Rev. Fr. Timothy Etsenamhe
Assistant Director of Social Communications, Auchi Diocese
Lent is a sombre religious observance in Christian Liturgical Calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday. It lasts for a period of six weeks and officially culminates on Maundy Thursday. Lent affords us the opportunity to prepare for Easter. We do this by observing the three traditional practices taken up with renewed vigour during Lent which include Prayer, (justice towards God), Fasting (justice towards self), and Almsgiving (justice towards neighbours). The period of Lent commemorates the 40 days our Lord Jesus Christ spent in fasting and prayer in the wilderness recorded by the synoptic gospels. According to a 2014 BBC report on Lent, ‘’ by observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ’s Sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days.’’ Jesus at the beginning of his earthly ministry went into the desert to fast and to pray to be empowered to successfully carry out his mission.
As Christians in Nigeria, we are beginning 2021 Lenten season in a country that is in grave distress. This is occasioned by the rise, in most cases, the nefarious acts of kidnapping organized by bands of marauding criminal Herdsmen around every nook and crannies of the country. There is upsurge of agitation to keep the killer herders away from territories they occupy, especially in areas away from their ancestral home. It seems to an average Fulani that the Fufude people are being discriminated against. Consequently, the Fulanis, under the auspices of the Miyetti Allah Cattle breeders Association, are talking tough and threats unleashed in form of press statements. In all of these, people are gripped with the fear of an ethic-cum religious war.
Living in Nigeria today is fraught with danger. It seems we are living on the edge of life. The level of insecurity presently in Nigeria is unprecedented. It is already being likened to the days of the civil war. Many Nigerians cannot freely travel at present within the country. It has become a big deal to travel within Nigeria and avoid attacks by bandits and criminal elements. Nigeria is indeed not safe. How could you explain scenarios where people come to visit Nigeria and are kidnapped and killed? It is bizarre. The number of persons killed on a daily basis by kidnappers and bandits are more than the number of people who die from the dreaded and ever infectious coronavirus. On our national tabloids, issues of poverty, unemployment, lack of infrastructures and social amenities are not so much given importance but the spate of insecurity in the land and wanton killing of innocent citizens.
As we begin our Lenten season, let us indeed replicate the actions of Jesus in the desert, fasting and praying for Nigeria in distress. This calls to mind the famous and efficacious prayer for Nigeria in distress. We cannot overemphasize the efficacy of that prayer. We need to incessantly say that prayer at Masses. However it would be a good idea if the prayer is edited to meet the needs and yearnings of today Nigeria. It is now a slogan in the country that “nothing God cannot does not exist”. Like God’s children, let us dedicate our prayers and fasting this Lenten Season for ‘Nigeria on the brink of the grave’. We need to pray for the conversion of all those involved in making Nigeria miserable; we pray for a change in the general wellbeing of the country. Our prayers will reinforce our hope for a better Nigeria, our faith in God in stooping to help us in this difficulties of our existence and our prayers could make us see each other with the eyes of love and not where we are from and what religion we are adherents.
In his 2021 Lenten Message, Pope Francis describes prayer as a childlike dialogue with the father. He further opines that prayer, alongside fasting – the part of poverty and self-denial; almsgiving – concern and loving care for the poor; makes it possible for Christians to live lives of sincere faith, hope and charity. Praying for Nigeria should be our utmost interest in this Lenten period. It is our country and we have the duty to do whatever it takes to rescue it from the hands of heinous elements who want to make it unlivable. Pastors of Churches should take the lead in this regard like the Prophet Joel instructed, ‘’between the porch and the altar, let the Priests, the Ministers of the Lord, weep, and say, “Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the ‘nations’ ruling over them! Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” We hope that this year’s Lenten observances would bring us favour in the sight of God and help us all to restrain from actions capable of causing chaos in the country. Wishing you a spirit-filled Lenten Season.