CHRISTMAS: A CHALLENGE TO WORK FOR THE COMMON GOOD
2022 Christmas Message by Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji,
Archbishop of Owerri and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN)
- The season of Christmas is around again. It is the joyful period when we celebrate the mystery of the birth of the Son of God in the world and remind ourselves of the unfailing and abiding presence of God among His people. The story of Christmas recounts God’s historic and redemptive intervention in the human situation of helplessness and hopelessness, inspired by His great love and compassion. Christmas is God’s rescue mission
- , which sets humanity on the path of liberation and redemption to be achieved through the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, whose redemptive birth was well-captured in the Canticle of Zechariah. In his words: He has raised for us a mighty Saviour in the House of Israel the loving-kindness of the heart of our God who visits us like the dawn from on high. He will give light to those in darkness, those who dwell in the shadow of death and guide us in the way of peace” (Lk 1:68-79).
- The significance and importance of the birth of Christ shine out even more in the context of the messianic prophecies proclaimed centuries before the event, when the People of Israel were neglected, exploited and oppressed by selfish and corrupt leaders. In their hopelessness and helplessness, God promised His People a Messiah, a new leadership to be guided by the Spirit, who will restore the fortunes of the house of Jesse from the stock of David and enthrone extraordinary peace, justice and righteousness, which only the Spirit of God can realize. The promised messianic era will be marked by perfect peace and harmony in nature: the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the cow and the bear shall graze together (Isaiah 11:6-10).
- Jesus is the promised and long-awaited Messiah, who fulfils His Father’s plan of peace, joy and justice for His people. He is the Prince of Peace, with a liberating mission of rescuing humanity from bondage. Thus while inaugurating his saving mission in the Temple of Nazareth, he applied to himself the words of Isaiah 61:1 when He said: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Lk4:18-19). In the birth of Christ, we, therefore, celebrate the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s promise to offer humanity a new destiny and liberation from bondage. Christ’s primary mission in the world is to save humanity from sin. Through his deeds and teachings on love, truth, peace and justice, he also strove to liberate man from other negative forces that oppress and degrade him.
- This year, we are celebrating Christmas in Nigeria amidst untold suffering, hardship and lamentation in the face of a fast-declining economy, high soaring inflation, increasing poverty and collapsing security infrastructure, with kidnappers, terrorists and bandits on the rampage. All these are traceable to inept, corrupt and exploitative leadership. This dark chapter in our national history is comparable to the sufferings, helplessness and hopelessness of the Israelites as a result of greedy, selfish and corrupt leadership. God did not abandon them, rather, He intervened by sending them a Saviour in Jesus Christ, a priceless gift wrapped in a swaddling cloth and laid in a manger in Bethlehem. Christmas, the birth of Emmanuel, (God with us) is a cause for hope that God will not turn his back on His children in our country. This is a cause for optimism and assurance that help is on the way.
- As Christians we believe that the Son of God is in our midst in his mission to rescue us and bring us into his kingdom of light over the darkness of evil, which seeks to destroy and depress us. He invites us and indeed the entire humanity to submit ourselves to His transforming civilization of love as the path to a renewed world and society, where humans can live in dignity, freedom and peace. It is by accepting to be change agents with Him and in Him that we can impact the social order and transform our country into a nation, where justice, righteousness, goodness and peace reign and prevail. This is by no means an easy task. As change agents, we would be engaged in the battle against forces of evil and darkness. No situation, no matter how horrible, can resist the transformative power of the gospel values of love, truth, justice and peace.
- We have lamented enough about the sad situation in our country and should now join hands together to work for the common good by infusing our society with Christmas values such as love, peace, solidarity, self-sacrifice and justice. Working for the common good is the reason for the existence of the political community. Perhaps Christmas, when we recall that Christ assumed human flesh to sacrifice himself for the common good of all humanity, is a providential period for preparing ourselves adequately for free, fair and credible general elections in 2023 to choose the right leaders who can turn the fortunes of our nation for the better. This should animate and motivate all of us, whether as voters, candidates, umpires and security agents to act in ways that accord with the common good as opposed to parochial, clannish and selfish interests, which are evils that have hitherto damaged the Nigerian polity and led to the emergence of incompetent and self-serving leaders.
- In pursuit of the common good as we prepare for the 2023 general elections, hate speech, electoral violence, buying and selling of votes as well as all forms of election rigging should be eschewed. All eligible voters should see general elections as good opportunities for liberating the nation from the shackles of misrule. After proper discernment, they should rise to their civic responsibility of going to the polling booth on election days to vote for candidates with competence, capacity and integrity to rule. We urge the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct the elections with transparency, honesty and impartiality. All electoral officers should shun partisanship and place the common good of the nation above any religious, ethnic, monetary or personal consideration. Likewise, we urge security agents to exercise their duty of maintaining peace and order during the general elections with every sense of professionalism and impartiality. They should not aid and abet rigging or unleash violence on innocent voters. Candidates vying for political offices should not see the general election as a do or die affair. They should approach it with the spirit of sportsmanship, with the disposition of winning or losing without bitterness. They should allow the electorate to freely elect those to lead them, without threats, intimidation or inducement.
- Our faith, commitment and integrity will be challenged in the coming months. We need the help from God our Heavenly Father. For in the final analysis, if the Lord does not build the house the builder labours in vain, unless the Lord watches over the city the guards stand watch in vain (Ps 127:1). Without the Lord, our best intentions and efforts will bear little or no fruits. While we endeavour to do all we can to change our political and economic fortunes during the upcoming general elections, the ultimate success lies with God. Hence we must put our knees down in prayer for God’s help and sustenance in the forth-coming elections, so that he can transform the hearts of our people to do the right things. We wish to end this message on a note of prayer by recalling the last stanza of the official prayer for Free, Fair and Peaceful Elections in Nigeria.
Oh God of justice and love Inspire us to vote solely for the common good of our nation
So that we may elect visionary, honest and competent leaders,
With hearts that beat for the welfare of one and all in our nation.
Enable us to embrace and usher in A new dawn in Nigeria through these elections,
So that our children can look forward with hope,
To a more bright, peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.