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Healing Ministry and the Nigerian Experience




Sickness and suffering no doubt are a reality of life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, sees them as among the gravest problems confronting human life. In illness man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death (CCC 1500). This reality no doubt explains, this urgent crave for healing and wholeness. While human beings crave for healing and restoration, the direction of this crave and the response to this crave for healing should be evaluated on the standard of Christ and his Church. It is on this note that this seminar paper, will be journeying through healing ministry, situating it within, the Nigerian context and experience with the aim of understanding the ministry better, outlining the excesses and giving a better compass to curb the contemporary challenges.


Healing ministry: The term ministry comes from the ordinary Greek word for serving and attending upon someone.[1] This sums up the character of the church, namely: to bear witness to the truth, to save and not to judge, to serve and not to be served. Healing is a process where the cells in the body regenerate and repair themselves. The Oxford Advance Learners dictionary says it is a process of becoming healthy again. This is a process of restoration and wholeness.

Healing ministry therefore is a service or an art that brings about regeneration and repair of the cells within the Body. Christ no doubt is the originator of this ministry with his manifesto in Luke’s Gospel 4:18, where he set the ball rolling for his ministry. Christ’s compassion towards the sick and his many healings of every kind of infirmity are a resplendent sign that God has visited his people (CCC 1503). This ministry marks the visitation of God among his people.

Anointing of the sick: I have decided to clarify this term because, in talking about healing ministry , the content will never be complete, if anointing of the sick – one of the sacraments of healing – is excluded. This is one of the sacraments of the Church and the least understood. This is so because of the various names it has assumed in history namely: extreme unction, Anointing of the sick and at a time it was called “last rites.”[2] It is a fact that many see this sacrament as a dead sentence. To clear the air, the Second Vatican Council document SacrosantumConcillium states “extreme unction” which may also and more fittingly be called “anointing of the sick” is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age the fitting time for him to receive the sacrament has certainly already arrived”[3]. In the epistle of James, he relates how the Church by the anointing of the sick and the prayer of the priest commend the sick to suffering of the  glorified Lord that he might raise them up and save them (James 5:14-16).



In the ancients, particularly before the coming of Christ, sickness had  different perceptions. Hence we will x-ray these perceptions as a foundation to understanding the importance of healing in Christendom.

In ancient Greek tragedy or the literature of the Roman world, it is evident that people considered sickness as a punishment meted out by the gods. The punishment was usually due to some form of disobedience (whether conscious or unconscious). For the greatest human pride merited punishment from the gods.[4] However these same gods who caused sickness can as well effect healing when well appeased.

Like the Greeks and Romans, the Israelites in the Old Testament mysteriously linked sickness to sin and evil, no wonder the friends of Job insisted he did something wrong to warrant what befell him. This is true because among the punishments threatened by God for the peoples’ unfaithfulness, sickness has a prominent place (CF Dt 28: 21-22,27-29, 35). The sick person who beseeches God for healing confesses to have been justly punished for his sins (CF PS. 37:40, 10:17-21). As these perceptions of sickness being a consequence of evil persist, the ancient had to contend with the question of why should righteous also suffer sickness.


The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, in its instruction on prayer for healing states : “while it is true that suffering has meaning as punishment when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment. The figure of the just man Job is a special prove of this in the Old Testament..and if the Lord consents to test Job with suffering he chose it to test the latter’s righteousness, as such the suffering has the character of test.” [5]

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However, in the New Testament, we see a succinct answer to why the righteous also get sick. Sickness no doubt is a general human condition. In the public ministry of Jesus, his encounter with the sick was not isolated but continual. He healed many through miracles.

Jesus however, was against the identification of the suffering of humanity with sin no wonder addressing those who came to tell him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate, mingled with their scarifies Jesus retorted:

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worst sinners than all other Galileans? No I tell you but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did, or those 18 who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them- do you think they were worst offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No I tell you but unless you repent you will perish as they did (lk 13:2-5).”

Similarly, when  the disciples questioned him about the man born blind: master who sinned that he is born blind, himself or his parents? Jesus replied: “Neither he nor his parents sinned,  he was born blind so that God’s work may be revealed in him” (Jn 9:3-4). Here we see that sickness reveals God’s work. However, there are two instances where the relationship between personal sin and suffering are implied, namely, the case of the paralytic (Mk 2:3) and that of the man at the pool of Bethzatha (Jn 5:14). In the former, forgiveness of sin preceded physical healing and in the latter Jesus warned the man.

Jesus healed all kinds of infirmities, that troubled his people, physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. He did not enquire into people’s moral life, whether they have repented or were in a state of grace before he healed them.[6] These healings are signs of his Messianic Mission (Lk 7:20-23). In the words of Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), they manifest the victory of the kingdom of God over every kind of evil and become the symbol of restoration to good health of the whole human person, body and soul. [7]

The healing ministry of Jesus extended to the twelve with the great commission and to believers. These signs will accompany those who believe..they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover (Mk 16:17-16). The summation of the content of healing is faith in the living God.


In the principle of causality, we are told that every effect has a cause. Swayed by this principle, the African man believes that every sickness has a cause. What is more challenging about this assertion is the aligning of every sickness to a human cause. This has made many particularly Nigerians to seek for solutions. The search for solutions gave rise to the acceptance of American 1901 pattern of worship known as Pentecostalism which made its debut in Nigeria in 1970s.[8]

Initially people laughed at such groups which were springing up in every corner like mushrooms. No wonder they are called names like ‘mushroom churches’ “church of chapping worshippers” “Alleluia churches” etc. Today, this phenomenon has become so widespread that it is a waste of time and energy counting these churches, healing centers, or prayer houses  as some even operate from homes.

The phenomenon gradually crept into the Church and thanks to the Dominicans who founded the charismatic renewal in 1974.[9] This was established to moderate the excesses but it seemed that it was an opportune time of liberation from tyranny and control of the hierarchy. Members of the group claimed that they had a religious experience, superior to the one they received at baptism. They felt that their lives as members of the historic Church, lack some forgotten factor which they are no longer content to do without. Part of the forgotten factors, was probably the realization that they possessed some charismatic gift of healing which no authority had right to control.[10]

In order to contend with the phenomenon Fr. Godwin Ikeobi and Monsignor Mathew Obiukwu started some form of prayer ministry in Onitsha area. Soon after, many priests especially the younger ones joined the bandwagon of healing ministry so much so that today there is hardly any Catholic Diocese in Nigeria that has no one or more healing centers, organized by Catholic Priests or by some lay Catholics.[11]


Healing is intrinsic to the work of sanctification of the priest. Sanctification is to restore bind hearts that are broken, make whole and this is healing. Healing and wholeness, have the same root. When our ministry no longer reflects this or aims at this, it has betrays its raison d’etre. Your prayer as a priest should spark up something positive on the person prayed for.

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The Church in Nigeria since the emergence of Healing Ministry, has been in the  words of Francis a field Hospital for the sick. The gains of this ministry can never be downplayed:

*this ministry no doubt has brought people into a closer encounter, with Jesus Christ, as prayer life has been encouraged.

*some of the healing groups continue to promote adoration of Jesus in blessed Sacrament.

*This ministry has also renewed the faith of the people in the power of God’s intervention. As such so many people have experienced the healing power of God through this ministry.

However as this phenomenon is growing, a good number of questionable content are beginning to creep in. In the words of Echema “both Catholics (priests inclusive) and Pentecostals employ practices which seem dubiousand unorthodox and often reminiscent of African traditional dibia priests.[12]

After so called “healing mass session,” I asked the priest who conducted it the meaning of the words he was mumbling (speaking in tongues), he responded that is the language of God. This statement set me to thinking: “Nine years of seminary formation, five years of priestly experience and I am hearing the language of God for the first time? What a surprise! Apart from the use of crucifixes, holy oil, medals, handkerchiefs, holy water etc. some catholic priests have more recently introduced new phenomena into their healing methods, some known as “family priests”(FadaEzinauno), indulge in burying crucifixes, bags of salt, life animals in the ground, perform nocturnal rituals at river sides or grave yards, make sacrifices to pacify angry ancestors, encourage second burials, celebrate what we call black masses at midnight, with coloured and specified number of candles.[13]

Some healers go to the extent of imagining  and diagnosing illnesses and causes without making recourse to proper authorities (doctors) for pecuniary motives. With this full plate of experience, it is pertinent to outline factors responsible for these abuses:

  1. The quest for fame

The crave for healing no doubt, is in the air. The crave cannot be hanging; it needs a landing space. Hence today all kinds of healers aware that this landing space can bring about fame, have decided to join this ministry. It is a fact that there are some priests who are carrying this ministry with utmost sincerity and decorum but they are a drop in the ocean.

It is a truism that the search for fame has taken a very serious dimension that healing ministries today are carrying different names other than that of Christ. One wonders why we cannot have uniformity of this ministry within a particular diocese. Why should we have two so called heaers  in a particular diocese having two umbrellas for the same ministry? In some Dioceses, the number may be more than two.

  1. The quest for money

Some call this ministry the “Osusu ministry”; the money ministry. We had the opportunity of inviting a priest with a healing ministry to come down and facilitate our Bazaar retreat. I was shocked to know that the Parish Priest was bargaining with the  priest, how much he will be given. After the bargain, he stipulated his expectations from us namely: taking care of his crew (8 in number), opportunity for the sales of his faith articles(water, rosary and all kinds of oil) at the end of the day after generating money for the parish he generated more for himself. This is one among many other experiences. One pastor told a parishioner of mine to sow seed with his apple Ipad, deceiving the man that it is a Divine mandate.

  1. Poverty

This factor has so many ramifications ranging from lack of food to lack of knowledge. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once remarked that poverty has other inconveniences outside food and drink. One of such inconveniences is the inability to consider a medical option in the event of sickness. Our people are caught up in a web of poverty, misery, disease and ignorance, that many are unable to solve their health and economic problems.[14] This factor has made a good number of persons in search for solutions and in most cases in the wrong places.


