“If you have the faith and knowledge nobody can take you for a ride…”
The Bishop of Uromi Diocese, His Lordship, Most Rev. Donatus Ogun, priests, consecrated persons, the laity and students of the Institute of Theological Studies (ITS) were at the Brother Roman Catechetical and Renewal Centre in Ekpoma, Edo State, on Saturday, 18th January 2020. It was the occasion of the reopening of the Institue which has been temporarily relocated from the Chancery Complex in Uromi to Brother Roman Catechetical and Renewal Centre in Ekpoma. In his homily at the inaugural mass, his Lordship underscored the formation of the laity in the Church. The complete text of the homily is published on page 2.
About the Institute
The Institute of Theological Studies (I.T.S), established in 2007, is a Catholic school for training the faithful in theology and associated disciplines. It is presently temporarily located at the Brother Roman Centre, Ekpoma.
The Institute provides the opportunity for Catholics who wish to
i. learn, deepen and expand their personal knowledge of the Catholic Faith
ii. receive training to assist in various positions in the Church, such as
· Part-time Catechists,
· Special Ministers of Holy Communion
· Bible Study Teachers
· Teachers of Christian Doctrine in
· Leadership and guidance
Although the ultimate relevance of the training at the Institute is the preservation and transmission of the authentic Catholic Faith, graduates of the Institute will also have the capacity to work outside Church circles.
Programmes and Courses
The following programmes and courses are currently available at the Institute (with certifications):
· Training for Special Ministers of Holy Communion (Diocesan Commissioning)
· Training for Evangelizers (Diploma)
· Training for Teachers of Christian Doctrine in Catholic Schools (Diploma)
· Training for Church Leadership and Administration (Diploma)
The Institute also offers a Certificate programme in Social Justice and Marriage Instruction.
Below is the Homily given by his Lordship,Most Rev. Donatus Ogun at the reopening of the Institute of Theological Studies (1TS)
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my father will love him and we shall come to him and make our home with him.”(John 14:23).
Dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, may the peace of the Lord be with you! It is a day of joy for us as a Diocese because it is a new beginning as we gather to formally reopen ITS. Although ITS is not totally new, the patronage/attendance has experienced a downward slope over the years, so bad that it would seem people were being begged to come and be trained. Some may wonder, why do we need ITS? The answer is that as a Diocese we want to have a vibrant laity, for the laity make up 99 percent of the Church. Statistics show that Priests and consecrated persons all over the world put together may not be up
to one million, yet we talk about one billion Catholics. In Nigeria, for example, Catholics make up about 30 percent of the population and of this 30 percent, priests as well as religious total less than ten thousand. When we put these statistics into consideration, we discover that a laity that is educated is a sign of a vibrant Church that has a future. An uneducated laity on other hand, is a sign that the Church may not stand the test of time.
The Challenge of Syncretism
One of the major challenges across our Diocese is syncretism. Syncretism simply means the symbiosis of religious practices according to a person’s advantage, for example carrying over what is practiced in traditional religion into Catholicism. Very many people in our land are syncretistic. Syncretism cuts across many phases and facets of our everyday life. One of the popular expressions of syncretism today is the way we pray even as Christians. We have become used to idols killing people and instant justice, that it now forms how we approach God when we pray. This challenge cannot be overemphasized.
In the history of the Church, this present epoch is not the first time Christianity is coming to Africa. It first came to Africa less than 200 years after the public ministry of Jesus Christ. History tells us of the life of the first hermit, St. Anthony of Egypt, the first known hermit. Almost never spoken of also is St. Paul the first hermit, another Egyptian. Anthony was made by God to discover St. Paul who had lived alone in the wilderness for over 80 years and died at the age of 115years. It was about 6 months before St. Paul died that St. Anthony of Egypt was led to go and see him. St. Anthony of Egypt is called the father of monastic life and every other person including Pachomius imitated him through time. Hence, we see that Christianity is not really new to Africa. However, after about 500 years with the advent of Muslim vandals, Christianity was almost obliterated and it took about another 700 years for Christianity to make a fresh appearance in Africa, but this time with slave trade. According to historiographers and analysts, the reason Christianity did not survive initially was because most of the Christian faithful as they were, did not see Christianity as their own. They saw it as a religion of the Roman Empire, and as a result, when persecution came, some abandoned the faith and became Muslims while others went back to traditional religion. It is good to also note that the Christianity which came with slave trade did not last because of the intention, basically business. What we have today, as the birth of the Catholic Church in Nigeria is about 160 years when we connect it to when Lagos became a British colony. This is the new Christianity that we are celebrating.
