PROCLAIMING THE DIVINE MERCY MESSAGE IN THE AFRICAN CONTINENT
A keynote Address presented by Most Rev. Dr. Martin Igwe Uzoukwu, Catholic Bishop of Minna, Nigeria, National Promoter of the Divine Mercy Devotion in Nigeria and the Coordinator of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM), Africa and Madagascar on the occasion of the 2nd African/Madagascar Congress on the Divine Mercy Devotion taking place in Ozubulu, Anambra State, Nigeria from Thursday 08th to Sunday 11th, August, 2013.
1) GREETINGS : Your Excellency, Most Rev Dr Valerian Okeke, Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha and Metropolitan of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, Your Excellency, Most Rev Dr Joseph Ekuwem, Catholic Archbishop of Calabar and Metropolitan of Calabar Ecclesiastical Province, Your Excellency, Most Rev Dr. Hilary Okeke, Catholic Bishop of Nnewi Diocese and our Host Your Excellency, Mr Peter Obi, Executive Governor of Anambra State Your Excellency, Prof Amos Utuama, Deputy Governor of Delta State Rev. Msgr Prof Felix Adeigbo, Chairman of the Divine Mercy Devotion in Nigeria All Monsignori, Priests and Religious men and women, My dear Priests and Brothers of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Divine Mercy (MDM) Delegates of the Divine Mercy Devotion Family from Poland, Uganda, Congo D.R., Rwanda, Ghana, South Africa and Botswana My dear Devotees, Lovers and Families of the Divine Mercy Devotion in Nigeria I welcome you all to this great event ; the Second Africa/Madagascar Congress on the Divine Mercy Devotion, with the theme, “Proclaiming the Divine Mercy Message in the African Continent.” May the Love, Peace and Mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine Mercy Incarnate be with you all now and always. Amen.
In a special way let me welcome our beloved Sisters from the Faustinum, Krakow, Poland. Rev. Sr Caterina and Rev Sr Diana are from Our Lady of Mercy Congregation. St Maria Faustina was a member of the same Congregation.
I also welcome the Tyburn Nuns from Our Lady Queen of Peace Monastery, Kaffin Koro, Catholic Diocese of Minna. They just came into Nigeria from the Tyburn Monastery, England. I am glad that their Mother Superior granted them the permission to come and join this great Divine Mercy Congress.
2) INTRODUCTION : During the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM), which took place in Cracow, Poland in 2011, we were all challenged to go back to our different continents, countries and regions to build on the gains of the Congress. We, from different countries and regions in Africa and Madagascar, had started harnessing our resources to build the African Family of the Devotees and Lovers of the Divine Mercy Devotion. Our first experience came with the First Africa and Madagascar Congress on the Divine Mercy Devotion held in Lagos, Nigeria from 19th to 22nd August 2010.
Reflecting on that Congress, we focused on Spreading the Divine Mercy Devotion in our different Parishes, Communities and Countries. It was also a preparatory experience for the Second World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM) which took place in Poland in 2011. Delivering my Keynote Address, during that Congress I encouraged the Devotees in Africa thus, “There is the need for the Devotees from across Africa to work together, harmonize our activities and bond together to maintain and utilize the Solid Structures of the Divine Mercy Devotion we have in Africa. There is the need to make the presence of the Divine Mercy Devotion felt in every part of the African Continent. We need to utilize the special gift of the Devotion to foster the spirit of feeling the presence of God in our societies, draw our families closer to God and contribute our quota to the rebuilding of the human and material resources God showered on Africa.”
This second Congress of the Devotion in Africa is an opportunity to take stock of our achievements in our different countries and regions as regards the Message of the first Congress, as well as, the gains of WACOM 2011 in Poland. It is a time to build bridges of fraternal relationships in the spirit of the Divine Mercy Devotion and encourage one another as Devotees of the Divine Mercy. This is surely the ripe moment to share our wealth of experiences as we spread the Divine Mercy Devotion in our own corners of Africa. Above all my dear brothers and sisters, it is a solemn moment of prayer when we unite as one body to pray for our beloved Africa confident in the words of Jesus, “where two or three are gathered in my Name, there I am in their midst” (Matt 18 : 20)
3) OUR ACHIEVEMENTS IN AFRICA : The story of the Divine Mercy Devotion has been a story of success upon success. What started precisely in 1931 in a small town called Plock, Poland with the appearance of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine Mercy Incarnate to Rev. Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska, has become an international devotion today. After the period of ban by the Church (1959 - 1978), the Devotion has spread like wild fire and has touched many lives and changed the course of many communities in the world. Today we have some of the Reverend Sisters from Poland with us.
There has been a rapid spread of the Divine Mercy Devotion in Africa. Presently it is found in virtually all Arch/Dioceses in Africa. The Message and Spirituality of the Divine Mercy Devotion, structured around the Love and Mercy of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist and the Deeds of Mercy (the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy), have a great appeal to many Catholics and even non Catholics of Africa. Since the first WACOM in Rome, Italy in 2008, there has been an increase in the awareness of the need for the Devotion in all parts of Africa.
Some National Conferences are growing strong on a daily basis. For example the Nigerian Devotion has established a National Council of the Divine Mercy Devotion led by the Family Apostles of the Divine Mercy Devotion. This is in addition to the National Centre for the Divine Mercy Devotion in Minna, Nigeria. We have established many Divine Mercy Pilgrimage Centres in Nigeria. We also have an annual National Divine Mercy Pilgrimage to Poland. This year it will take place from 02nd to 14th October 2013.
In Uganda I was happy to meet a well-structured Divine Mercy Devotion and experienced the great work being done by the Apostles of the Divine Mercy Devotion in that country. Some delegates from Uganda came for the WACOM in Poland in 2011. Today we see a great testimony of the spread of the Devotion in that country with the number of delegates here with us. Outside of Nigeria the host country, Uganda has the highest number of delegates during this Congress.
The Rwandan experience is great. We will extend our great gratitude to the Pallotine Fathers who have taken it as their apostolate to spread the Divine Mercy Devotion in that country as part of the healing process after the genocide. In Ghana, we are having the growth of the Devotion, but alongside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Devotion. All of us will agree that the two devotions are very close. But we always want to maintain the distinct charism of the Divine Mercy Devotion as Our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine Mercy Incarnate directed St Maria Faustina Kowalska.
In many countries of Africa there are pockets of the Devotion in some Arch/Dioceses and some parishes. Some institutions like Seminaries and Religious Houses, as well as, individuals have private devotions to the Divine Mercy. There is the need to encourage the devotees to spread the Message of the Divine Mercy. For instance, I have been invited by a Bishop in Tanzania to have the Divine Mercy Academy in three centres in his Diocese later this year.
4) THE CONGREGATION OF THE MISSIONARIES OF DIVINE MERCY (MDM) : Those who were with us during the first Congress in Lagos in 2010 heard me declaring these prophetic words in my Keynote Address, “At this point, permit me to let you know that very soon ; in fact the moment is by the corner when our own Divine Mercy Priests/Religious brothers – members of our own Missionaries of Divine Mercy Congregation (MDM) will be the ones leading in our Divine Mercy Devotion activities. The time is here when it will not be out of place to see the Priests – members of the Missionaries of the Divine Mercy Congregation (MDM) celebrating Masses, leading in perpetual Eucharistic Adorations and assisting in celebrating the other Sacraments, not only during our National/Diocesan Conferences, but also in our own ‘home’ Dioceses and Parishes. Today the Seminarians and brothers are here with us, learning from us, praying with us and associating with us because they belong to this Divine Mercy Family. The Missionaries of Divine Mercy Congregation (MDM) is one of the greatest achievements of the Divine Mercy Devotion Family.”
History was made recently when, on Friday 05th July, 2013 (the anniversary of my appointment to the Episcopate), I had the privilege of ordaining the first five (5) members of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Divine Mercy (MDM) to the Catholic Priesthood.
Established in 2002, the MDM Congregation is an indigenous Congregation of young men seeking to respond to the Divine call to the Catholic Priesthood and Brotherhood in the Spirituality of the Divine Mercy Devotion. Besides the Priests, we have two (2) Professed Reverend Brothers and 45 brothers in different levels of their formation in the Congregation.
