Independence celebration: Nation urged to fast this Friday to set balls rolling

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As Nigeria prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence, the nation’s bishops are hoping for all the fruits of a traditional jubilee, and setting aside this Friday to pray and fast for these intentions.

This was affirmed in a Sept. 17 statement signed by Archbishop F. Ade Job of Ibadan and Bishop Alfred Adewale Martins of Abeokuta, president and secretary, respectively, of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria.

The prelates’ statement noted the natural richness of their nation, ranging from “good vegetation and benign climate” to “vast mineral deposits.” They noted religious freedom in parts of Nigeria and other democratic accomplishments.

“For all these and many more, we thank God Almighty,” they wrote.

Then calling to mind the biblical and apostolic tradition linked to jubilees, the prelates wrote: “We urge that Nigeria’s 50th anniversary of independence be marked by deep reflection and profound renewal. We, therefore, pray for a New Pentecost, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit at this national jubilee to renew our land.”

The prelates went on to list a variety of challenges facing Nigerians, summing them up by affirming the need for a change of heart.

They noted particular problems, such as education and health care systems, and the level of corruption in the government. They mentioned the overcrowding in prisons due in part to inmates overstaying the amount of time they would have served if they’d ever been sentenced.

“No nation can prosper in an atmosphere of insecurity as we experience across our nation, especially from the menace of armed-robbery, kidnapping and assassination,” they stated.

And they urged building a spirit of patriotism. “Patriotism,” the prelates wrote, “is a virtue that does not fall from above, but is cultivated and nurtured in and by citizens. Patriotism grows with respect to the degree of participation of the citizens in electing their leaders, participation in the governance of their respective communities, the level of civility exercised in the process, as well as the sensitivity with which elected officials treat the citizens. […]

“The differences and varieties found in people, languages and cultures should in this process be harnessed as assets for nation building, instead of being exploited by greedy and unpatriotic people.”

Concretely, the bishops proposed that “Christians and Muslims in Nigeria will collaborate in nation building if they are genuine devotees of their religions who imbibe the positive values in the respective religions, such as love, compassion, justice and peace.”

The prelates also spoke of 2011 elections, “crucial for the progress and stability of our nation.”

“We must go beyond tribal, party, religious or gender affiliations, to vote with our conscience for only honest, patriotic and selfless people,” they said.

Finally, looking at challenges faced by the Church, they noted the Pope’s call to “intensify the missionary mandate of our Church both within Nigeria and to the world at large, so that the Gospel might penetrate the depths of the human hearts and reach other nations.”

“There is no doubt that Nigerians still have difficult and enormous tasks ahead in the comity of prosperous nations,” the prelates concluded. “Our leaders need the political will which in the present context calls for heroism. Our citizens need to recover confidence in themselves and work with their leaders in hope for a better future. These are reasons for our nation to turn to God for help at this 50th anniversary of the birth of her sovereignty.”

“At her beginning in 1960, Nigeria was entrusted to the Blessed Mary, Queen of Nigeria and Mother of the Church,” the prelates recalled. “To her, we turn at this moment imploring her that she might advocate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our leaders and people.”

For this intention, the prelates named Friday, Sept. 24, a day of prayer and fasting.