The Need for Continuous Catechetical Formation
Beloved in Christ, it is true that Baptism is the door to every sacrament, that is, it makes us Christians, but we must realize that it is only the beginning to Christian life. At baptism we are asked to reject Satan and
we reply in the affirmative, after which we are asked if we believe in God. While preparing for Baptism, we are taught in catechism about God and how He has revealed himself to humanity. However, we have a situation where many people go for catechism, and learn the rote system but very few pay attention to the meaning of what they are taught.
The reason Pentecostalism is thriving and sometimes influencing Catholics is because we do not understand the teachings of the Church. It is worrisome that as Catholics, many still do not know who they are. Cardinal Arinze opines that, ‘if you do not know who you are, it is dangerous to meet other people.’ For if you do, you may lose your identity because when you are challenged, you may lack the confidence to stand and be counted. Herein lies the problem, many of our people lack the confidence to defend the faith especially because they do not know or understand the teachings of the Church. Cardinal John Henry Newman was a front runner believer in the formation of the laity. For him, it is good to have a laity that is educated in the faith and understands the faith. In the words of St. John Henry Newman –
What I desire in Catholics is the gift of bringing out what their religion is. I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism and where lies the main inconsistencies and absurdities of the Protestant theory. I have no apprehension you will be the worse Catholics for familiarity with these subjects, provided you cherish a vivid sense of God above and keep in mind that you have souls to be judged and saved. You ought to be able to bring out what you feel and what you mean, as well as to feel and mean it; to expose to the comprehension of others the fictions and fallacies of your opponents; to explain the charges brought against the Church, to the satisfaction, not, indeed, of bigots, but of men of sense, of whatever cast of opinion.
Today, a popular saying that has been grossly taken out of context is ‘give to Caesar what belongs Caesar and to God what belongs to God’ (Mt. 22:21). The implication of this statement of Jesus is that in the political terrain, Christians must be upright and not found wanting with regards to taxes and civil responsibilities. Some have interpreted it to mean give to our tradition what belongs to our tradition even when it is not in consonance with our Christian faith or Church teachings. Sadly, we often hear this from people from whom we expect more.
Towards a Better Religious and Personal Formation Through ITS
The essence of having ITS, therefore, is to have more mature Catholics who will know and understand their faith. As laypersons, you are called to a spiritual life otherwise known as ‘lay spirituality’. Some persons are of the wrong opinion that spirituality pertains only to the life of the priests and those of the consecrated life. Everybody is called to a life of holiness, the spirituality of the lay faithful is to help transform the social and political order, as St. Francis de Sales explains in his Introduction to the Devout Life
The Church of Ireland about 400 years ago survived because the laity stood up and defended the Church whereas the Church in England collapsed because the laity surrendered. In our society today, we are experiencing a proliferation of churches all around us and some even pay for advert in New Papers seeking government recognition from the Corporate Affairs Commission. These churches declare that the reason for starting the church is to preach the gospel and to transform society. Unfortunately, though, their target for members is the Catholic Church. Every so often, those who are not well rooted in the faith fall prey to them because of lack of conviction. Good Catholic education makes the faithful to become adult Christians. To be an adult Christian is not just to be physically mature, but to possess the ability to confront everyday situation and difficulty with the teachings of the gospel. A mature Catholic, therefore, despite the changing circumstances of family, social and professional life, is capable of taking prudent and responsible decisions.
Jesus never promised us a life that will be problem-free. To say that will mean a different gospel outside of Christ for Christ himself said that in the world, as believers, we will encounter problems. However, He says when problem comes, do not worry for I have overcome the world (Cf. Jn. 16: 33). In the world as Catholic Christians, challenges should become an opportunity to show our faith for when you are able to confront problems with the faith, you become more mature and resilient. ITS is an opportunity offered by the Diocese for us to become more acquainted with the teachings of the Church. The Church has taught so much and continues to teach and the Diocese through ITS is ready to make the teachings available so we can have a mature Diocese where people think as Catholics. We need to also place material things in their proper place, and their proper use thereof. We need to learn how to manage what we have. What the Diocese is offering is an opportunity to deepen our faith beyond the Catechism after our Baptism so that we can act better in the face of challenges. To become better witnesses to the gospel and be true soldiers armed with the word of God. Where faith is lacking, the Word of God cannot transform you.
Nevertheless, ITS is not an opportunity to learn about the faith and then leave the Church. It is rather to help equip us to be able to respond to the challenges confronting us in daily life for the Church has a lot to
offer. Let us, therefore, make ourselves available for what ITS is offering. If you have the faith and knowledge nobody can take you for a ride, not even Satan for you will have words to respond when He buffets you.
We thank God for our Diocese, for the initial inspiration to set up ITS. To all those who have graduated and are active in the parishes as well as to all the priests who made sacrifices at the first inception, I say thank you.
Thank you all for coming, we pray that the Mass we are offering will usher into our Diocese through us a new birth of evangelization. May the peace of the Lord be with you all.