It is my vision that the Congregation will take up the challenge of this Congress – to spearhead the next level of Proclaiming the Message of the Divine Mercy in the African Continent. I hope that they build on the great work the OLM Sisters are doing in Poland, the Pallotine Fathers are doing in Rwanda, the Marians in the US and the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy are doing in Uganda and other Divine Mercy groups scattered in different parts of the world. Today we declare to the Brothers of the MDM that this Congress is entrusting a great spiritual legacy into their hands. They must hand it over to the next generation not just in Africa but to the rest of the world (cf Deut 6 : 4 – 7).
5) PROCLAIMING THE MESSAGE OF THE DIVINE MERCY : During the declaration of the Year of Faith (October 2012 – November 2013), the Holy Father, Pope Benedict VXI pointed out that evangelization must be at the roots of the renewal of faith and bringing people to know Jesus Christ. According to him, “Today as in the past, he (Jesus) sends us through the highways of the world to proclaim his Gospel to all the peoples of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19). Through his love, Jesus Christ attracts to himself the people of every generation : in every age he convokes the Church, entrusting her with the proclamation of the Gospel by a mandate that is ever new. Today too, there is a need for stronger ecclesial commitment to new evangelization in order to rediscover the joy of believing and the enthusiasm for communicating the faith” (Porta Fidei No. 7). Pope Francis during the closing Mass of the recent World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Theme : Go make disciples of all nations) declared to the young people and to all of us that Jesus is calling us to be disciples with a mission. For him the Church must come out to the streets and go everywhere without borders to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. He charges us with these words, “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.”
The Divine Mercy Devotion in Africa and Madagascar must contribute to the continuous evangelization of our People through the Proclamation of the Message of the Divine Mercy throughout the Continent. Our Lord Jesus Chris the Divine Mercy Incarnate gave us the great mandate, “Go and make disciples of all nations… I am with you until the end of the world” (Matt 28 : 19 – 20). We strongly believe with St Paul that Faith comes through hearing and the people can only hear if someone preaches the Good News to them (cf Rom 10 : 16 – 18). For the Divine Mercy Devotion in Africa, the proclamation of the Message of the Divine Mercy is unique. It revolves around 1) Encountering Our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine Mercy Incarnate in the Holy Eucharist (cf Jn 6) and 2) the Deeds of Mercy (cf Matt 25 : 31 – 46).
Our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine Mercy Incarnate ‘trained’ the disciples for three years before handing over the mission to them. For us, it means that there is an urgent need to train leaders in the spirituality of the Devotion. We must establish Divine Mercy Academies in our respective countries and regions to help in the training of our leaders. These will be empowered to take care of the Devotion in the communities, Parishes, Arch/Dioceses, Provinces and at the National level.
6) MAKING THE MESSAGE RELEVANT TO THE AFRICAN : Today our Continent is passing through so many experiences. Many of these are quite negative. We have issues ranging from acts of war to ethnic conflicts, poverty, corruption, bad leadership, religious fundamentalism, terrorist activities, political upheavals, illiteracy and economic mismanagement. There is also the entrance of anti-human and anti-religious values like same-sex marriage, abortion and new forms of slavery in our Continent. It is in the midst of all these that we must proclaim the Message of the Divine Mercy.
The Principles of New Evangelization today urges us to make the Good News relevant to the African without compromising the Message of the Gospel or watering the values of the Christian Faith. It must also respond to the challenges being faced by the African. To make the Message of the Divine Mercy relevant to the African and to respond to his/her daily challenges/experiences, we must consider the following :
a) Faithfulness to the Divine Mercy Spirituality : It is important for all the Divine Mercy Devotion groups to remain focused on the spirituality of the Divine Mercy Devotion as explicitly recorded in the Diary of St Maria Faustina. We must also maintain our roots in the Holy Eucharist at the Holy Mass and in Eucharistic Adoration and the Deeds of Mercy (cf Jn 6 : 54 – 69, Acts 2 : 42 – 43 & Matt 18 : 19 – 20).
It is the sacred duty of every Devotee to promote a great devotion to the Holy Eucharist at all times. The Holy Eucharist is the greatest symbol of the Mercy of God for us. The Deeds of Mercy are for us ‘Christianity in Action’. The Deeds of Mercy help us to reach out to the African without borders. This means that we take the Divine Mercy Message to the African Family made up of Christians of all creedal shades, Muslims, African Traditional Religionists, and even those who claim that they do not believe in God. Let us remember that the Mercy of God is for all irrespective of religion, ethnic affiliation, social/political standing and economic status in the Society.
