmly in the Lord. In Him we have the courage and the strength not only to persevere in adverse situations, but also to work actively so that such situations might be overcome and made right again.

Blessed Virgin, Mother of the redeemed, we commend to you the sons and daughters of the Church, which is "the Family of the Father, the Brotherhood of the Son, the Image of the Trinity" (Ecclesia in Africa, 144). We entrust to your maternal care the sick and the lonely, the poor and the hungry, the refugees, the prisoners, the old whose dreams have not been realized, the young whose aspirations are in danger of not being fulfilled. To you, Queen of Nigeria, we commend every citizen of this land who hungers and thirsts for justice."

Pope John Paul II's address at his meeting with Muslim Leaders
Sunday, 22 March 1998 - in English, Italian & Spanish

"Your Royal Highness the Sultan of Sokoto,
Your Royal Highnesses the Emirs, Distinguished Muslim Leaders,

1. Although my stay in Nigeria is rather brief, I did not want it to go by without such an important meeting with the highest representatives of Islam in this country. Allow me to express my gratitude to you for having accepted the invitation to come here this evening; I deeply appreciate this opportunity of greeting through you the entire Muslim community in Nigeria. I thank His Royal Highness for his kind words, and in turn I salute you with a greeting of Peace, the peace which has its true source in God, among whose "Beautiful Names", according to your tradition, is al-Salam, Peace.

As you are aware, the reason for my visit has been to proclaim solemnly the holiness of a son of this country, Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi. He has been declared a model of a religious man who loved others and sacrificed himself for them. The example of people who live holy lives teaches us not only to practise mutual respect and understanding, but to be ourselves models of goodness, reconciliation and collaboration, across ethnic and religious boundaries, for the good of the whole country and for the greater glory of God.

2. As Christians and Muslims, we share belief in "the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day" (Lumen Gentium, 16). Though we differ in the way we understand this One God, we are nevertheless akin in our efforts to know and follow his will. That religious aspiration itself constitutes a spiritual bond between Christians and Muslims, a bond which can provide a firm and broad-ranging basis for cooperation in many fields. This is important wherever Christians and Muslims live together. It is particularly important in Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims are present in such large numbers.

Among the important convictions which we share, both Christianity and Islam stress the dignity of every human person as having been created by God for a special purpose. This leads us to uphold the value of human life at all its stages, and to give support to the family as the essential unit of society. As a result we see as a sin against the Creator every abuse against the weaker members of society, and against women and children in particular. Moreover, our religions lay emphasis on the responsibility of individuals to respond to what, in conscience, they see that God wants of them. It is a disquieting reflection on the state of human rights today that in some parts of the world people are still persecuted and imprisoned for reasons of conscience and for their religious beliefs. As innocent victims, they are sad proof that force — and not democratic principles — has prevailed, that the intention is not to serve the truth and the common good but to defend particular interests at any cost. On the contrary, both our traditions teach an ethic which rejects an individualism that seeks its own satisfaction without paying attention to the needs of others. We believe that in God's eyes the earth's resources are destined for all and not just for a few. We are conscious that the exercise of power and authority is meant to be a service to the community, and that all forms of corruption and violence are a serious offence against God's wishes for the human family.

We have in common so much teaching regarding goodness, truth and virtue that a great understanding between us is possible. And indeed necessary. In the Message that I addressed to the Muslim Community in Kaduna during my first visit to your country in 1982, I said: "I am convinced that if we (Christians and Muslims) join hands in the name of God we can accomplish much good .. 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."

3. In any society, disagreements can arise. Sometimes the disputes and conflicts which ensue take on a religious character. Religion itself is sometimes used unscrupulously to cause conflict. Nigeria has known such conflicts, though it must be recognized with gratitude that in many parts of the country people of different religious traditions live side by side as good and peaceful neighbours. Ethnic and cultural differences should never be seen as justifying conflict. Rather, like the various voices in a choir, these differences can exist in harmony, provided there is a real desire to respect one another.

