The Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan was a guest recently of the government and people of the Czech Republic for the Mene Tekel Ecumenical Memorial Service held in memory of the victims of totalitarianism and conflict where he spoke about replacing competition with cooperation. Chineme Okafor who observed his visit at the Czech Embassy in Nigeria, reports
Reflective of the demands of his vocation, the Archbishop of Abuja, His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, could not turn down an invitation extended to him by the Archbishop of Prague and Primate of the Czech Lands, His Eminence Dominik Cardinal Duka, to participate in the 2018 edition of the Mene Tekel Ecumenical Memorial Service, a weeklong celebration in memory of the victims of totalitarian regimes and wars in Czech Republic.
As a teacher, leader and disciplinarian, Onaiyekan, had always made the most of opportunities as they come by him, to push for an inclusive and upright society. He had challenged governments; leaders; and people of all shades in defence of his thoughts and values for communal unity and societies governed by the rule of law.
For instance, in 2005, with former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, then a serving head of state in attendance in a Mass he celebrated in his Cathedral in Abuja, Onaiyekan, reportedly told Obasanjo frankly to resist the temptation of seeking a third-term in office which he noted was against Nigeria’s constitution. He asked that Obasanjo be sincere and considerate enough of the country’s laws to allow for a democratic change of government which eventually happened.
Again, along with other religious leaders like the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, Onaiyekan, had frequently led peace and reconciliatory missions against religious intolerance in Nigeria, as well as missions to demand for responsible politicking in the country during elections to ensure they end well.
Therefore, accepting the invitation to Czech as he did couldn’t have come to him with a lot of difficulties, especially with regards to the fact that it presented him another opportunity to share his experience on how religious intolerance and disregard for rule of law could alienate societies and humanity and make peaceful co-existence and mutual development a lot impossible to achieve.
Mene Tekel, a stage presented to Onaiyekan
Like it had always been for Onaiyekan, he was presented yet another platform by his host to talk about Nigeria’s challenges with intolerance for dissenting beliefs, as well as how the people of Czech can benefit from it to continue to nurture accommodating lifestyles. And, the Mene Tekel was the platform.
An annual international festival of events against totality, evil and violence, the Mene Tekel usually held under the patronage of the Confederation of Political Prisoners, Senate of the Czech Republic, Mayor of Prague, Archbishop of Prague and Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic.
It was on its occasion that Onaiyekan who travelled with the Executive Director of the Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace, Agatha Chikelue, a reverend sister of the Catholic Church, highlighted the rivalries for dominance which was denying Nigeria the opportunity to make the most of her resources for development.
“Inter religious relationship is a constant challenge. We have to move from competition to cooperation seeking common grounds while remaining firmly convinced of our religious values. We are aware of the natural rivalries for dominance. And fanatics on both sides are sowing seeds of discord,” said Onaiyekan, in his lecture which also touched on issues of corruption; migration; and climate change in Africa.
He further said on the interreligious relationship between the Muslims and Christians of Nigeria: “We have a hundred and ninety millions of citizens in Nigeria and ninety millions of them are Muslims. I dare say that we know the Muslims better than you, and so we know that the mutual coexistence can be trouble-free.
“In our country, it is common that even in one family there are people of different faiths, so Muslim is not a foreigner to us but an uncle, cousin or nephew. We can therefore distinguish between Muslims and Islamic terrorists, and we are not afraid that our neighbours, friends or collaborators confessing Islam will shoot and throw us into the air.”
A visit expands horizons
Beyond his preaching and call for collaborative living at the Mene Tekel, Onaiyekan also reportedly visited two dioceses of the Czech Republic – the Praha Archdiocese where he was hosted by Duka and Plzeň Diocese where he was received by the Bishop of Plzeň, Tomáš Holub.
According to an official note the embassy of Czech in Nigeria exchanged with THISDAY on this, Onaiyekan was also received by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Mr. Martin Stropnický; Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic, Mr. Ilja Šmíd as well as the Director of Foreign Relations Department of the Office of the President of the Czech Republic, Ambassador Rudolf Jindrák, on behalf the President of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman.
The Cardinal equally visited a host of Czech’s most important historical monuments at Prague, and they included the Prague Castle and St. Peter and Paul Basilica and Royal Collegial Chapter at Vyšehrad.
It explained that the Royal Collegial Chapter was founded by the first Czech king, Vratislav II in 1083, while St. Peter and Paul Church was elevated to the level of Basilica Minor in 2000 by Nigeria’s cardinal priest, His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze.
Similarly, Onaiyekan reportedly celebrated several Masses, including at the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbertus in Prague where he was said to have given his Mene Tekel Ecumenical Memorial Service speech in memory of the victims of totalitarian regimes and wars.
Beyond the message for tolerance, the embassy’s official note also noted that one of the important outcomes of the visit was an agreement with the Bishop Holub of Plzeň, to have two Nigerian priests start studies of Slavonic languages and martyrology of Central Europe in Czech.
The embassy further explained that Onaiyekan’s visit had become an important chapter in the history of Czech’s bilateral relationship with Nigeria.
Accordingly, the visit equally gave the people of Czech an opportunity to get to hear from a senior Nigerian leader, the challenges and interests of Nigeria.
The note quoted Dr. Petr Markvart, who planned the visit and programme to have said that: “Cardinal Onaiyekan radiates the natural authority and the genuine warm-heartedness at first glance.”
“His energy is endless and admirable, his perception and memory are phenomenal. He got the heart of those who met him in the Czech Republic. He is the great son of his nation,” added Markvart who hinted that the efforts put in by Czech’s ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Pavel Mikeš, to ensure the cardinal visited his country was immense.