Archbishop Kaigama talks tough on corruption, partisan politics and sustainable peace in the region
Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama, president of the Reunion of the Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (RECOWA), has charged the Church in Africa to pursue fraternal relations, peace and the common good.Archbishop Kaigama made the call during the opening ceremony of the 4th Plenary Assembly of the Conference on May 3, held at the ECOWAS parliament in Abuja, Nigeria.Speaking on the theme of “Fratelli Tutti: Path to Brotherhood and Sustainable Peace in West Africa,” inspired by the encyclical of Pope Francis, he maintained that this “invites us to fraternal relationships, rethinking, finding or rebuilding the ‘WE.’”“It calls us all to the conversion of our being and our actions for a true fraternity and a sincere peace; it invites leaders to see governance in terms of service and for all of us to be conscious of the question posed to Cain in Genesis 4:9, ‘where is your brother?’ “We are gathered in Abuja for a week to pray, to reflect and to take stock of the activities carried out by RECOWA, in order to design the roadmap for the next three years.”In his welcome address, the Nigerian prelate disclosed that he was speaking first as Archbishop of Abuja and second as President of RECOWA, noting that the 4th General Assembly of RECOWA is “a great moment for us as pastors of souls in West Africa, united by the same mission, the same vision and a common goal within a single organ of pastoral collegiality.”“Leaders of the region must therefore use political power to create good governance rather than for personal advancement or allow religious, ethnic, economic or political interests to subordinate the common good”The bishop, who charged delegates to light the candle instead of cursing the darkness, decried that West Africa is characterised by “political governance” which “in many cases is unfortunately not about service based on charity, justice, truth and transparency.”“We also face issues of youth unemployment, religious and ethnic crises, climate change, land grabbing, diseases even more deadly than Covid-19, money spent on arms instead of used to remedy the crippling effects of hunger and to foster development, terrorist attacks, kidnappers and corruption.”He used the occasion to challenge all Africans to ensure that the region – which has a lot to offer the world, from the spiritual, economic, cultural, agroecological and biodiversity – to change the narrative.“Leaders of the region must therefore use political power to create good governance rather than for personal advancement or allow religious, ethnic, economic or political interests to subordinate the common good. Leaders must enthrone merit, share resources equitably and do away with the virus of corruption and self centeredness. “In the realm of religion, we must practice true religion by improving the quality of our spiritual lives which must manifest in good deeds such as the care of orphans, widows, the poor and marginalized, youths and not focus on quick prosperity and miracles. Neither should we succumb to the temptation of agitating for the appointment of priests and bishops based on ethnic considerations,” he said. The RECOWA president urged Christian and Muslim leaders to “go beyond courteous formalities to employ practical measures to foster Muslim-Christian dialogue instead of media confrontation, or even mutual physical hostility” just as they “look out for the interests of one another.” “The Church can only continue to play her role in educating the consciences of Christians, non-Christians and people of good will in our society”Regarding the expected fruits of the current plenary, which will feature reflections, workshops and discussions that will impact on the people, the archbishop said that “as the chief shepherds are committed to ensuring exemplary leadership and striving to ‘smell like the sheep we are pasturing. “Without becoming politically partisan, our prophetic voices must continue to ring out on behalf of the voiceless multitude suffering. We do not pretend that we have the solutions to the multidimensional political, security and social problems. The Church can only continue to play her role in educating the consciences of Christians, non-Christians and people of good will in our society.” Citing Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est, he explained that “the Church should not take on the political battle to create a more just society, replacing the state, yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.”“As this is my last General Assembly opening speech as RECOWA president, having come to the end of my second tenure, permit me to prayerfully invoke the Risen Christ to continue to bless, guide and consolidate our RECOWA family. Entrusting also RECOWA to the fervent intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” the archbishop said.Over 250 Catholic bishops from across West Africa countries were in attendance at the high delegation meeting.