Christians and Muslims agree that in religious matters there can be no coercion. We are committed to teaching attitudes of openness and respect towards the followers of other religions. But religion can be misused, and it is surely the duty of religious leaders to guard against this. Above all, whenever violence is done in the name of religion, we must make it clear to everyone that in such instances we are not dealing with true religion. For the Almighty cannot tolerate the destruction of his own image in his children. From this place in the heart of West Africa I appeal to all Muslims, just as I have appealed to my Brother Bishops and all Catholics: let friendship and cooperation be our inspiration! Let us work together for a new era of solidarity and joint service in facing the enormous challenge of building a better, more just and more humane world! When problems arise, whether at the local, regional or national levels, solutions must be sought through dialogue. Is not this the way of African tradition? When Nigerians of different backgrounds come together to pray for the needs of the country — each group according to its own tradition — they know that they stand together as a united people. In this way they truly give honour to the Most High Lord of heaven and earth."

The Holy Father added extemporaneously:

"Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria: he is a Roman Catholic Cardinal; he is a Nigerian Cardinal. And if he is promoting the dialogue with Muslims in the whole world, he is doing that having the experience of dialogue with the Muslims in Nigeria. So I see a great contribution by your country, by your community to the universal activity and dialogue in the Church in the whole world of today. I thank you very much for this meeting."

Blessed John Paul II's Homily at Holy Mass
in Kubwa Arena, Abuja, on Monday, 23 March - in English, Italian & Spanish

"You are citizens like all the saints, and part of God's household" (Eph 2:19)

"Dear Brothers and Dear Sisters in Christ,
1. These words from St Paul's Letter to the Ephesians take on a special significance here in the new Federal Capital, the City of Abuja. In a very real way, this City is meant to represent the dawning of a new era for Nigeria and for Nigerians, an era filled with hope, in which every Nigerian citizen — every man and woman — is called to play a part in the building of a new reality in this land. Nigeria, like all of Africa, is searching for a way to meet the aspirations of its peoples, to leave behind the effects of poverty, disputes, wars, despair, in order to make proper use of the continent's immense resources and achieve political and social stability. Africa needs hope, peace, joy, harmony, love and unity: this was an affirmation made by the Fathers of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops (cf Ecclesia in Africa, 40). This is what we ask of God in our prayer here today.

From Abuja I wish to express my esteem and affection for every Nigerian: for those of you present at this Eucharist and for those watching on television or listening on the radio. I offer a special word of greeting to Archbishop John Onaiyekan, to the other Bishops, to the priests, the Religious and the lay faithful from all the local Churches of Nigeria and from other parts of Africa. I greet the Government leaders, the traditional rulers and other authorities who are present this morning. I cordially welcome the members of the other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities, represented in the Christian Association of Nigeria, as well as the followers of other Religious Traditions who have come to join us, in particular the members of the Muslim community.

2. Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, it has been 16 years since my last visit to Nigeria. The warmth of your welcome makes me feel once more at home. And are not we all, each and every one of us, called to be at home as members of the one great family of God? This is precisely what Saint Paul is telling us: we are "part of the household of God", that is, members of God's family!

In the natural order, the family is the foundation and basis of every human community and society. From the nucleus that is the family, there arise clans, tribes, peoples and states; even the great family of African nations finds its ultimate source in the human family of husband and wife, mother and father and children.

African culture and tradition hold the family in the highest regard. This is why the peoples of Africa rejoice in the gift of new life, life which is conceived and born; they spontaneously reject the idea that life can be destroyed in the womb, even when so-called "progressive civilizations" try to lead them in this direction; they show their respect for human life until its natural end, and keep elderly parents and relatives within the family (cf Ecclesia in Africa, 43). African cultures have an acute sense of solidarity and community life, especially in relation to the extended family and the village. These are signs that you understand and fulfil the requirements of that justice and integrity about which the Prophet Isaiah speaks in the First Reading (cf Is 56:1). It is precisely in relationships within the family and between families that justice and integrity become an immediate reality and a practical commitment.

3. When this natural order is raised to the supernatural order we become members of God's family and are built into a spiritual house where the Spirit of God dwells. But how does the natural gain access to the supernatural? How is it that we become members of God's family and are made holy temples for God's Spirit?

The reality of the family, as it exists at the cultural and social level, is elevated by grace and brought to a higher level. Among the baptized, relationships within the family take on a new character: they become a grace-filled communion of life and love, at the service of the wider community. And they build up the Church, the family of God (cf Lumen Gentium, 6). The Church, through her evangelizing mission and her active presence in every part of the world, gives new meaning to the very concept of the family and, consequently, to that of the nation as a "family of families", and to that of the world as "the family of nations".

A wonderful sign of the universal character of the family of God, which truly includes all peoples, was the beatification yesterday in Onitsha — the first ceremony of this sort ever to take place on Nigerian soil, in honour of one of Nigeria's own sons. This was a family celebration for the Nigerian people and nation. At the same time it was a celebration for all of God's family: the whole worldwide Church of God rejoiced with the Church in Nigeria, and has now received from Nigeria the edifying example of the life and witness of Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi.

In human terms, Father Tansi was a son of this country, born in Anambra State. In the supernatural order of grace, however, he became something more: without losing his natural ancestry, he transcended his earthly origins and became, in the words of St Paul, "part of God's household", "part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundation, and Christ Jesus as its main cornerstone" (Eph 2:19,20).

By grace, he was "made joyful in God's house of prayer" (Is 56:7). And he understood that God's house is a "house of prayer for all the peoples". It is a house of prayer for the Hausa, for the Yoruba, for the Igbo. It is a house of prayer for the Efik, the Tiv, the Edo, the Gwari, and the many other peoples — too numerous to mention by name — who inhabit this land of Nigeria. And not just for these peoples alone, but for all the peoples of Africa, for all the peoples of Europe, of Asia, of Oceania, of the Americas: "my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples"!

4. In today's Gospel, Jesus himself shows us how to understand the family of God and how it can include all peoples. He tells us: "Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother" (Mk 3:35).

And with this, Jesus reveals a secret of his Kingdom.

He tells us something about his relationship with Mary his Mother. No matter how much Jesus loved her because she was his Mother, He loved her all the more because she always did the will of his Heavenly Father. At the Annunciation she said "Yes" to God's will, manifested by the Angel Gabriel (cf Lk 1:26-38). At every step, she shared her Son's life and mission, all the way to the foot of the Cross (cf Jn 19:25). Like Mary, we too learn and accept that every human relationship is renewed, elevated, purified and given new meaning through the grace of Christ: "Through him, all of us have in the one Spirit our way to the Father . . . being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit" (cf Eph 2:18,22).

This is the spiritual house which the missionaries began to build over a hundred years ago. Nigeria owes them a great debt of gratitude for their evangelizing efforts, spent largely in schools, hospitals and other areas of social service. Following the lead of these intrepid heralds of the Gospel, the Catholic Church in Nigeria today is deeply committed to the struggle for integral human development. God has blessed the Church in Nigeria, to the point that Nigerian missionaries are working outside their own dioceses, in other countries of Africa and on other continents. Under the guidance of your Bishops and priests, the whole Catholic community must continue along this path, cooperating with all men and women of good will through an intense ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

To build God's spiritual house, the Church calls all her members to respond with unfailing compassion to those in need: to the poor, the sick and the elderly; to refugees who have had to flee violence and strife in their native lands; to men, women and children suffering from AIDS, which continues to claim numerous victims on this continent and throughout the world; to every person who must endure persecution, affliction and poverty. She teaches respect for every person, for every human life. She preaches justice and love, and insists on duties as well as rights: the rights and duties of citizens, of employers and employees, of Government and people.

There exist, in fact, basic human rights of which no individual can ever be legitimately deprived, for they are rooted in the very nature of the human person and reflect the objective and inviolable demands of a universal moral law. These rights serve as the basis and measure of every human society and organization. Respect for every human person, for his dignity and rights, must ever be the inspiration and guiding principle behind your efforts to increase democracy and strengthen the social fabric of your country. The dignity of every human being, his inalienable fundamental rights, the inviolability of life, freedom and justice, the sense of solidarity and the rejection of discrimination: these must be the building blocks of a new and better Nigeria.

5. The whole Church will soon celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ, the Word of God made man. I therefore say to you: today, you are the hope of this two-thousand-year-old Church of ours. Being young in faith, you must be like the first Christians and radiate enthusiasm and courage. Set yourselves on the path of holiness. Thus you will be a sign of God in the world, and you will re-live in your own country the missionary epic of the early Church (cf Ecclesia in Africa, 136).

