•Why govt can gradually open churches
By Sam Eyoboka
METROPOLITAN Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Reverend Alfred Adewale Martins has reiterated the need for the gradual ease-down of the lockdown placed on Churches by the Federal Government, stressing that the Church was capable of ensuring and enforcing personal hygiene and physical distancing amongst its members.
Speaking on Thursday at a media interactive ahead of this year’s World Day of Communications at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos, the prelate said the continuous closure of churches was adversely affecting the spiritual and emotional well-being of Christians who crave for their regular congregational worship.
The annual World Day of Communications scheduled for tomorrow is set aside by the Pope to celebrate with media practitioners all over the world and to encourage them on their pivotal role of helping to build a better world.
According to Martins, the theme of this year’s message by the Pope, “That you may tell your children and grandchildren (Exodus 10:2): Life becomes history” is premised on the need for the media to publish stories that would not promote prejudice, conflict, hatred and create divisions.
“According to Pope Francis, stories that do not promote virtues and values are called deep fake news and stories that are very popular create celebrities and heroes but the question is, what type of celebrities and heroes are we projecting,” Martins maintained.
Pope Francis warned on the effect of the promotion of all kinds of social vices being made by today’s social media, giving the world bad heroes and said that the media should rather promote different kinds of scriptural stories of God’s love that made Him to create man in His image, of Jesus Christ, His Son He gave to the world, the miracles of Jesus among others.
While appreciating the importance of strict adherence to health guidelines as laid down by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Archbishop Martins said the Church was adequately prepared to ensure that the opening of places of worship would not go against government’s effort at curbing the spread of coronavirus.
“The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN have been engaging with government with regard to the lockdown.
“We believe that social distancing, or rather, physical distancing is very important. We are also looking at the possibility of people being allowed to worship God safely,” he said, pointing out that the size of every.church should be a major factor in determining the level of physical distancing to be allowed in a church.
“If a church can ordinarily contain about 1,000 people, for instance, and a distance of about two meters in-between is ensured, that should help to determine how many people worship at any point in time,” he maintained.
Archbishop Martins also assured that Catholic Church pastors are responsible enough to be able to determine what will keep them and their flock safe from contracting the virus.
Saturday Vanguard recalls that the Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu recently revealed that discussions were on-going with religious leaders in the state in order to factor in the possibility of opening places of worship which has been under lock and key since the past two months.
Speaking on recent controversy over a conspiracy theory surrounding the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the archbishop condemned some promoters of the theories, saying it’s preposterous for anybody to describe the Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis as an anti-Christ.
The Lagos Archbishop took serious exception to remarks by founder of Omega Fire Ministry, Apostle Johnson Suleman who claimed that Pope Francis is being used in a supposed new world order and that he was at the Centre of planning a one-world religion and in league with the anti-Christ.
Reacting, Archbishop Martins wondered why anybody would to the extent of describing the Pope in such manner, saying that it was absurd because the issue of linking the COVID-19 and the 5G is in the realm of the sciences. the scientists are the only people to say that there is a connection between the two and so we leave that to the sciences to establish whether there’s a connection. But for anybody to link that there is a connection between an establishment of Artificial Intelligence Church is what’s far beyond my knowledge and to link the Holy Father as part of those wanting to create an Artificial Intelligence Church is well beyond reason. Particularly when we recognize that the Pope is one of the people who constantly say that the economy, politics cannot be used to dehumanize people. He has consistently said that nothing should have precedence over human dignity.
“So if 5G is going to have impact on human dignity and an artificial intelligence Church is being conceived, how can anybody link that to the Pope! It’s preposterous and we should really ask those who are misusing the Holy Bible to make such kind of a connection, to go and study the Scriptures well. Particularly, the Book of Revelations. Study it well and the context under which the book was written and understand what book is all about.
“The conspiracy is way beyond reason and those who push it need to be more careful about the different conspiracy theories. As a matter of fact this is what the Holy Father is emphasizing about stories that could create divisions, hatred rather than bring people together. Those who are gullible actors and apostles must be very careful about issues that are by far beyond their competences.
“The issue here is at the realm of sciences and not anything that can subject to sentiments. Yes, when it was said that our House of Representatives proposes a bill to say that everybody will be compelled to receive vicines and we said no. That is not right to force people to take any vicine that they don’t want to take, and especially to deny the people of their rights to privileges. It’s infringing upon the right of people! We are happy that the House of Representatives has decided to now base their decision on the outcome of public hearing. We hope that the public hearing will do the needful,” he stated.
The archbishop commended the Lagos State government for the prompt action taken immediately COVID-19 was discovered, which was later followed by the Federal government, but was quick to point out that the situation also proved that the state of health delivery in Nigeria has been far below average.
He made reference to the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Boris Johnson who when he tested positive with the virus, only went to a hospital within his domain and was successfully treated, a thing that Nigeria government should emulate.
Archbishop Martins then appealed to the Federal Government to consider traditional medicine practitioners to use local herbs and roots as a cure for the COVID-19.
Acknowledging that traditional herbal medicines had their own healing effects, the archbishop pleaded with the government to give credence to their producers for them to use their products as a cure for the virus.
