One of the fathers of the catholic Church in our African continent and a founding father of the RECOWA-CERAO organization, an umbrella body of all the Catholic Bishops in the West African subregion celebrated his 80th birthday recently. As a special gift to the Church in Africa and beyond, the Nigerian Cardinal encourages Catholic Church Leaders to “speak out against injustice. To his younger ones in the priestly ministry and his sons and daughters who are presently leaders in various capacities in the Church, this clerical celebrity known all over the world for his courage and uprightness in the face of the devil’s alternative warned, “Silence is complicity”. This fiery prince of the Church lamented the apparent lukewarm approach to social issues by some well-mean Church leaders in Africa and the whole.  

John Cardinal Onaiyekan has therefore admonished Catholic Church leaders, particularly in the West African nation of Nigeria as a case study to speak out against injustices in the country.

In a report following the inauguration of the Catholic Social Teaching (CST) program at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) headquartered in the country’s Catholic Archdiocese Abuja, Cardinal Onaiyekan is quoted as saying, “We cannot afford to remain silent in the face of injustice.”

“Silence is complicity, and we must speak out against injustice wherever we see it,” the Archbishop emeritus of Nigeria’s Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja is quoted as saying in the report published Monday, June 24.

He adds, “As Catholic Bishops, we are often interviewed and make powerful political statements. Nobody can stop us from doing that because it is part of our job. We have a responsibility to teach the right things, even if it means facing criticism from politicians.”

Whenever Catholic Church leaders are vocal over societal issues, the Nigerian Cardinal said, “Politicians hail us; but when we criticize them and warn them that they are not doing well, they get angry with us, accusing us of dabbling in politics, but politics is not for politicians alone; it’s for everyone.”

The Cardinal who started his Episcopal Ministry in January 1983 as Auxiliary Bishop of Nigeria’s Ilorin Diocese emphasized the need for Church leaders to teach, adding that implementing these teachings depends on those who embrace them.

“We teach the right things, but it’s up to those concerned to take the teaching and work on it. We don’t have the facility to force politicians to do the right thing; we only have the word of mouth, our message,” he said.

The 80-year-old Nigerian Cardinal who retired as Archbishop of Nigeria’s Abuja Archdiocese in November 2019 likened Christian persecutions in his native country to Jesus’ persecutors, who had listened to Him for a long time. 

“Even Jesus taught for three years, and it was the same people He taught who rallied around and crucified Him on the cross,” Cardinal Onaiyekan said.

Jesus’ persecutors, he recounted, “heard His message, but they didn’t take it. It’s the same today: those who listen to good wisdom will do well; and the people will profit from them.”

Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu