My First Encyclical: The Fate of Tomorrow’s Church

My Dearest Friends, Before I begin, I will love to dedicate few lines to express my happiness to God, for His love and mercies, especially for seeing us through in all our endeavours. Without God, our journey on earth would have been tougher if not impossible. But, with God, every hurdle is a stepping stone on our way to our destinies. May His name be praised forever!

I believe that as Christians, our faces should brighten with hope – not with empty hope and anxiety for material wealth and exciting chances, but with the factual assurances of God’s love and protection which we have enjoyed for the past years. For those who believe in God, everyday is a very special day!

However, in a world that has formally rejected God in her teachings and actions, it is pertinent for the Church to take up a very unique and decisive approach towards ensuring a fruitful propagation and continuity of the Faith – that is if we ever dream of a better tomorrow.

Good enough, for October 2018, with an outline of a synodal journey that began on October 2016, the Holy Father, Pope Francis will convene a world-wide synod of Bishops in the Vatican with the theme: ‘Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment’. This synod is designed to consider practical ways through which the Catholic Church can help accompany young people in discerning God’s call for their lives.

This 2018 synod will be in continuity with the discussions that were held at the 2014/2015 Synod on Family Life which gave birth to the recent Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia – one of the finest apostolic documents ever authored in the 21st century that brought the hope of redemption to the doorsteps of those who had condemned themselves to despair and revitalised dying Faiths across the world.

When we talk of ‘young people’ and ‘faith’ or ‘vocation’, it’s often a long question and many a time, the answers are often blowing in the wind. With this, when we talk of the hope of the Church in the nearest future, we are referring to a Church molested by heresies, by gay and lesbian relations, by simony, by faithlessness. In fact, we are referring to a socio-political arena, occupied and officiated by people whose hearts and minds are far away from the tenets of the Gospel.

The convocation of this synod and the dedication of 2018 to focus on the youths, in relation to faith and vocation, are informed by the fact that any community who wishes to continue in perpetuity must nurture behind itself quality youths that will succeed it when the elders pass on.

But the picture of today’s world, calls for questions. When you turn around to see the sharp decline in male and female religious vocations; the teeming number of youths in cult groups and all manners of social crimes; the number that is living in poverty with no hope of a better life;  the sharp decline from the culture of learning and positive innovation; the renaissance of the culture of noise and violence; the enthronement  of debauchery as a formal way of life with an overwhelming social applause; you will not need any prophet to tell you that in the next fifty years, God will be reduced to myth and the world will waste itself into extinction.

My dearest friends, today, the world has changed and if anyone does not know that, it means he/she is dead. A whole lot is changing course and emphases are moving from what defined our securities and dignities in the 60s to what is killing and dehumanizing us in 2017. The society has nothing to offer us except innovative ways that are reducing us into nothingness in the name of promoting us.

For instance, in the days when we were safe, we thought that keeping young men apart from young women helped ensure morality, self-discipline and promotion of human dignity that God graciously gave us. So, single-sex-schools became the best idea! Now, over emphasising the wrong notion of freedom has encouraged men to prefer themselves and women to do same for sexual relations. As if that is not dirty enough, now, young men or young women can make a choice of anything as spouse even dogs and horses and the world will applaud them.

Surely, we can still remember that in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s, ‘First Class’ materials in our tertiary institutions were national heroes and employment came with valedictory speeches. Students who could not make it to ‘First Class’ but could stretch to Second Class Upper Division, were celebrated in their departments and even given scholarships to further their education. Then, prep halls in our countries’ Ivory Towers were filled with burning lanterns and the sweet fragrant of sweat perspiring from hard work.

