By SAM EYOBOKA
DISCORDANT tunes have continued to trail the purported pull-out of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, CSN, from the umbrella body of Christians, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN.
While majority of respondents to the story online, have hailed the move by the Catholic Church, others who were worried by the possible fallout of the action, condemned the move by the Catholic Church, saying that solution to the current violent campaigns by the Islamic fundamentalist group, Boko Haram would better be tackled when all Christians in the country speak with one voice.
The Director of Social Communications at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, CSN, Rev. Father Ralph Madu, told Vanguard yesterday that the reports originating from a Catholic Monsignor in Abeokuta to the effect that the Church has pulled out of the Association is not entirely true.
According to him, “there are certain issues the Catholic Church would want to be properly thrashed out before it would resume full membership of the CAN. We have issues which we want to be addressed by the umbrella body.
“We have not pulled out of CAN and we cannot pull out of the Association. In fact in another few weeks we will make a public statement on that,” he stated without itemizing the issues that have warranted the Catholic Church to take “this painful decision to suspend participation in CAN meetings at the national level until such a time the leadership of CAN reverse back to the original vision, mission and objective of the association.”
Though Madu refused to expatiate on the issues that have warranted the ‘suspension’, Vanguard yesterday stumbled on a letter written by the president of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, which gave seven grounds for the Catholic Church’s action.
Titled; “Our concern for Christian unity,” and addressed to the National President of CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the letter frowned at recent attitudes, utterances and actions of the leadership of CAN, saying “we have been compelled to take this painful decision because of the following reason among others:
“That the present state of CAN has departed from the original concept of her founding fathers of which our bloc is a prominent holder; That the motto of CAN, ‘that they may all be one’ is not taken as a priority. We note a total neglect of Ecumenism and unwillingness to learn the theological foundations of Christian unity; That the directorate of Ecumenism and inter-faith which is one of the missions of CAN is not given a priority attention to promote peace and unity in the nation which is the mandate of Christ to all Christians”.
Other issues include; “That CAN is being dragged into partisan politics thereby compromising its ability to play its role as conscience of the nation and the voice of the voiceless; That there is not enough respect for and involvement of all the blocs of CAN in major decisions and activities; that CAN is no longer acting on consensus on major issues; and finally that CAN is not a mega church but an association of different churches. Therefore any claim by the president of CAN to be the leader of all Christians in Nigeria must take this into account.
Kaigama, however, said the Catholic Church remains committed to the protection of Christian unity in the country, but did not state when the interregnum will be over or when the Catholic Church will call off their self-imposed suspension.
All efforts to get reaction from the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, which produced the current CAN president did not succeed as several of their leaders refused to respond on the issues in order not to be accused of politicking.
A source close to the Fellowship who pleaded anonymity told Vanguard that they are not surprised at the turn of events because elections into CAN executive council are fast approaching and quite naturally people are advancing means to actualize their dreams of leading the Association.
“We are not surprised at all,” the source said, adding that it is preposterous for Christian leaders to be abusing other religious leaders just to actualize political ambition. According to the source, “Criticism is a proof that the man being criticized is working but the critics just cannot accept the reality. When Jesus Christ was here the Pharisees could not deny the good works he was doing but they just could not tolerate the audacity with which he went about them.
“How else can one explain their opposition to the healing of a man on a Sabbath day? The Catholic Church’s move is a subterranean way of admitting that the emergence of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor as CAN president is the best thing coming from the Church, but their grouse is that the man is not a Catholic,” the source told us.
Continuing the source said: “Here comes a man from the rank of people they have regarded as ‘Pente-rascals’ and they just can’t keep tab on his developmental strides in terms of his bold opposition to the menace of Islamic fundamentalism in parts of the country. Whereas no one of them has visited the North East till date, Pastor Oritsejafor had personally taken relief materials to the victims and has single-handedly resettled wives of victims.”
Speaking in a telephone interview, the PRO of TEKAN Churches in the country, Elder Sunday Oibe said: “The Catholic Church has been sulking since its candidate, Archbishop John Onayekan was defeated at the polls in 2010 by incumbent president, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.”
Accusing the church as arrogant, he said there are certain elements in the leadership of Onaiyekan-led CAN that are not happy that their candidate was defeated with the support of Northern Christians who demonstrated their resolve for a change of leadership at the CAN national.
“There is no need for anybody to lose sleep over the threat of the Catholics to pull out of CAN. I was the one who approached Archbishop Onayeikan to contest against Peter Jasper Akinola and when he defeated the Anglican candidate the heavens did not fall. Why won’t they allow Oritsejafor to be? If they want to go let them go, CAN won’t die as a result.
“Why is it that whenever a Catholic is on the saddle, every other bloc supports them and they won’t allow other blocs to run the show? The constitution of CAN makes provision for membership to be terminated by any group,” Elder Oibe stated.
A public commentator, Mr. Eghes Eyienyien also berated the Catholic Church for allowing itself to be used by external forces to destabilize the Association, noting that their exit is good riddance to bad rubbish.
Mr. Eyienyien in his response titled: “The Catholic Church and the Christian Association of Nigeria” said: “It is clear that many commentators on the announcement by the Catholic Church that it is “suspending its membership of CAN at the national level” have allowed themselves to be carried away by their Catholicism, admiration for Bishop Hassan Kukah and Cardinal John Onaiyekan, hatred of Pentecostalism, hatred of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, hatred for “wealthy Pastors”, Islamism, or other prejudice to detract them from examining the facts which they may not have been privy to.
How can “closeness to government” be an issue raised by Catholic Bishops who have been intimate with Nigerian politicians for decades? Is there any Church more tolerant of corrupt politicians and businessmen than the Catholic Church? Which Church does Chief Anthony Anenih, Senator David Mark and Ifeanyi Uba, for example, belong to? When has Bishop Kukah or Cardinal Onaiyekan ever criticized these people? When did they stop fraternizing with PDP? What utter hypocrisy to talk about CAN being close to government!!
That the Catholic Church has never wanted a Pentecostal Pastor to lead CAN is no news. People should find out what role the Sultan of Sokoto has been playing in undermining and subverting CAN using Cardinal Onaiyekan since he lost his bid to lead CAN for a second term. Talk to other non-Pentecostal members of the CAN Executive Committee if you can. Ask the Anglican Prelate, Rev. Nicholas Okoh.
There are five main blocks that comprise CAN. The Catholic Church is just one. During the last National Executive Committee meeting of CAN in Awka, Anambra State, held sometime in November, 2012, this issue of the threat by the Catholic Church to leave CAN (which has been on for over six months or so) was tabled for discussion. In fact, all the other blocks of CAN were unanimous in condemning the Catholic Bishops and it was the wise leadership of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor that prevailed on those calling for the expulsion of the Catholic Church from CAN!
The Catholic Bishops only respect CAN and push for “Ecumenism” and “Inter-faith Dialogue” when a Catholic is leading the group. The former CAN Presidents, the highly respected Mbang and Akinnola of the Methodist Church and Anglican Church, respectively, were consistently undermined and betrayed during their tenures by the Catholic Church led by Cardinal Okogie and Onaiyekan! There is nothing new here!!
Northern Christians have never been as happy about CAN as under Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor’s leadership.