On this note we encourage the Devotion in every country to promote family prayers. In Nigeria we have been promoting the Prayer Tablet : Stay One Hour with Jesus Christ the Divine Mercy Incarnate daily. Fr Peyton said, “The family that prays together, stays together.” I strongly appeal to all the Lovers and Devotees of the Divine Mercy Devotion to start the One Hour Adoration of the Holy Eucharist in their Parishes every day. When we take part in the Eucharistic Adoration, we unite more perfectly with Jesus Christ who gave Himself totally for us as our spiritual food (cf Jn 6) and Divine Companion on our Pilgrimage journey (cf Lk. 24 : 13 - 35). The Eucharistic Adoration offers us the rare opportunity to stay at the Feet of Jesus to establish an everlasting relationship with Him. He said, “Mary has chosen the better part and no one can take it away from her” (Lk 10 : 42).
So my dear brothers and sisters in the Divine Mercy Devotion, let us take it as the great challenge of this Congress, that we will be with Jesus the Divine Mercy in the Adoration of the Holy Eucharist. We will also offer ourselves as Apostles of the Divine Mercy Devotion to preach it to others. Let us form families to surround Jesus Christ daily. Let us establish the Eucharistic Adoration in our Parishes and our Churches in all the Arch/Dioceses of Africa and Madagascar.
b) Solid Structures : There is no way an institution can survive without Solid Structures. In some African countries, we have Solid Structures like the formation of the Family Apostles of the Divine Mercy Devotion, Priests and Religious of the Divine Mercy Devotion, Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy, the Divine Mercy Reporter, Volunteers, Divine Mercy Academy, Divine Mercy Shrines and others. There is the need to make them relevant to the Devotees and to those who are not devotees. They should serve the course of evangelization in the Church. They should assist the particular churches to achieve their evangelization goals.
There is also the need to maintain and build up these structures. They should not become obsolete or irrelevant. It means that those who are charged with the leadership of the Devotion in their different countries must strive to keep the structures working for the good of the Devotion and the Church. It means that there is an urgent need for each country to have National Conferences, Arch/Diocesan Conferences and Parish structures.
There is also the need to establish solid structures in those countries and regions that are lacking. Sometimes there are no persons to take responsibility of the Divine Mercy Devotion in those countries. Let us begin by identifying the countries. This is an exercise we shall carry out during this Congress. It shall become our priority in the coming months to see that the Devotion grows in every country in Africa. We must join our hands together as one Continental Family to help these countries or regions to stand. We must remember the vision of St Paul, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16 : 9).
c) Serving the Community through the Divine Mercy Spirituality : The Divine Mercy Devotion in each Nation/community must employ its solid structures/resources to serve the community. Jesus Christ charged us by saying let your light shine before all men (cf Matt 5 : 16). It means that we should become agents of change is our communities in the light of the Divine Mercy Devotion. It is our duty to promote Peace in our homes/Nations (cf Lk 10 : 5 – 6), of Love in our families/communities (cf Lk 10 : 27 – 37, 1 Cor 13 : 1 – 13), of Forgiveness/Reconciliation among families, ethnic groups & those living with differences/misunderstandings (cf. Lk 15 : 11 - 32, Matt 18 : 21 – 35) and of the spirit of accountability/transparency in public offices (cf. Matt 24 : 45 – 51 & Matt 25 : 14 – 30).
We must simply become witnesses to Our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine Mercy Incarnate through our visible Solid Structures in the family and in our Communities (cf Acts 1 : 8). To Proclaim the Message of the Divine Mercy effectively in Africa, we must go beyond our tribes, our communities, our nations and our religion, our political affiliations and reach out to Africans. We must see the face of Jesus Christ the Divine Mercy Incarnate in our people and show Him love especially in the poor, the hungry, the displaced in war torn countries, the refugees, the marginalized, those suffering discrimination/persecution, those living with HIV/AIDS, children who are affected by the scourge of HIV/AIDS (OVCs), and those who are prison.
d) Greater collaboration : There needs to be a greater collaboration between the Divine Mercy Devotion groups in different countries. Today we are happy that we have groups from Uganda, Rwanda etc. We must build bridges that will help us to network, share experiences, share difficulties/challenges, and visit one another if possible. We have technological exploits to thank for making the world a global village.