Today, the story is different. The best graduating student goes home with a handshake begrudgingly given to him/her by the Vice Chancellor. If a purse of ten thousand naira is added to it, it means ‘a cow had finally passed through the eye of a needle’. Then, the unfortunate graduate will carry his First-Class Degree from one establishment to the other for ten, even to twenty good years! And, if luck shines on his/her path, he/she may be employed to work in a bank as a cashier with a degree in Guidance and Counselling. Specifically, if a she, then she could be employed as a marketer in a bank, with a monthly target that can never be achieved without violating the dignity of human person.

Dearest friends, what do you think is happening in our system? How can youths from this type of system hear the word of God and keep it?

Please, before you answer, consider this. It is the same country, the same people, the same establishment and the same agency that organised a television reality programme called ‘Bigger Brother Naija’ subtitled ‘see gogbe.’

The aim of this television show was to award participants for living their life without pretense for three months in an enclosed compound called the Big Brother House. From day one, in front of a giant, crystal clear international camera, our youths were engulfed in the most erotic orgy in human history, nastiest than the pagan Roman times – from sex, to sucking, fingering, naked massages, wild erotic parties, men and women bathing together, erotic game called ‘truth and dare’ and many other filths that one could ever imagine.

But, at the end of the three months, one person went home with twenty-five million Naira and a sport utility vehicle. The others were given promotional opportunities to excel in the social world. There were even state government organised receptions for members of the big brother house in their respective states. This is only one of the frivolities that our establishments spent billions of money on.

Dearest friends, let’s consider this. Big Brother Africa television is awarded $300, 000 (N48m), Big Brother Naija is awarded 25 Million Naira, Ultimate Search is awarded 10 Million, Maltina Dance Hall is awarded 10 Million, Project Fame is awarded 7.5 million plus a Sport Utility Vehicle, Nigerian Idol is awarded 5 Million plus Contracts, Glo Naija Sings is awarded 5 Million plus a Sport Utility Vehicle.

Does that sound surprising to you? Hold on a minute, let’s compare this. Cowbell Mathematics Competition is awarded a Hundred Thousand Naira, Lagos State Spelling Bee is awarded Fifty Thousand Naira, CoolFm and Spelling Game is awarded ‘A goodie bag filled with amilla drink’, Once, a University of Osun Best Graduating Student went home with a mug plus a handshake.

Besides, these frivolous programmes have taken our children and youths away from the educative and critically entertaining programmes of our past generations like Super Stories, Tales by Moon Light, Beyond a Dream et cetera.

Correspondingly, we sit on a very terrible political and governmental climate that has failed to provide the basic needs of the society – healthcare, security and qualitative education –; worsen by the proliferation of churches and the spread of sentimental fallacies in the name of Christian faith; the unhealthy quest for wealth and means of survival and the institutionalisation of corruption as a cultural norm even among the very government that promised us change.

With all these sad situations before us, growing by the day with formidable intensity, encouraged by our people out of sheer ignorance and supported by us with our silence and inaction, our chances of survival as an entity and our existence as a Church and as a nation are severely narrowed because all that is happening around us is threatening the core of our existence. It is high time we stood up and wrestled with this whirlwind or else we will be swept away by the very hurricane that had demolished our houses. Hence, the 2018 synod on youths, faith and vocation is scheduled at a time when it is most needed.

When we talk of quality youths, we are referring to youths who have been formed out from the state of nature and who have given themselves to rational thoughts. With their genuine scholarship, they can contribute to the development of their community positively; have access to a better life; reject social evil out of the convictions of their well-formed conscience; understand and respect, with conviction, the dignity of human person as authored by God. 

Surely, the Gospel of Christ can only be preserved, in its purity, from generations to generations if we can form out youths who understand the place of God in the life of man and the need for moral hygiene in the society. The insurance of the Faith, therefore, is in the quality of youths we have in the church.

It is the responsibility of the Church, the parents and the government to ensure the positive formation of the youths.  This would have been a very simple obligation if the three ties mentioned above accept their various responsibilities and work towards them with all sincerity and dedication.