The Great Jubilee is meant to give life to the spirit of renewal which the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed and Jesus confirmed: to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed (cf Lk 4:18). Make this spirit the very climate of your national life. Let the time of transition be a time of freedom, of forgiveness, of union and solidarity!

Blessed Cyprian Michael Tansi clearly saw that nothing enduring can be achieved in the service of God and country without true holiness and true charity. Make him your example. Pray to him for the needs of your families and of the entire nation.

With gratitude for all that Divine Providence continues to do for the people of Nigeria, we repeat with the Psalmist:

"O sing to the Lord, bless his name ...
Tell among the nations his glory
And his wonders among all the peoples" (Ps 95:3). Amen."


At the end of Mass the Holy Father added extemporaneously:

"Thank you for this beautiful liturgy. I am sure Cardinal Arinze is very proud of you, and also Cardinal Gantin and Cardinal Tomko, and in the first place, your Archbishop of Abuja."

Blessed John Paul II's Address to the Nigerian Bishops
in Abuja, on Monday 23 March 1998 - in English, Italian & Spanish

"My Dear Brothers in the Episcopacy,
1. The echo of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, celebrated almost four years ago, is still strong in our memories. The Synod was a time of grace-filled, fruitful reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of the Catholic community on this Continent as it continues to grow and develop. The Fathers explored at length and in all its complexity what the Church is called to do in the face of the present situation. With their confidence placed firmly in God's promises, and despite the difficulties being experienced in many countries, they re-affirmed the determination of the Church to strengthen in all Africans the hope of genuine liberation (cf Ecclesia in Africa, 14).

As you work towards this end yourselves, I address this message to you today and place at the heart of what I say the words of encouragement and grace written almost 2000 years ago by the Apostle Paul to his own "beloved child" Timothy: "God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control" (2 Tim 1:7). My Brothers, your own ministry — individually to the faithful of your particular Churches and collectively to the nation as a whole — already shows the mark of this spirit, and I wish to confirm your courage and steadfastness so that these may ever remain the hallmarks of your proclamation of the salvation offered in Jesus Christ. This is all the more necessary as the new Millennium approaches, the time of grace, the "hour of Africa" (Ecclesia in Africa, 6). It is your continued bold and decisive leadership which will enable the Church in Nigeria to meet the challenges of the new evangelization at this moment of your history.

I cannot adequately express my joy and gratitude at having been able to return to Nigeria and to celebrate in this blessed land the Beatification of Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi. I thank Archbishop Obiefuna for the kindness and warmth of the words with which, in the name of all of you, he has welcomed me. In turn, I now greet you, the Bishops of Nigeria, and through you I greet all the members of your local Churches. Please assure your priests, religious and lay faithful — especially the sick, the elderly, the children and the young people — of my love and esteem. "Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (2 Tim 1:2).

2. In the work of evangelization the Church faces many obstacles, yet she does not give in to discouragement. Rather, she continues to bear eloquent witness to her Lord, and not only through the spiritual care which she provides to her own children, but also through her commitment to serving Nigerian society as a whole. Indeed, hers is a strength far beyond the sum of her human resources — "God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power" (2 Tim 1:7) — and so she is confident that from the seeds she sows God will bring forth an abundant harvest. In truth, the word of God cannot be restrained (cf 2 Tim 2:9) and it will always be clear that it is not to us but to the "Lord of the harvest" (Lk 10:2) that the glory is due.

At the same time, however, the relevance and credibility of the Church's proclamation of the Good News is closely linked to the credibility of her messengers (cf Ecclesia in Africa, 21). For this reason those who have been called to the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18) — both Bishops and priests — must show clearly and unmistakably that they firmly believe what they preach. In the words of my predecessor Pope Paul VI: "The witness of life has become more than ever an essential condition for real effectiveness in preaching. Precisely because of this we are, to a certain extent, responsible for the progress of the Gospel that we proclaim" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 76).