Martins said: “Herbal medicine has its healing effect and I think it is important that the government gives local practitioners and researchers opportunities to research into the use of our local herbal roots and come up with remedies from them for this Coronavirus pandemic.
“We have heard these local remedies curing different types of diseases before, and it is only appropriate that they are given a chance to prove their efficacy at this point in time.
“We understand that there is a need for test and validation of local herbs. Madagascar has developed its own and was embraced by the Federal Government. That has created the urgency for our government to pay attention to the development and promotion of our own indigenous herbal products and remedies offered by others that will lead to an end to COVID-19 pandemic in our country,” the Prelate further argued.
The archbishop expressed great concern about the growing number of infected people, adding that it was a measure of relief to some extent that people were submitting themselves for the test.
“This is an indication that more people are being tested for coronavirus which means that those who have the virus are being identified and treated.
“This is a sign of hope and by the grace of God, we shall see the end of this pandemic,” he said, and appealed to the Federal Government to do everything necessary to extend palliatives to the people of Lagos State at this critical period.
Acknowledging that there have loud agitations by Lagosians about the distribution of federal palliatives in the area, Martins said the need for adequate attention to Lagos needs to be addressed frontally, saying he has heard people complaining that Kano which started its lockdown a few days ago, had received hundreds of trucks of palliatives while Lagos is still awaiting its share. He stated that individuals, corporate organisations and the state government had made their contributions to the residents, but he was not sure if the Federal Government has distributed its palliatives in Lagos State. “I believe that it’s necessary to assuage the feeling of neglect by the Federal Government in Lagos because this was where the whole COVID-19 began and this is also where most of what sustain the nation economically comes from. It’s also a fact that widest variety of Nigerians live here. Therefore its necessary that the Federal Government should take more action to ensure that the people of Lagos feel the presence of the government more than ever before.
“Of course the people of Kano need all the grains that have been sent to them. One cannot say it’s wrong, but it’s also important that the same source of urgency should be extended to people in every area of the country,” the archbishop further argued, adding that the lockdown has worsened the situation of the economy.
Turning back to the debate on the opening of worship centers, the Lagos archbishop assured Nigerians of the hope that COVID-19 would surely come to pass as long as they continue to abide by those instructions based on social distances, washing of hands, among others as he discouraged the issue of stigmatization of those infected and cured, assuring that God is in control.
He therefore called on the government to believe that the Church is also interested in the welfare of its congregation and should dialogue on the resumption of congregational worship while the Church would also do its part to ensure that the people are safe.
The Catholic Archbishop also urged media practitioners to be wary of making heroes out of people of questionable characters in the society.
Martins said it was imperative for the media to carry out due diligence on the character and true personality of their news sources before reporting their stories for general consumption.
According to Archbishop Martins, “there is need for the media to focus more in promoting positive stories that enhance positive growth and development, while shunning those that promote prejudices, hatred and disunity.” Such show of professionalism by media personnel, he said, would go a long way to engender peace and unity in the country.
He particularly advised against the use of the social media to promote fake news and hate speeches, urging journalists to always endeavour to affirm, appropriate the truth in stories, and circulate same widely to counter negativity. He also implored Christians to be bold to tell the story of their faith through regular evangelization.
Earlier in his welcome address, the director of Social Communications, Rev. Father Anthony Godonu said the 54th World Communications Day is tagged “That you may tell your children and grandchildren (Exodus 10:2): Life becomes history”.
Pope Francis in this year’s message called the attention of all to look at the values and importance of storytelling for the family, the church, and the nation.
“Basing his reflection on Exodus 10:2, Pope Francis extols the act of storytelling in human history. ‘Stories that build up, not tear down; stories that help us rediscover our roots and the strength needed to move forward together,’” he says.
According to the director, it is these human stories that have the capabilities of connecting the past to the present and forecasting into the future. “It’s these human stories that have held the world together; interconnecting and interweaving one culture to the other.
“Today, people long for narratives that can help change their lives because man is by his very nature a storyteller. No wonder, our African cultures and traditions have survived thousand of years through oral storytelling. In Yoruba culture, we have “Alo” which means story, in Igbo culture, we have “Akuko” meaning story, and so on. I feel the nostalgia of “Tales by Moonlight” which was a powerful TV series of NTA in the 80s and early 90s.
“And that is why we can say here that it was wrong for the Federal Government some years ago to cancel or remove the study of history from Nigerian School curriculum as reported by Vanguard Newspaper on May 10, 2018. Prof. Wole Soyinka reacting later to this callous action by the Federal Government said, “I feel like strangling Minister who removed History from the curriculum” (May 22, 2019).
“Here lies the power of repetitive stories that make up the history of humanity. Hence, the power in storytelling is inherent in repetition.
“Therefore, if we do not tell our own stories, others will take advantage and smear devilish and exploitative campaigns against us. As our Holy Father has said: ‘But whereas the stories employed for exploitation and power have a short lifespan, a good story can transcend the confines of space and time. Centuries later, it remains timely, for it nourishes life.”
To tell our own stories, we must possess divine wisdom, have courage, patience and discernment to counter falsehood; what the Holy Father called “deep fake” news of our time. But we must tell our stories again and again. The Holy Father says: ‘At this point life becomes story and then, for the listener, story becomes life…’”