, 07 April, 2020 / 5:59 AM
A Catholic Archbishop in Nigeria, while addressing the adverse effects of COVID-19, has said that the disease has reduced humanity to the same level even as governments across the world battle the pandemic that has indiscriminately caused thousands of deaths, social disorder and a plunge in economic systems.
According to Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Nigeria’s Abuja Archdiocese, the pandemic has forced humanity to see everyone as equal and helpless without God.
“The disease has reduced us to one level. The mighty and small nations have all been reduced to the same level with all feeling the heat and unable to do much about it,” Archbishop Kaigama told journalists after celebrating Palm Sunday at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral in the country’s capital city.
He added, “The pandemic has taught us that we must come together to conquer the ills of the society. All nations, big or small, developed and undeveloped, poor and rich, have seen that technology cannot do much. Everyone is running from pillar to post in search of safety.”
The Cable has reported that the Mass at the Pro-cathedral in Abuja was celebrated in an empty Church as the few members who came for the service were asked to leave the premises following the government's ban on gatherings.
President Muhammadu Buhari put Africa’s largest city, Lagos, neighboring Ogun state as well as the country’s political capital, Abuja under lockdown for two weeks starting March 30, in a bid to control the spread of COVID-19, which has so far affected 232 people in the country.
The lockdown has affected an estimated 25 million people, with majority of them being casual laborers who have been rendered jobless.
Though President Buhari outlined some measures to cushion people from the economic hardship of the lockdown such as cash transfers and food rations “for the most vulnerable,” the majority of Nigerians have been left without financial aid.
In his homily during the Palm Sunday celebration, the Archbishop of Abuja appealed to the federal government in the West African country to “be sensitive to the suffering of the masses who have nothing to eat or means of survival at this critical period.”
According to the Archbishop of Abuja, though it was nobody’s fault that the coronavirus pandemic had kept everyone at home, “we must show love, empathy, understanding and care for one another.”
At the same time, Archbishop Kaigama reminded the faithful that the temporary closure of Churches due to COVID-19, is an opportunity for them to become better Christians and develop a deeper relationship with God.
“During this period, we intensify prayers, charity toward others, especially the poor, the marginalized and the deprived in the society,” the 61-year-old Prelate said and continued, “We must say Masses and have devotions in our homes regularly. We must draw closer to God and trust him more than before. We must develop ourselves spiritually and trust God.”
The Prelate cautioned against making the mistake of saying that “Jesus is on holiday” and assured Christians that “Jesus is everywhere and never on holiday. Jesus could visit you at home just as He visited Martha. So, you must be prepared at all times to receive Him.”
The Local Ordinary of Abuja provided scenarios in the history of the Church, which he said indicated that the phenomenon of not being able to attend Mass wasn’t new.
“The phenomenon of not being able to attend Mass and to receive the Holy Communion is not new,” the Archbishop said, adding, “In the early history of the Church Christians suffered terrible persecutions and many died. Those alive could not assemble for Mass and so they resorted to hiding in the burial grounds (catacombs) where if possible, they celebrated Mass secretly.”
He said that during the persecution in Ireland, the Irish Catholics had to escape to the rocks to celebrate Masses.
“They (Irish Catholics) could not participate at Mass safely in their Churches. Many priests and bishops were forced into hiding or exile,” he said.
Archbishop Kaigama said that Bishops, Cardinals and priests imprisoned for years in Communist China had no chance of celebrating Mass, adding that, “The Chinese Catholics even up to now hide in homes or any available space to celebrate Mass or to pray.”
He said that in Madagascar, when the French missionaries were expelled, the Church continued to remain functional through the initiative of a few young men who kept the faith after the expulsion of missionaries during the French war with Madagascar.
“Even without the celebration of Mass they had spiritual communion and kept the Church going until after the return of the missionaries who found a flourishing Church. The point here is that the catechists and laity kept things going by their daily prayers and doing what they could do as Catholics even when they had no opportunity to have the Mass or do their normal Eucharistic devotions,” Archbishop Kaigama said in his official Facebook account.
He urged the faithful in Nigeria not to be anxious over not attending Mass, an act which he said wasn’t their choice.
“Dear brothers and sisters, Coronavirus has kept you home. You did not choose not to come to Mass which is a spiritual obligation for all Catholics. This is due to the peculiar circumstance we find ourselves in,” the Nigerian Prelate said.
He added, “Be at peace! We pray and hope that very soon a cure can be found and all our anxiety will be over by the grace of God and we can resume our normal spiritual and pastoral activities.”
He also called upon the Faithful to keep up with the habit of prayer and to “do the normal things we Catholics are expected to do every day in a more recollected way.”
“The moment you wake up from sleep, say your morning prayers; pray the angelus at 6 am, 12 noon, 6 pm; say your prayers before and after meals and work as well as your morning and night prayers,” the Archbishop Kaigama said and added, “Develop the habit of saying ejaculatory prayers such as: ‘Jesus I love you’. ‘Jesus I trust in you’, ‘thank you Jesus’. Constantly make the sign of the cross invoking the presence of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Hinting on his personal devotion, the Archbishop said, “My short prayer I say in my language of Jukun-Kona when I kneel before the Blessed Sacrament is: “Nsa usuko kurmam, kurmam wha yi vo yai.” (I thank you God, O God come to help me).”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa