The Catholic faithful began this year’s Lenten season last Wednesday, February 14, 2018, to commemorate and follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ , who in His ministry, engaged in self-mortifying 40-day prayer and fasting. This is a period of self-denial, ostensibly from food, in order to dedicate oneself to the will of God and to meditate on the moral and spiritual lessons of the Christian faith. The season began with the ceremonial Ash Wednesday as many Christians of Catholic persuasion thronged to their places of worship to have ashes pressed upon their foreheads to demonstrate their recognition and acceptance of their humanity as expressed by the Almighty God in Genesis 3:19, thus: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Speaking to Catholic faithful on this year’s Lent, Pope Francis, while celebrating Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae chapel at the Vatican on Friday, February 16, 2018, said “Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure. On the other hand, it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbour. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.”
In the homily, Pope Francis called on Catholics to demonstrate love towards others in addition to self-denial, saying, “God asks people to set free the oppressed, shelter them and share with the hungry and homeless,” and he asked them to develop the habit of “treating everyone in one’s life – housekeepers, employees, assistants – with respect. How do you treat them? Like people or like slaves? Do you pay them fairly? Give them vacation?”
He said further, “Love can also grow cold in our own communities… The most evident signs of this lack of love: selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal.”
The message of the Pope is relevant to the Nigerian Christian in this season of distrust, mutual suspicion, religious acrimony and open hatred that has spread across the country as a result of multiple social disagreements. From the North to the South of the country, bloodshed has become common place and revenge, instead of forgiveness, has become the order of the day. It is high time Nigerians harkened to the Pope’s call for mutual love as this is the way to go if the country must attain lasting peace and unity.
We call on, not only Catholics, but Christians of all denominations, to follow the footsteps of Pope Francis to preach the message of love and peace in this Lent season. This is because in recent times, some Church leaders have embarked to preaching revenge, almost inciting their followers to take up arms against their perceived enemies, instead of encouraging them to work for the peace of the country. Violence and revenge cannot solve the besetting problems facing Nigeria.
Furthermore, Christians should use this Lent period to pray for Nigeria. There is no gainsaying the fact that the country needs divine intervention. Over the years, our leaders have experimented with ideas proffered by experts in different sectors, but their wisdom has not yielded the desired results. We therefore call on Catholics to pray for the country in this moment that they have decided to humble themselves and seek the face of God. The Holy Bible is replete with instances of how God intervened in human affairs when they prayed to Him. Therefore, the Catholic faithful should intercede for Nigeria’s redemption from hatred and violence as they fast and pray to the Almighty God in this Lent Season.