R-L: President, Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria and Archbishop of Jos, Most Reverend Ignatius Kaigama; Edo State governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki; Edo State deputy governor, Hon. Philip Shiabu and his wife, Maryann, during the grand finale of the first ever National Marian Year declared in Nigeria, and 3rd Marian Congress in Benin City…recently

Adibe Emenyonu writes on the centenary celebration of Our Lady of Fatima apparition in Benin City, the capital of Edo State, by the Catholic faithful

October 12 -14 were remarkable days in the history of Catholicism in Nigeria as it marked the 100 years of the appearance of the image of Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ. It was also significant because the grand finale of the ceremony in Nigeria was hosted by the Archdiocese of Benin.

On May 13, 1917, three shepherd children, Lucia (10), Francisco (8), and Jacinta (7), chose to pasture their sheep in a hilly depression owned by Lucia’s father and known as the Cova da Iria, or Cove of Irene. It was there, with one exception, that the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of the Rosary appeared on six occasions in that year and a seventh time in 1920 (to Lucia alone).

At that moment the First World War raged in Europe, and in far off Moscow, Lenin prepared the revolution that would overturn the Russian social order in November 1917 and eventually engulfed almost half the peoples of the earth. It was in that context that the message of Fatima was given to the world: Our Lady of Fatima told the three shepherd children, “Continue to pray the Rosary every day to obtain the end of the war and peace for the world, for only she alone can save it.”

Since then, the Catholic Church has always accorded Mary the honour as the mother of the saviour of the world and made it clear that every honour and praise given her is never in isolation and always connected to Christ. Besides, the church had always believed that Mary is a rightful mother to Christ.

This was the major reason why the centenary celebration had in attendance, 26,838 persons, 815 Priests, 53 Bishops, two Cardinals, 14,800 persons from Benin alone, 122 Altar Boys, 1,077 Reverend Sisters and 99 Seminarians.

In his pastoral letter at the celebration with the Theme: ‘Do Whatever He Asks You’, drawn from the gospel of John 2:5, Archbishop of Benin Metropolitan Sea, His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Augustine Obiora Akubeze, disclosed that the Catholic Church has always accorded Mary the honour due her as the mother of the saviour of the world. He said the church has always made it clear that every honour and praise given to Mary is never in isolation and connected to Christ.

According to him, “In order to promote greater devotion to Mary in the church, the church has accorded Marian Feast prime centre in the liturgical calendar,” noting that there are few Marian solemnities celebrated universally, and as such rightly treats Mary with special honour.

“At various times in the past there have been various apparitions of Mary. But only a few have gained the public acknowledgement of its message by ecclesiastical authorities as much as Fatima,” the Benin Archbishop stated, adding that in all, Christ is the fullness of the revelation.

His words: “There is no new revelation outside of Christ. However, there is a constant growth in the insight of this revered faith. Authentic Marian apparitions are occasions to examine ourselves to see if we are meeting up to standard of Christian holy living. Marian apparition like that of Lourdes, Guadalupe and Fatima offer us the opportunity to grow in the sight of faith. Mary on these occasions re-echo the message of Christ which is the required conversion and total dedication to God.

“It is within this context of evaluating Marian apparition as growth in insight to the deposit of faith that we should study and assimilate the message of Fatima. It is a message we judge strong enough to deserve a special year-long celebration.”

Continuing the Archbishop said, “When Mary appeared to the three children at Fatima on the May 13, 1917, not much was known about the children. They were from peasant homes just doing their daily routine work, pasturing their family’s sheep out in the open field. As they noticed something extraordinary, like every other child, they were drawn to satisfy their curiosity. Then they discovered it was our Lady. This apparition continued for six months. In all those apparitions, our Lady told the children to announce to the world that there is need to pray the rosary daily, make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners and warned that humanity should stop offending the Lord: ‘Do not offend the Lord, or God anymore because He is already so much offended.’ Furthermore, our Lady told them that through the daily prayer of the rosary humanity can obtain peace in the world because Our Lady is the Queen of peace.”

He noted that members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria declared this universal celebration of the 100 years of the apparition of Virgin Mary at Fatima a Marian year because “We Christians in Nigeria want to use this as an opportunity to invoke Our Lady of Fatima, to bring peace to our country Nigeria. We want God to save us from moral, economic, religious and social decadence. We know that the closer we are to Mary the closer we are to Christ. This is precisely so because Mary always tells us to do whatever Christ tells us to do.”

He said the theme of this year Marian year is ‘Do Whatever He Asks You To Do’ John 2:5. Mary never lead away from Christ but a sure way to Christ. Let us rediscover the proper place of honour due to Mary and accord her of this respect of calling her blessed from generation to generation.”

Also speaking, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos and President, Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria, harped on the need for “the world to allow peace to reign” and to ask for God’s intervention in the affairs of the country to bring about genuine reconciliation, peace towards avoiding all the provocative and very dangerous statements capable of tearing the nation and her people apart.

He said: “That is what we have come for; to pray to ask God to intervene in the affairs of Nigeria, to bring about reconciliation, bring about peace and to help us avoid all these negative, provocative and very dangerous statements that we make that bring about divisions amongst us.”

The cleric further declared, “We have come on a very special mission to pray together as one family, to ask for God’s intervention in the affairs of our country, Nigeria and to also bring God’s blessings to this country.”

Speaking on the epoch making event, Most Rev. Kaigama explained further saying, “the beauty of our church, the Catholic Church; we are from different nations, different cultures but united to celebrate the 100 years anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima.”

“This is unique and special to Catholics; this woman called Mary is the mother of Jesus; we believe that Jesus is God and therefore Mary is the mother of Jesus who is God. We give her honour and adoration. We give her so much adoration and veneration and we have come together not only the bishops but also the laity all over Nigeria will gather in Benin for the next three days to remember this event.”

Kaigama stated that, “Our Lady appeared in Fatima, Portugal and asked for prayers, for the world to allow peace to reign and that is what we have come for, to pray; to ask God to intervene in the affairs of Nigeria, to bring about reconciliation, bring about peace and to help us avoid all these negative, provocative and very dangerous statements that we make that bring about divisions amongst us.”

Earlier, the eminent heads of the faithful drawn from the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, who were joined by the Pope Francis representative, said the event remains unique and special for the unity, peaceful coexistence, progress and development of the various component units and people of the nation.

Prior to the ceremony, the visiting Catholic Bishops took time off to pay a courtesy call on the Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare II. During the visit, the Oba tasked the Catholic Bishops, the faithful and entire citizens to pray fervently for President Muhammadu Buhari and other leaders as well as for the unity and peace of the country. Oba Ewuare II said peace and togetherness of all segments of the nation remain sacrosanct for the growth and development of all facets of the economy.

The Oba said, “I am sure you have all been praying for me, the kingdom and the palace. We want to please appeal to you all to pray fervently for us to succeed. We have a lot of challenges; we want peace, we want security. We keep praying to God Almighty, we pray for our leaders in Abuja, the President for his good health, for all the governors, most importantly that God should give us more wisdom, to add wisdom to our wisdom to rule our people.

“I am delighted today that the presence of many states in Nigeria and also many countries in Africa are now reflected on the map of Africa but that old map (at the Vatican), I only saw Borno and Benin, what is now called Nigeria, there was no Nigeria at that time; and of course you know by the diplomatic relationship between Benin and Portugal and the establishment of what was going to be Catholic presence at the time that eventually metamorphosed into Aruosa Cathedral. The way the palace chiefs in Benin kingdom dress as we were told was modeled along the Catholic priests then.

“You all coming here today, perhaps, you are not aware that my secondary school was Immaculate Conception College, that was where I completed my secondary school and I believe what the reverend fathers in that school imbibed in us was morality, the uprightness and truth have been helping me in particular all this while. It further strengthens the image connection with my ancestors to always tell the truth and stand by the truth and therefore, I am also trying now to pass on this concept of true light to many of our chiefs in the palace and to many of our people in Benin, I am always like a preacher usually sometimes.

“So, I cannot but say this before the end of my brief remark that, I cherish the way Catholic masses are conducted in a very sober manner; I have always cherished it, I have always liked the ambiance, the environment and not too much keen of shouting, you can like quiet environment. I like sober environment, particularly, when you are praying to the Almighty God you don’t need to shout. You must pray with a lot of reverence, with a lot of sober mood.”

He added, “That is what I believe in; you must revere the Lord God Almighty at all times. We here in Benin, we pray to God Almighty. Today, you have come for this conference and as you have explained, we recognise a lady, a very iconic lady in the religious world, spiritual world; sometime I begin to wonder that when God created the world he first created man in our own image, so the Bible said. But looking at man, Adam, he found him lonely or something like that and decided to behold him to his companion.

“However, eventually after all the temptations, she is to carry man and every other human being that wants to come to this planet earth in her womb for nine months. So, one will not be surprised that you now give recognition to the woman at Fatima, Lady Fatima, that carried Jesus for nine months. It shows to me the power of women, that women should not be relegated aside.”

Declaring the ceremony open, Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, also tasked religious leaders to show more compassion to stem the wave of agitations across the country. He also noted that Nigerians would have to restructure their minds if they are to reap genuine benefits from any effort to tinker with the political structure of the country.

Obaseki also asked the church to play its role in uniting Nigeria, particularly as the country is faced with threats from divisive elements and interests, who propagate hate speech, separatist agitation, insurgency, and youth restiveness.

He said that, as an oasis of peace, the Catholic Church needs to continually play the role of a uniting force in Nigeria, as well as speaking truth to power when the need arises. “We are grateful to God and the church for the continuous work of restructuring our minds as a people. If we, as a nation, fully accept the message of Our Lady of Fatima and are committed to her message of repentance, we would need less of political restructuring. If we add more of love and less of self, to our leadership, Nigeria would be more united and better developed.”

The governor said his administration was committed to reforms in basic education and primary health care, adding, “We are focused on revamping vocational and technical education. These are commitments we share with the Catholic Church.”

At the end of the ceremony, Catholics who attended the grand finale were full of joy and appreciation to God and asked Our Mary of Fatima to obtain for Nigeria, peace in the hearts, homes, places of work, noting that the cerebration of the Marian year the eventual reconsecration of our country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, restore total peace of Holy Mother of God and mother of the Church.

They also prayed God to grant the people with a heart free from evil and hatred to enable them bring to all others true joy and peace which come from Christ Jesus.