3. Nigeria has one of the largest Catholic populations in Africa and the number of believers continues to grow. This is a sign of the vitality and growing maturity of this local Church. Particularly promising in this same regard is the increase of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Since priests are your chief co-workers in carrying out the Church's apostolic mission, it is essential that your relations with them be marked by unity, fraternity and appreciation of their gifts. All who have been configured by Holy Orders to Christ the Good Shepherd must share his attitude of complete self-giving for the sake of the flock and the progress of the Gospel. Living the priestly life requires a deep spiritual formation, and especially commitment to unceasing personal conversion. Your lives and those of your priests should reflect the spirit of evangelical poverty and detachment from the things and attitudes of the world. The sign of celibacy as a complete gift of self to the Lord and his Church must be carefully guarded, and any behaviour which could give scandal must be carefully avoided and, where necessary, corrected.

With more than 3000 seminarians currently in formation in your existing inter-diocesan major seminaries, you are planning to open new ones; this will allow you to ensure more readily the proper training of candidates to the priesthood. Moreover, the major seminaries for religious are also doing well and experiencing growth. Even as numbers increase, however, it remains of paramount importance to exercise careful guidance and direction in the selection and preparation of those called to priestly ministry in the Church. You can be sure that if your seminaries conform to the fundamental requirements of the Church's programme of priestly formation — especially those presented in the Conciliar Decree Optatam Totius and the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis — they will bear excellent fruit for generations to come.

4. A few short months ago, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria completed its National Pastoral Plan, a tool which will be of great value in giving impetus and direction to the new evangelization. As you implement this Plan, you will need constantly to evaluate its effectiveness and to make together the modifications necessary to meet the various pastoral needs of the particular Churches. No pastoral plan which is truly national can fail to consider ways in which ethnic and cultural differences can be brought into harmony in a spirit of genuine collaboration and ecclesial communion. Your joint support of pastoral projects such as the Catholic Institute of West Africa is one of the ways to overcome such differences. I wish to encourage you to make the Bishops' Conference an effective instrument of ever greater unity, solidarity and joint action on the part of the 45 different Ecclesiastical Jurisdictions in Nigeria. Given the increasing numbers of priestly and religious vocations, I encourage you to foster missionary vocations and to facilitate the apostolate of priests and religious called to missionary work outside their own dioceses and outside Nigeria. These are some of the challenges facing the Church in Nigeria, a Church which has now come of age. Yes, Christianity "is well and truly planted in this blessed soil" (Ecclesia in Africa, 35); Africa has become "a new homeland for Christ" and Africans are now missionaries to one another.

In a very special way your Dioceses can count on the witness and work of many men and women Religious who, giving freely of themselves, contribute so much to the life and vigour of your communities. Their special consecration to the Lord enables them to bear a particularly effective witness to God's love for his people and makes them living signs of the truth that "the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1:15). They are an integral element of the Church's life and mission in Nigeria: let them never be absent from your fatherly care and concern; be close to them and cherish their charisms as an extraordinary gift of the Lord.

It is also fitting at this point that I say a word of praise for the increasing involvement of the lay faithful in the task of advancing the Kingdom of God in this land. In fact, the strength of the Church's witness to the Gospel will depend more and more on the formation of an active laity, enabling them to bring the spirit of Christ into the political, social and cultural arenas and to offer increasingly competent cooperation in planning and carrying out pastoral initiatives. Your particular Churches are blessed with catechists and "evangelizers" who zealously go about the task of announcing Christ and making his ways known to their brothers and sisters. Moreover, the specific gifts of societies of the lay apostolate and prayer groups, as long as they carefully avoid all exclusivism, are a vital force for the growth of your faith communities.

5. The Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops considered the evangelization of the family to be a major priority, since it is through families that the African family will be evangelized (cf Ecclesia in Africa, 80). Moreover, marriage and family life are the normal path of holiness for the majority of the faithful entrusted to your care. Therefore, your unremitting efforts to lead couples to discover the truth, the beauty and the richness of grace to be found in their new life together in Christ remain an essential part of your pastoral responsibilities and the surest way to ensure a genuine inculturation of the Gospel.

In a similar manner, young people, who are the future of the Church and of the nation, must be given every help and assistance in overcoming the obstacles which might thwart their development: illiteracy, unemployment, idleness, drugs. An excellent way of meeting this challenge is to call upon young people themselves to be the evangelizers of their peers — for no one can do this better than they. Young people should be helped to discover very early on the value of the gift of self, an essential factor in reaching personal maturity. And I would add that you must make it a particular concern of yours to do all that you can to ensure that Nigerian youth — especially girls and young women — are protected from becoming victims of unscrupulous exploitation, which often forces them into particularly degrading forms of slavery with tragic and devastating consequences.

The Synod Fathers also called the Church in Africa to be actively involved in the process of inculturation, respecting the two important criteria of compatibility with the Christian message and communion with the Universal Church (cf Ecclesia in Africa, 62). I encourage you therefore to do all that you can — liturgically, theologically, administratively — so that your people will feel more and more at home in the Church, and the Church more and more at home among your people. Necessary here will be research into African Traditional Religion and culture, and the prudent exercise of discernment and vigilance. May the Holy Spirit guide you in these efforts.

6. The members of the particular Churches entrusted to your care are citizens of a nation which must now meet several serious challenges as it attempts to implement political and social change. In this context, ever greater significance accrues to your role as leaders in the Catholic community, leaders who recognize the desirability and need for constructive dialogue with all sectors of society regarding the just and solid bases of life in society. Such a dialogue, while seeking to keep open all channels of communication in a spirit of patience and good will, does not prevent you from presenting openly and respectfully the Church's convictions, especially regarding such important matters as justice and impartiality for all citizens, respect for human rights, religious freedom and the objective moral truth which ought to be reflected in civil legislation.

It is of the utmost importance that all Nigerians should work together to ensure that necessary changes may be brought about peacefully and without undue hardship to the weaker segments of the population. In this, it is clear that the zealous efforts of Pastors and faithful, in close cooperation with Christians of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, play an important role in ensuring a positive outcome to this period of transition. In fact, as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council noted, common action of this sort "vividly expresses that bond which already unites" Christians and, insofar as all join in service of the common good, it "sets in clearer relief the features of Christ the Servant" (Unitatis Redintegratio, 12).

7. This atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation must likewise extend to Muslim believers of good will, for they too "try to imitate the faith of Abraham and to live the demands of the Decalogue" (Ecclesia in Africa, 66). Today, as I meet you, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, I repeat the call that I made yesterday in my meeting with Muslim leaders: the call for peace, understanding and mutual cooperation between Christians and Muslims. The Creator of the one great human family to which we all belong desires that we bear witness to the divine image in every human being by respecting each person with his or her values and religious traditions, and by working together for human progress and development at all levels.

Christians, Muslims and followers of African Traditional Religion should continue to pursue a sincere quest for mutual understanding. This will ensure that all citizens will be truly free to work for the good of Nigerian society, united in the "common cause of safeguarding and fostering social justice, moral values, peace and freedom" (Nostra Aetate, 3).

8. "God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control" (2 Tim 1:7). It is precisely this spirit, the spirit of steadfast commitment to the Gospel and complete trust in God's love, which will enable you to fulfil the mission to which the Lord has called you as Bishops. Strengthened by faith and hope in the saving power of Jesus Christ, you will become ever better equipped to meet "the challenge of being instruments of salvation for every area of the life of the peoples of Africa" (Ecclesia in Africa, 70).

Know that my prayers accompany you always, and once more I assure you of my affection and esteem. Commending you and all the faithful of Nigeria to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, I invoke upon you "grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (2 Tim 1:2). Amen."

JPII's words to the builders of the Nunciature in Abuja
21 March 1998

"I would now like to greet the architects, Stefano Della Rocca and AIM Consultants, the management and personnel of the G. Cappa construction company, and all who have worked so hard to complete part of this Nunciature building in time for my visit. The Nunciature in Lagos had served well for 35 years, but as we approach the third millennium the time has now come to move to Abuja, the new capital city of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Abuja is itself a symbol of growth and hope for the future, and offers a more central location for the Apostolic Nunciature in this country.

The Catholic Church is still relatively young in Nigeria, but she is full of vitality and enthusiasm, and she looks to the future with confidence and optimism. Her mission of loving service to the men and women of this nation, inspired by the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, will benefit greatly from this new Apostolic Nunciature, which is a visible link with the See of Peter and a sign of the unity of the Church.

