Bishop Onah's 2016 Christmas Message


Christmas message of Most Rev. Prof. Godfrey Igwebuike Onah (Catholic Bishop of Nsukka)

Delivered at the end of Nsukka Diocesan Christmas Carol of Nine Lessons at St. Theresa's Cathedral Nsukka on Sunday 18th December, 2016


Joy to the world is the song we just sang now and that forms the title of the message I leave for the priests, religious, the lay faithful of Nsukka Diocese and to the entire nation on the occasion of the celebration of Christmas this year of our lord, 2016.

The theme originally is titled joy to the world the lord is come. The title of my message is "JOY TO THE WORLD, THOUGH THE TIMES ARE TOUGH." It is Christmas once more and the joy of Christmas pervades the air; everybody smells it, everybody feels it. The enthusiasm, the preparations, the expectations, and the projects: no other feast in the year, anywhere in the world has that level of importance and excitement." Why? The birth of Christ, the incarnation is an eruption of God in human history. The mystery of the human condition was confronted by the mercy of God as St Augustine says and a title that is reclaimed by the Holy Father the Pope in his message at the end of the Jubilee year of Mercy "Misericordia et Misera." The miserable is confronted by mercy. God looking on us with the eyes of mercy of the loving father sent his son "for God so love the world that he sent his only son so that all those who believe in him will not perish but will have eternal life."

Christ is the perfect revelation of God's love and God's love is expressed primarily in his mercy that redeems us from sin and misery; that is why we celebrate, that is why we are happy and that is why we are joyful. Today in Nigeria however, some may ask; do we really have any reason to be joyful. Just a few days ago the president of our country General Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2017 annual budget in the usual high figures in their trillions of naira. But to the ordinary Nigerian on the street, those trillions mean absolutely nothing. Those trillions will not alleviate the problems and the sufferings of Nigerians today. Just before the president presented his budget, a Pentecostal pastor I imagine, a woman led the prayers and among all things she said, may this budget wipe away the tears of all Nigerians. But she forgot that there are certain things God cannot do; Jesus could not work miracles in his own village because of their lack of faith. God will not force his love on us if we refuse to accept that love.

For decades Nigerian bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful have been praying to God to deliver this country from chaos, anarchy and doom. Year after year however, our leaders have been portioning large sums of money belonging to all of us and those sums eventually end up in private pockets and private bank accounts. "Nothing so far convinces any of us that the trillions mapped out for 2017 will not end the same way that the trillions before it went. The people are suffering, the people are restive, the people are nervous. Many people are doing what they did not do before. Once in a while it now happens that mothers with children and kids are caught stealing food and the police instead of imprisoning them, console them and give them money to go home. I am sure Nigerians will say this is not the change they voted for. But I am also sure that many more people corrupted in the hands of the government will say that, it will always be darker before dawn. It does seem however, that this darkness is lasting much longer than we ever expected.

Things are hot; we don't know whether this budget will ever bring down the price of rice, whether they do not bring down the price of cement, whether they do not bring down the price of fuel. What we know however, is that it was not better when God looked from above and saw the misery of His children and sent His son to comfort us and to deliver us from misery. And that is why we say joy to the world even though things are tough. Joy to world because the Lord knows how Nigerians live today. If anybody understands us, He is the one and that is why he is telling us "he who is born among us today and whose birth we are celebrating today is Emmanuel (God is with us).

All the more reason we have course to rejoice because just this year we concluded a special year of grace, a year which everyone one of us wanted, touched God's love with bare hands through prayers, pilgrims, confessions and absolutions, plenary and partial indulgences. We were filled with God's grace; we were filled with His mercies. So filled with His mercies that we were invited to extend that mercy to others, by showing them loving forgiveness.

Joy to the world, although things are tough, listening to the performance of the choir of this Diocese this evening, I have all the more reason to say joy to the world although things are tough. This is because in spite of everything, in spite of the lack of facilities, in spite of deprivations and backwardness in terms of development and projects in this part of the world, the Nsukka man has refused to give up, the Nsukka girl has refused to give up, the Nsukka woman has refused to give up, Nwa Nsukka has refused to give up.

Joy to the world even though things are tough, for decades this part of the country has been completely been forgotten by everybody and anybody in government but recently the Governor of Enugu State has decided to look this way. Can you imagine what these children from Akwari Eha-Alumona would have been able to do if a tarred road had passed through their town 20-30-40 years ago, which they were entitled to. Can you imagine what all these choirs would have achieved if they had all the facilities that the government would have provided for them which they didn't see. And in spite of that deprivation, in spite of the limitedness of the resources; the talents are growing, the talents are blowing.

This government has now looked this way in the provision of infrastructure but there is a danger that Nwa Nsukka may not sufficiently appreciate the things that the government is encouraging him to do. The government is encouraging Nwa Nsukka to look up and know that the time has come for him, for her to provide the leadership expected of him/her in this part of Nigeria. I have told you times without number and I repeat it today "Nsukka has a mission in Igboland and through Igboland to the rest of Nigeria." Today proves me right.

Christ though his nature was divine did not cling to His equality with God, but humbled himself and became man and being in human form; he even underwent and accepted death, death on a cross. In that humility, not only did God take the form of the human being but He chose the most simple and humblest tribe in Israel, Bethlehem. That was where He chose to be born. And this choice is an indication to all Nsukka people to realize that from lowly people great persons come, from lowly groups great things are realized but like our master, we must be prepared to live a life of sacrifice, to live a life dedication and to live a life of commitment. We cannot achieve that, if instead of letting our lowliness empower us, we now become savage, indiscipline and uneducated.

Very recently something that could never have been associated with Nwa Nsukka happened in Nsukka. There were two successive road accidents, one immediately after the other. And the irate crowd just seeing what happened pounced on the vehicle without finding out who was at fault and set the trailer on fire and while the fire was burning, the crowd was looting the crates that the trailer was carrying. I did not know where to hide my face in shame, because that was not what Nsukka people are known for. We have many road operators and drivers. Our sons could have been the drivers in that trailer and if that happened to them anywhere in the world or in Nigeria, we will condemn that and I hope that would be the last any Nsukka man would attack anybody for that type of tragedy.

We cannot realize our mission if even before the project that the Government is developing is encouraging in our area; we have become already elements of obstruction. Some of us have used our markets to block roads that are not yet completed. The government in other to make these cities in Nigeria more decent and environmentally friendly established mechanic villages, to remove road side mechanics from the view of everybody and from the menace of blocking the traffic. The roads we have not yet completed, some of them have turned even roundabouts into mechanic workshops in Nsukka.

While our government is trying to build the roads and light up our streets, some of our sons and daughters have decided to block the roads and dirty them. I want to tell all of us, any time you see any Nsukka man or woman, boy or girl doing what he/she should not be doing; obstructing the roads, defacing our infrastructure you have the right to challenge him publicly because it is in our common interest that these things should develop properly. It is only then, when we have received the minimum of our entitlement from those who should care for us in government, only then can we standing on that pedestal launch ourselves to the great times that God is inviting. Nsukka has a mission in Igboland and through Igboland to the rest of Nigeria.

Now I say joy to the world although things are tough, but now I conclude by saying "joy to the world precisely because things are tough," because it in this toughness of things, the real character of NWA NSUKKA emerges, it is in this toughness of things, that the real character of the true Christian emerges. It is in this toughness of things that we experience God's love, His presence among us, His dwelling among us, to save us from misery and sin. If you accept this, Christ living in your heart, in your family, in our Diocese will definitely bring you joy and this will make your Christmas happy.

Happy Christmas.

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