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Nigerian Archbishop Calls for Proper Training of Religious Leaders to Tame Intolerance

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama during the conferring of the Sacrament of Confirmation at Holy Ghost Saburi Parish in Abuja/ Credit: Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama/ Facebook

Training institutions for religious leaders in Nigerian have been called upon to churn out preachers who are keen on respecting other people’s religions and acting in the interest of love, peace and common humanity.

In his homily on Vocations Sunday celebrated on April 25, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Nigeria’s Abuja Archdiocese said that the West African country is in need of preachers who are knowledgeable in interreligious matters.

“A preacher in Nigeria must be knowledgeable in interreligious issues and have the capacity of an unbiased approach to religion without impatiently exhibiting unhealthy prejudices and hateful sentiments,” Archbishop Kaigama said in a homily at Holy Ghost, Saburi, a Parish of Abuja Archdiocese.

He explained that a preacher must go through a long and effective training program that should include the study of other religions.

“One should not just start preaching because he is fluent, eloquent and can hold an audience captive,” the Nigerian Archbishop said, and added, “A preacher should be convinced of what he preaches, provided the message respects and fosters love, peace and promotes a common humanity.”

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The Archbishop of Abuja explained that the fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of prayer for vocations, is an invitation for the people of God all over the world to reflect on the image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd who devotedly took care of his flock.

The Archbishop of Abuja said that in the Catholic Church, the training of Priests who he refers to as Shepherds is taken very seriously. He explained that being a Religious leader is a calling and not a profession or “a part-time enterprise”.

He urged caution in the exercise of a preacher’s role, saying, “The raging controversy about what a serving Minister preached or did not preach years ago only goes to show the sensitivity of Religious matters in Nigeria, which we must always approach with very great caution.”

This, he says, “is a clarion call for the proper training of preachers.”

He said that mistaken or faulty positions held by preachers and communicated to followers can contribute to what he referred to as unnecessary tension and violence that he says could lead to the waste of human lives.

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“As a doctor must attain full professional knowledge before practicing, so must preachers attain the height of religious formation before preaching, as ignorantia legit non excusat (ignorance of the law is not an excuse),” he said in his April 25 homily.

He expressed the need for religious entities to set the correct criteria for preachers, saying that in so doing, no one with the improper understanding of scripture will be allowed to preach.

Proper training, the Archbishop said, will also eliminate people who have superficial and distorted truths of faiths, those he says are bound to cause religious friction and tension.

Religious leaders, he went on to say, should preach the message of hope and salvation and not to incite followers to violence or to call others offensive names or to look condescendingly on adherents of other religions.

He explained that as the Good Shepherd, Jesus laid down His life for the sheep, adding that in the Catholic Church, the Popes, Bishops and Priests are expected to lead, nurture, comfort, correct and protect the flock.

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“Whether as a parent, a teacher, a manager, a Local Government chairman, a governor, a minister, a senator, a religious leader, a traditional ruler, and so on, we are also shepherds who should provide for, suffer and even die for the sheep,” he said.

The Catholic Church leader in the West African country expressed regret that African leaders prefer their followers to die for them instead.

He said that the Church today is filled with “self-acclaimed shepherds” who are characterized with an unending quest for materialism, popularity as miracle workers, without depth of faith.

“Success in ministry is measured in terms of material acquisition, the fleet of exotic cars, jets, luxurious travels and an ostentatious lifestyle, and not the salvation of souls,” Archbishop Kaigama said, faulting “self-acclaimed shepherds.”

He added, “Some Religious leaders make themselves the centre of attraction and rallying point, a kind of idolatry or personality cult.”

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Jesus’ example as a good shepherd teaches religious and political leaders not to lord things over others, the Archbishop underscored, adding that leaders should also desist from sowing seeds of discord or feed on the opportunities, potentials and resources meant to nurture and develop those being led.

He provided the Catholic program for the training of Priests, which he said takes up to nine to ten years as the model for training religious leaders.

The Archbishop explained that the training starts with the study of Philosophy to expose the students to the social sciences, critical, logical and metaphysical thinking, followed by the study of Theology and comparative religions.

In Nigeria, specifically, Archbishop Kaigama said, those in formation to the Priesthood undergo a compulsory study of Islam where some Clerics hold Masters or Doctorate degrees in Arabic and Islamic studies.

He said that many Priests also do postgraduate studies in specialized fields.

“This is to strengthen their grip of the faith, to broaden their mental and social horizon so that they can preach and teach religion in a systematic way, while respecting the religious views of others,” he said.

Reiterating his message on the Vocations Sunday, the Archbishop of Abuja called on Religious leaders in the West African country to always listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Making reference to the message of Pope Francis on being a good Shepherd, Archbishop Kaigama said, “Dear brothers and sisters… let us remember as always, to pray for the Holy Father, Pope Francis, who reminds us that Shepherds must smell like the sheep.”

He added, “We pray for Bishops all over the world in these trying times, as we also pray for political leaders. May we all listen at all times and in all things to the voice of the Shepherd par excellence, Jesus the Lord.”