In expressing my gratitude to all who have made possible the construction of this Nunciature, I pray that the Lord will reward everyone for their dedication and for the many sacrifices involved. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Nigeria, watch over all who will live and work here.

To all of you here present, and to your families and loved ones, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing."

Pope John Paul II's Address at the Farewell Ceremony
at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Monday, 23rd March - in English, Italian & Spanish

"Your Excellency, General Sani Abacha, My Brother Bishops, All Officials of Church and State,
Dear People of Nigeria,

1. More than 16 years ago I stood on the tarmac of Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos, making my farewell to President Shehu Shagari and leaders of Church and State after an unforgettable pastoral visit to your country. I asked: "Shall I be able some time in the future to visit Nigeria again? Will the Providence of the Almighty and Merciful God dispose that I come back again to kiss your soil, embrace your children, encourage your youth and walk once more amidst the love and affection of the noble people of this land?"

I repeated that prayer and wish many times in recent years. Now I can thank God that my prayer has been answered and that I have been able to make this brief but ever so fruitful return visit to your beloved country. I assure you that, just as I still treasure the memories of my earlier visit, these past few days will also have their own special place in my heart.

2. And now, the time has again come for me to say farewell. I thank His Excellency the Head of State and his willing team of Government officials and workers for their cordial reception and sincere welcome. I thank you, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, and all the priests, Religious and lay faithful who have participated so joyfully in the Beatification of Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi and in the other moments of my brief stay among you. I am grateful to the pilots and the drivers, the security men and guardians of the peace, the men and women of the media, who have given their time and expertise to make this Visit a success.

I renew my esteem and gratitude to the representatives of other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities who took part in the events of these days. As we approach the threshold of the Third Millennium, our ecumenical friendship and cooperation must ever become more intense; an attitude of trust and respect must distinguish all the followers of Christ as we travel along the path of ever greater understanding and mutual support!

I also express my thanks to the members of the Muslim community for their presence and participation. I pray that the commitment of Christians and Muslims to establish bonds of mutual knowledge and respect will increase and bear fruit, so that all who believe in the One God may work together for the good of society here in Nigeria and throughout the world.

Likewise, I offer a special word of appreciation to the followers of African Traditional Religion, and I assure them that the Catholic Church, by her efforts aimed at inculturating the Gospel, seeks to highlight and build on the positive elements of Africa's religious and cultural heritage.

3. Dear Catholic Brothers and Sisters, I know and have experienced anew your desire to work with all your fellow citizens for greater justice and a better life for yourselves and your children. The time is ripe for your nation to gather its material riches and spiritual energies so that everything that causes division may be left behind and replaced by unity, solidarity and peace. There are still many difficulties to face and the hard work that lies ahead cannot be underestimated. You are not alone in this important undertaking: the Pope is with you, the Catholic Church stands by you, and God Himself will give you the strength and courage to build a bright and enduring future based on respect for the dignity and rights of everyone.

As I took my leave of you 16 years ago, I addressed my final words to the children of Nigeria, reminding them that they are loved by God and that they reflect the love of God. Those children are now grown up, and many of them have children of their own; but the message I leave today is the same as I left then. The children and young people of Africa must be protected from the terrible hardships visited upon the thousands of innocent victims who are forced to become refugees, who are left hungry, or who are mercilessly abducted, abused, enslaved or killed. We must all work for a world in which no child will be deprived of peace and security, of a stable family life, of the right to grow up without fear and anxiety.

4. I want you to know that Nigeria and all Nigerians remain in my prayers. Almighty God, the Lord of history, will give you the wisdom and perseverance to move forward courageously in the work of development and peace. Your country has the resources to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of progress, and to build a society of justice and harmony. I also wish to renew the appeal which I have made many times to the international community not to ignore Africa's needs, but to work with you and, in a spirit of ever greater collaboration, to lend support to all efforts aimed at ensuring the continent's peaceful development and growth. All Nigerians must be made to feel proud of their nation; all must play a part in constructing the future. This is my prayer to Almighty God for you!

God bless Nigeria and all Nigerians! God sustain all the peoples of Africa!"

 

 

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