An Easter Message Given by + Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Archbishop-Elect of Owerri, Apostolic Administrator of Umuahia and Ahiara, and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN).
1. As a nation, we are celebrating Easter this year in a rather dismal atmosphere that breathes pessimism and despair. The growing insecurity of life and property in the country is compounded by the rising wave of mindless massacres of innocent citizens by unscrupulous terrorists, causing bereavement, trauma and uncertainty. Economic hardship with soaring inflation continues to sweep across the nation like wildfire and seems to reduce millions of our country men and women to a life of wanton suffering and distress. The ongoing strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is thwarting the academic ambitions of many Nigerian students. In some parts of the country, workers are owed arrears of salary, while retired senior citizens eke out existence without regular pensions. Many young people are deeply wounded and degraded by unemployment and poverty, a poverty that breeds crimes and seeks relief in hard drugs. The appalling economic condition is worsened by the present scarcity of fuel, which is as puzzling as it is frustrating. This horrible state of affairs is driving many compatriots to a feeling of cynicism as they gaze at a gloomy future that seems to promise them little or nothing.
2. Faced with numerous trials and tribulations and having had a myriad of shattered dreams and aborted hopes, many Nigerians live in grief and desolation. The prevailing disillusionment that reigns among our people mirrors the frustration felt by the apostles and disciples at the excruciating passion and humiliating death of Jesus Christ. After the crucifixion of their Lord and Master, they returned home with shattered dreams and hopes – dispirited, dejected, downcast and miserable. Their great hope, “that he will be the one to set Israel free” as reflected by one of the disciples on their way to Emmaus came to an abrupt end (Lk 24:21). On their part, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, having lived through the pains of Good Friday and the emptiness of Holy Saturday, set out at the early hours of the first day of the week for the tomb where Jesus was buried, wondering who was to roll away the stone for them from the entrance of the sepulchre (cf. Mk 16:2 – 7).
3. In that gloomy and cheerless moment, the unthinkable happened. The women could not believe their eyes when they saw that the heavy stone had been rolled away. In that forlorn moment of total darkness, they received the joyful and heart-warming message that the crucified Jesus was risen. He was no longer in the tomb. God did something incredible! Even though it is impossible to bring someone back to life after death, He raised Jesus to life. Nothing is impossible with God! He would not permit death to triumph forever nor allow his people to die and perish in their helplessness. He desires that Christ and indeed all should have life and have it to the full.
4. Easter is the culmination of the great mystery of our salvation and liberation from sin. But it didn’t come that easy. The horrible journey of Christ embracing the Cross, his passion and excruciation death preceded this great event. Amidst our feeling of disillusionment and despair, Easter has a message of hope, namely: that the darkest part of the night is the beginning of dawn. Easter tells us that when the pressures of life seem so heavy; when the brokenness of this world tries to break our spirits, and when we seem to have come to a dead end, there is a light at the end of a dark tunnel. This message of hope underscores that even though the forces of evil might seem at times to have an upper hand over the good, on the long run the good will triumph over evil. Accordingly, far from yielding to pessimism and despair, we should face the future with hope and optimism, and always try to persevere to the end in hard and difficult circumstances.
5. Easter is not just the day the tomb was discovered empty. It is a fifty days celebration, which stretches from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. It spans the period of the rebirth of nature every year and so reminds us of the need of renewing our lives by dying to our old selves of sin and springing into a new life of righteousness, worthy of the sons and daughters of God. It recalls Christ’s victory over sin and ever calls on us to renounce evil and keep away from the path of sin. Easter, which recalls how Christ, the Prince of Peace, reconciled us to God, also challenges us to be ambassadors of peace in a divided and strife-torn world.
6. We need to imbibe the enduring message of peace which Easter offers us, especially now that we are experiencing much violence in the country. Peace can be promoted when we recognise that poverty; religious and ethnic bigotry; human rights abuse; environmental degradation with the resulting depletion of resources; greed; corruption; lack of inclusiveness and poor governance are the root causes of tension, strife and violent conflicts in our country. Together we need to muster the political will to drastically reduce these social ills in our nation. Peace can be fostered when we value the sanctity of human life, cherish our common brotherhood and shun the spilling of innocent blood as outrageous. We should keep in mind that true peace begins from within the self, where we can find inner peace with God and with our conscience. We should all cultivate inner peace for social peace to thrive in our nation. For inner peace and tranquillity facilitate peaceful cohabitation in the family, community and nation. In contrast, when anger, hatred, envy, bigotry, wickedness and greed erect their empires in our hearts, there cannot be social peace.
7. As we draw closer to another period of general elections, which are often characterised by bloody conflicts, we urge everyone seeking an electoral office to embrace the spirit of sportsmanship and not to see a political contest as a do-or-die affair. We also implore one and all to make a personal commitment to non-violence. This is because violence only breeds violence. The vicious cycle of violence results in utter destruction and is never a solution to any human problem. Accordingly, far from fighting and killing one another as a way of settling differences, we should hearken to those beautiful words of Isaiah: “Beat your sword into ploughshares” (Is 2, 4). No more bitterness! No more killing!
8. On behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, I wish you a happy Easter. May the risen Christ, the Prince of Peace, give peace to our terrorised and blood-soaked nation! May Mary, the Queen of Peace, intercede for our country!
Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji
Archbishop-Elect of Owerri
Apostolic Administrator of Umuahia and Ahiara