CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF OWERRI
Hosts the 5th National Mission Congress (NAMICON)
24th – 27th October 2023
Programme of Events
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY HIS LORDSHIP MOST REV DR. STEPHEN DAMI MAMZA, BISHOP CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF YOLA, THE EPISCOPAL CHAIRMAN MISSION AND DIALOGUE OF THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF NIGERIA (CBCN) AND CO-CHAIRMAN NATIONAL MISSIONARY COUNCIL OF NIGERIA AT THE 5th NATIONAL MISSION CONGRESS OF NIGERIA, OWERRI, OCTOBER, 2023
Your Excellencies, Dear Participants
I am happy to welcome you and to address you at the beginning of the fifth National Mission Congress (NAMICON V), on the theme “Fear not for I am with you” Isaiah 41:10. As we are all aware, the National Mission Congress takes place every four years since it was initiated in 2007 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN).
I would like to thank the staff of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, who, in collaboration with the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) – Missio Nigeria, have continued to take the leading initiative to organize the mission congress for us.
The theme of our congress and the reality of fear:
We have chosen this theme at a time when so many are afraid of suffering and death from pandemics that create global and local health crises, afraid of the challenges and uncertainties resulting from climate change, banditry, kidnapping, social inequality, and cracks in national and global society that breed suspicion, political divisions and instability. So many are afraid of violence from mobs or law enforcement agents who do not live up to the creed they swore to protect and serve the people; so many are afraid of the judiciary that was once thought to be the hope and consolation of the weak and vulnerable of the society. This is not to mention the routine fear that people have over family, work, and school. It is in this condition that God is saying to us “Fear not for I am with you.”
The choice of this theme, can therefore not be more timely than it is now. The words of the theme are a timeless reminder of the importance and significance of hope, courage, and resilience for us as a people if not for any reason at least for the fact that our belief systems are not only put to the test but threatened. Profoundly loaded with this message, therefore, the theme resonates with so many aspects of our lives both spiritual and secular as believers and as Nigerians. Its message speaks to the heart of our human existence, emphasizing the power of community, faith, and cooperation in an ever-changing world.
It makes us realize all the more that unity, dialogue, and collective discernment are more critical now than ever before. The theme therefore reminds us that even in our darkest hours, we are not alone because the Lord assures us that he has overcome the world (cf. John 16:33).
While we believe that desperation and struggles are very real for everybody at some point in their lives, the desperation among our people today particularly among the political class, is not only frightening but embarrassing. The resultant effect of this desperation is seen in the way life suddenly becomes more difficult than we ever knew it to be, we are plunged into a sea of great pain and deep-seated anguish and anxiety. This is why as Christians we must take consolation in the assurances of the Lord to fear not. We must recognize that we are not isolated individuals, but interconnected members of a larger community, whether that be a religious congregation, a society, or a global network.
There is no doubt therefore that the theme for this congress is not just a bolstering assurance for us Christians in Nigeria but a thoughtful and weighty invitation to trust, to face challenges, and to move forward together with faith and hope. This suggests that whether as believers we find succour in these words from the scriptures or simply reverberate with the idea of companionship during times of doubt and uncertainty as we do face now in our country Nigeria and the world at large, this theme holds a significant impetus for us all. Notwithstanding our individual beliefs, the theme also invites us to embrace a sense of togetherness and solidarity. After all, in times of uncertainty, in moments of doubt and fear, we are not and cannot be alone. Christ calls and charges us to not be afraid because we are worth so much to God, worth not only more than many sparrows but the life of his only begotten son (cf. Matthew. 10:29-31; John 3:16). ‘Those who fear the Lord will not be timid’, says the Book of Sirach (34:16). The fear of God frees us from the fear of men. It liberates” (Homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Jan. 6, 2013).
Why we must not be afraid
To begin with, we must acknowledge and appreciate the fact that fear is natural and consequently, a necessary response to the unknown and to whatever we believe threatens us, whether real or perceived. Fear therefore wants to make us seek relevance and recognition so much so that we can easily compromise the values of our belief system. True to it, fear is an integral part of the human experience that has evolved to protect us from harm which if unchecked can hinder our personal growth, stop us from forming meaningful connections, and thus be detrimental as we seek to realise our potential. It is precisely in this that the theme of our congress holds its greatest power.
To illuminate our path and inspire our collective missionary experience, what this theme means for us as believers is to among other things develop a sense of resilience in times of personal adversity because we are not alone. it will help us cultivate and nurture the feeling of compassion and empathy as it challenges us to reach out to those who are suffering, and to stand with them in their moments of fear and vulnerability. In doing so, we strengthen our communities and build bridges across our differences. In the face of the unknown, “Fear not” empowers us to boldly venture into territories that are alien and unexplored whether it is in the pursuit of new opportunities, exploring innovative ideas, or embarking on a quest for knowledge. We are encouraged to be courageous pioneers.
Fear not! Trust and believe: Just as the theme suggests, we must have faith that we are not alone on our journeys. Whether we believe in a higher power, the goodness of humanity, or the resilience of the human spirit, trust, and faith can help us overcome fear.
Fear not! Be hopeful: In times of fear and uncertainty, hope is a beacon of light. The message, “I am with you,” carries the promise of hope that can sustain us through the darkest hours. It embodies a promise of divine presence, guidance, and protection.
In conclusion, the theme “Fear not, for I am with you” speaks to our shared human experience. It encourages us to find strength in unity, to embrace dialogue and diversity, and to have faith in the journey ahead. Whether you find inspiration in these words from a religious perspective or as a universal message of hope, let us remember that we are not alone in our endeavours. Together, we can navigate the challenges of our time and build a brighter, more compassionate future for humanity and all of creation. Thank you for your attention, and may the spirit of Synodality guide us in our collective journey forward for the Lord himself said “Fear not for I am with you”.
TALKS AS ARRANGED BY THE ORGANIZING COMMITTEE
25/10/2023: 1st Talk (12pm – 12:30pm) *Sr. Florence Osho*
25/10/2023: 2nd Talk (12:35pm – 1:05pm) *Rev. Fr. Dr. Michael Konye*
25/10/2023: 3rd Talk (4:00pm – 4:30pm) *Rev. Fr. Dr. Gerald Musa*
25/10/2023: 4th Talk (4:45pm – 5:05pm) *Rev. Fr. Michael Umoh*
26/10/2023: 5th Talk (9.00am – 9.35am) *Mrs. Ngozi Iwere*
26/10/2023: 6th Talk (9.35am – 10.05am) *Most Rev. Oliver Doeme Dashe*