By Anthony Aneke
The 37th Annual Convention of Catholic Theological Association of Nigeria (CATHAN) officially begins today 12th April 2003, at Holy Ghost Cathedral Ogui Enugu with the opening Mass/Ceremony presided by Most Rev. Callistus Onaga, the Catholic Bishop of Enugu Diocese.
The Catholic Theological Association of Nigeria (CATHAN), founded in 1985, is an academic organization for all Nigerian Catholic Theologians.
In his homily, Bishop Onaga expressed his delight as he reflected on the theme of the Conference: Theological Perspectives on the relationship between Religion and Politics in Nigeria. For him, the timeliness of this theme is obvious. This is because Nigeria is not only a multi-ethnic entity but also a multi-religious entity. Hence, in theory, Nigeria is a secular state as vividly articulated in the constitution since independence but in practice, however, the recurrent sad situations in the country (ethno-religious cleavages, sectionalism, insecurity, secessionists’ agitations, and structural injustices) show that the nation is seriously lagging behind in terms on authentic relationship between religion and politics. His Lordship maintains that while many Nigerians see the mixing of religion and politics as an impediment to peaceful coexistence and progress in the country, others are inclined to think that religious values can be properly harnessed to engender quality politics for the integral development of Nigeria.
“Amidst the divide and its allied dilemmas, however, theology should rightly point the way forward, that is, beaming a theological searchlight on the interplay of religion and politics in Nigeria is both an urgent project and a continuous discourse en route to our ‘El Dorado”, a prosperous country of our dream.” The bishop said.
Reflecting on the necessary relationship between religion and politics, his Lordship highlighted the fact that man is by nature a composite being; he is both material and spiritual. Man is both a political and religious being, created by God to live good life among his fellow men before returning to him. Hence, man as a social being is the epicenter or meeting point of religion and politics. On the value on religion, Bishop Onaga pointed out that religion is one of the most vexatious and contentious issues across the globe. Inherent in every religion is a certain form of power or quest for dominance, which inextricably places it at par with politics.
“Across the world, different religions and even different sects/denominations of the same religions are politically active, and engaged in never-ending jostle for power and prominence in key spheres of life. Religions has positively provides mankind with moral values by which to live, it is a source of inspiration and motivation for organizing individuals, communities and institutions in many areas such as solidarity, cooperation and humanitarian aid. It imbues and enriches politics with core moral values and sound doctrines such as love obedience, truth, tolerance, moderation, freedom justice and peace, all of which promote democratic norms and development.” Bishop Onaga said.
His Lordship also noted that in modern world, religion is consciously and systematically being associated with certain tendencies that are inimical to development, such as subjugation, extremism violence and terrorism.
In his conclusion, the bishop pointed out that the phenomenon of religious politics in Nigeria is an obvious one. For example, in political aspects such as style of governance, policy formulations and the electoral process, religion has been a strong determining factor. However, the influence of religion on politics in Nigeria could be both positive and negative, in other words, as religion enhances national development, so also it could be counterproductive. Any nation where people lack religion is bound to lack conscience, compassion and progress.
With the above, the bishop urged that religion is to be proposed and not imposed. He maintains that we need to support unreservedly the free practice of religion by Nigerian Christians, Muslims and traditional animists. No religion in Nigeria should be deemed superior or subordinate to the other. Therefore, there should rather be religious tolerance which promotes inter-religious understanding and in turn helps people to respect each other’s political choices. The time has come when Christians and Muslims not only in Nigeria but all over the world should join hands as brothers and sisters under one God to work for the integral development of mankind, living in mutual love, peace and harmony (cf. Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, n.3.)
In the end, the bishop expressed his gratitude to CATHAN for organizing the brainstorming exercise, and educative and informative platform which goes to sustain and consolidate the knowledge culture and wisdom advancement for which ecclesiastics are known.
Towards the end of the Mass, the President of CATHAN Rev. Fr. Prof. Luke Ijezie expressed his gratitude to the bishop for presiding over the opening mass of the conference and for his awe-inspiring homily which prophetically set the tune and pace of the 37th Annual Conference of CATHAN.
The 3-4 days Conference ended on Friday 14th April 2023.
The Keynote Address themed: The Role of the Catholic Church in International Politics will be delivered by Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu (Secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Evangelization and erstwhile permanent observer of the Holy See to the United nations in Geneva). The First Commissioned paper themed: The Religious Factor in Nigeria’s Political Conflicts will be delivered by Prof. Michael Kwanashie (Veritas University, Abuja). The Second Commissioned paper themed: The Religious Role of the Family in the Development of a Sustainable Political Culture in Nigeria will be delivered by Dr. Mrs. Victoria Openif’Oluwa Akoleowo (Dominican University, Ibadan).
The CATHAN Proceedings was presented by Editor, Rev. Fr. Dr. Raymond Aina. Many other Voluntary papers were also delivered. There were group discussions and reports, and vetting of the communiqué at the CATHAN General meeting.