In the words of Bishop Sheehan in an interview with the Awakening Light Magazine stated “…a strong indigenous hierarchy, priesthood and religious communities, is certainly a modern miracle, and a great witness to the world he added swiftly that we must be faithful to tradition.[15]

  • There is a call to go back to the drawing board, back to the master and his method of healing: Healing without charge, healing to be unnoticed, healing with the motif of bringing joy to people.

Healing ministries no doubt has come to stay, and must be appreciated. Hence the Church’s hierarchy should harmonize the healing, ministries, by establishing Diocesan centers for such prayers and appoint a director who would be reporting directly to the local ordinary: such a director has to be a priest, seasoned in deep spirituality and psychology, full of pastoral experience, wisdom and emotionally Mature. As a way of Diocesan Harmonization of healing ministry, the so called Family Priest or Family work(FadaEzinauno or OluEzinauno) should be abolished and replaced with annual blessing of houses, as it is done in Italy. With this every parish priest and assistant will be seriously involved in the family Visitations and prayer.


Hence I will be outlining the stipulations of the Congregationg for the Doctrine of Faith as a way forward. The Congregation maintains that the Charism of healing is not attributed to a specific class of faithful, as such it is not to be monopolized hence:

  1. 2 says prayers for healing are considered to be liturgical if they are part of the liturgical books approved by the Church’s competent authority.
  2. 3 Par. 1 Liturgical prayers for healing are celebrated according to the rite prescribed in the Ordobenedictionisinfirmorum of the ritualeRomanum and with the proper sacred vestments. Paragraph 2 gives provision for the discretion of Episcopal conferences.
  3. Art 4 Par. 1 Says diocesan bishop has been given regulatory powers for all healing services, these norms must be followed. Permission to hold healing services must be explicitly given, even if they are organized by Bishops or cardinals.
  4. 5 Par. 3 Condemns any resembling hysteria, artificiality theatricality or sensationalism…
  5. 8 Par. 2 the prayers of exorcism contained in the ritualeromanum must remain separate from healing services, whether liturgical or non-liturgical
  6. 9 Par. 1 Those who direct healing services whether liturgical or non-liturgical are to strive to maintain a climate of peaceful, devotion in the assembly and to exercise the necessary prudence of healings should take place among those present; when the celebration is over any testimony can be collected with honesty and accuracy, and submitted to the proper ecclesiastical authority.

Above all every healing must be centered on Christ the master healer.


The world no doubt needs healing, healing from trauma, sickness, poverty, misery etc. These indices point out that we cannot reduce healing ministry to just the healing services of jumping and mumbling of words. The domain of penance and the anointing of the sick are an integral part of this ministry. Hence for a holistic approach that is sincere. These sacraments should be seen as a continuity of the foundation of Healing ministry set by Christ. As ministers of the these sacraments, ours is to catechize the people on the importance of these sacraments towards a better approach to sickness and suffering. In this Catchesis we must lead the way, with sincerity and commitment.


[1] KomonchaJ(E.d), the Dictionary of Theology, Bangalore,india, 2006, P.657

[2] Echema A., Anointing of the sick and healing ministry; the Nigerian experience, iko, London, 2006. P. 7

[3]  Flannerry ., A., (Ed), Vatican Council II, SacrosanctumConcillium, Pauline publication, Delhi, No. 73.

[4] Echeman A., anointing of the sick and healing ministry; the Nigerian experience, p. 31

[5] Ratzinger J. Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, “guidelines on healing ministry No. 3

[6]  Echema A., Anointing of the sick and healing ministry; the Nigerian experience, P. 54

[7] Ratzinger J. Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, “guidelines on healing ministry No. 1

[8] Echeman A., Anointing of the sick and healing ministry; the Nigerian experience, p. 12

[9] Echeman A., Anointing of the sick and healing ministry; the Nigerian experience, p. 13

[10] Echeman A., Anointing of the sick and healing ministry; the Nigerian experience, p. 13

[11] Wabekee A., Liturgical formation in the seminary P.13

[12] Echeman A., Anointing of the sick and healing ministry; the Nigerian experience, p. 19

[13] Echeman A., Anointing of the sick and healing ministry; the Nigerian experience, p. 20

[14] Uzor C., living between two worlds: intrapersonal conflict among ibo seminarians an enquiry, Frankfurt, peter lang., 2003, P.454.

[15] Awakening light magazine, we must be faithful to tradition, vol. 6, 2004. P. 28

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The Choice Flame Newspaper is geared towards blazing the trail in modern journalism, committed to smart, truth-centered, in-depth and objective reporting on the Church and society through quality contents that empower and elevate the human spirit. It is the publication of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu with the aim to dispel darkness.
Admin Administrator
The Choice Flame Newspaper is geared towards blazing the trail in modern journalism, committed to smart, truth-centered, in-depth and objective reporting on the Church and society through quality contents that empower and elevate the human spirit. It is the publication of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu with the aim to dispel darkness.

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