First, for the Church to form Her youths into an admirable future, She has to recognise Herself, practically, as the Mother of the youths in both spiritual and social outlooks. This will allow the Church to accompany young people along their existential journey towards maturity so that, through a process of discernment, they can discover their life plan and achieve it joyfully, opening themselves up to an encounter with God and humanity and actively taking part in the building of the Church and the society.

By the implication of the above, the Church should give more time and dedication to the experiences, thoughts, actions and concerns of the youths as they try to wrestle with the vicissitudes of the modern world.

It will be impossible for the Church to save and serve Her youths if the Church see herself as a huge ‘satisfied entity’ – an entity with more than enough members such that even if anyone leaves, it does not affect the giant entity. Rather, the Church should express the eternal love of God which She embodies, by reaching out even to those who abuse Her.

Through the Catholic Education Commission (secular and ecclesiastical), the Church can educate her members on the right choices in life, helping its youths to makes proper decisions concerning the vocations they would love to lead in life.

Priests and reverend sisters and pastors are, by their very nature, ambassadors of Christ. They owe the Church, for the sake of persevering the life and the sacredness of the Faith, a duty to maintain a motivational spectacle for their youths and the society.  This is a pastoral responsibility of planting seeds that will germinate for the Church tomorrow, either as a religious or as responsible lay faithful.

Parents also have great responsibilities in the formation of the youths. Principles of good Parenting entail caring, protection, guidance, provision of basic needs for child’s upkeep in order for him/her to be properly equipped to meet with the challenges of life, in accordance with the laws of the land.

Creating time for their youths as much as possible and discussing with them about their endeavours and about their problems can help the parents to understand their youths and be available to assist them in their journey towards adulthood.

When the youths are ignored by the parents, the Church or the Government, it makes the youths feel uncared for, leading to loss of interest in their endeavours and even in their self-esteem. Keeping watch on the activities of the youths and seeing that they do not utilize their energy and time in unnecessary activities help to form them properly.

Government has a responsibility of providing amenities for its citizens. Of all the function of government, health care, security and education of its citizens are primary. Any government who fails to provide for the safety of its citizen has failed in its primary objective and does not actually qualify for that name, likewise the provision of good and affordable health system and the education of its citizen.

The Nigerian environment is covered, determined, and controlled by partisan politics. Not only does the government spend untold amount of money in funding political parties and political interest groups to maintain political control of the electorate; rich individuals and financially powerful organisations also spend fortunes to finance a political candidate with the hope of getting kickbacks from the person when elected.

It is very embarrassing that in most cases, the dream of youths is not about what they can produce but about what they will gain in contesting for one political office or the other. The most pathetic case is when a student in the polytechnic says he/she wants the certificate ‘to be able to stand for election’. This leads to abysmal encouragement of irregularities and malpractices in the process of grade acquisition by the prospective certificate seeker, therefore compromising standard and productivity. The only thing responsible for this anomaly is the awful spending by the government on politics.

Finally, my dearest friends, the saying ‘catch them young’, implies that it’s more productive to form a child than to form an adult. If a child is cultured from birth to know that sexual relation is only meaningful with the opposite sex; if a child is cultured from birth to know that the dignity of the human person is in the preservation of nudity; if a child is cultured from birth to respect elders and to choose negotiation as a way out of friction not violence; if a child is cultured from birth to love God with all his heart; if a child is cultured from birth to understand that discipline and integrity are core human values; if a child is cultured from birth to accept hard work as symbols of dignity and favours as inferiority; if a child is cultured from birth to stand for what is right and reject what is wrong with vehemence, then, by the time our strengths begin to fail us, we will not watch our skins decaying while we are still alive neither will we have to bury our own corpse when we die.

In the spirit of a Christian family, let us join the Holy Father, Pope Francis and the Bishops all over the world as they take practical steps to ensuring the survival of the Church in the face of alarming challenges.

We pray to God for strength to see us through, Amen!

Idiongo Ebong

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