On that note, I encourage all the countries to establish national centres that will harness the activities of all Divine Mercy groups in the countries. We will also upgrade our Centre in Nigeria to become the Africa/Madagascar Divine Mercy hub. There is the need to report on an annual basis the activities of the Divine Mercy Devotion in each country. We also need to establish a Continental Council of the Divine Mercy Devotion to assist the WACOM, Africa/Madagascar to function and oversee the Divine Mercy Activities in all the Regions of Africa.
We recognize and appreciate the difficulties that come with language differences, transportation problems/costs around Africa, immigration procedures and other challenges that face the Devotee in the African Continent. With our commitment and resolve to succeed in our project of proclaiming the Divine Mercy Message in the African Continent, we will overcome most, if not all, of the challenges that stare us in the face.
7) WACOM : BOGOTA, COLOMBIA 2014 : In WACOM 2008, Rome Italy and WACOM 2011, Cracow, Poland there were delegates from different countries in Africa. I urge all the National Conferences to go back and begin their preparations for Bogota, Colombia 2014.
There is going to be a great difference in the African representation during the next WACOM. We will prepare as one Family. During this Congress we will marshal out plans on our participation in the international Congress. The celebration of this African Congress is an opportunity for us to initiate the plans on the proper participation of the African Continent during that occasion. It is also the time to set up the structure to assist in the effective coordination of the Divine Mercy Devotion groups from different African Countries and their representations during the WACOM in Bogota Colombia in 2014.
8) 3rd AFRICA/MADAGASCAR CONGRESS ON THE DIVINE MERCY DEVOTION : There is the need to continue the hosting of the Africa/Madagascar Congress on the Divine Mercy Devotion. We will continue to hold it every two years as that will help to facilitate an accelerated spread of the Divine Mercy Devotion in Africa.
I am happy to announce to you that the Third (3rd) Africa/Madagascar Congress on the Divine Mercy Devotion will take place in Rwanda in the year 2015. I will leave the details to the delegation from Rwanda. They will let us know when and where we will congregate in Rwanda for the next Congress. The information will be subsequently sent to you all through the International Centre for the Divine Mercy Devotion, Minna, Niger State, Nigeria.
9) CONCLUSION:This Congress is a call to our brothers and sisters and all the Lovers of the Divine Mercy Devotion from across Africa to brace up for the challenge which lies ahead. It is time for us to bring to consciousness the mandate of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine Mercy Incarnate ; “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself take up his Cross and follow me” ( Mark 8 : 34). We should put our differences aside and step over the artificial boundaries of state creation and network the Devotion in Africa. The Divine Mercy Devotion has offered us an opportunity to renew the zeal to become missionaries carrying the Message of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine Mercy Incarnate to others. We can fulfill this obligation in Africa either as Priests, Religious or Lay Men and Women.
I am praying that God will give us all the strength and the courage to be great ambassadors of our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine Mercy Incarnate. Our families need the Divine Mercy, our communities need the Divine Mercy, Our countries need the Divine Mercy and surely our Africa and the world over need urgently to be under the great and loving Mercy of our God.
My special gratitude goes to our dear Reverend Sisters from Poland, our delegations of Priests, Religious and Lay Faithful from Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana, Congo D.R. and all the Provinces of Nigeria. Thank you very much for your great presence. When you are going back, may God grant you all His Special journey mercies. May our loving sister, St Maria Faustina, who must be beaming with celestial smiles now, accompany you during this Congress.
May the Almighty and Merciful Father bless and guide you all, your families and your communities. May our wonderful Mama of Mercy, the Blessed Virgin Mary obtain special graces for all of us from our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine Mercy Incarnate. Amen
Jesus ! I Trust in You
Most Rev. Dr. Martin Igwe Uzoukwu Catholic Bishop of Minna, Nigeria Motto : Jesus, Mary I Trust in You National Promoter of the Divine Mercy in Nigeria Coordinator WACOM for African & Madagascar
[August 08, 2013]