July 14, 2024
News Nigeria

2023 Lenten Message by Cardinal Okpaleke



2023 Lenten Message of His Eminence, Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke, Bishop of the
Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia (CADEK), Nigeria

To all People of Good Will.

This year, Ash Wednesday and the Nigerian General Elections fall on the same week. Three days after Ash Wednesday, Nigerians will decide, at the polls, into which of the candidates’ hands they will entrust the country. Maybe, the closeness of these events is by divine providence. Is there something that Ash Wednesday and by extension the Lenten period can teach us about the General Elections? Conversely, is there something that the General Elections can illumine for us about the Lenten observances? If so, what? What does God want us to learn and to do as regards the Lenten observances and the General Elections?

I see two lessons. These lessons have to do with the “kingdom of God” and the “political kingdom.” Jesus taught in the gospel, “seek you first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and every other thing will be added unto you” (Matt 6:33). Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who fought for Ghana’s Independence from the British, is alleged to have turned Jesus’ statement into: “seek you first the political kingdom and every other thing will be added unto you.” It is as if these two kingdoms are opposed. Understandably, Nkrumah and other nationalists were fighting for the self-rule of the colonized peoples of Africa and thought that all they needed was the political kingdom, to have black people in charge of their own affairs. But, having practiced self-rule for more than half a century, it has become clear that having a leader with the same colour of skin as oneself, the same language, from the same ethnic group etc., does not automatically translate into good governance. There is still need for leaders, and followers, who are committed to righteousness and to values represented by the kingdom of God. So, we must seek both the kingdom of God and the political kingdom. Values of the kingdom of God transform us and prepare us to make the political kingdom one in which justice, peace and prosperity will reign.

Never have I seen an election in which many Nigerians, especially the youth, are as invested as in the forthcoming one. It seems that people woke up to the reality that their wellbeing is tied to the wellbeing of the society at large, and that decisions by those entrusted with political positions have ripple effect for good or ill. The worsening socio-economic and cultural situation contributed to this mass mobilization. Nigeria is tottering at the brinks and this election is decisive. There is little or no room for error. A wrong decision spells doom for the citizenry. There is therefore a consciousness across religious, ethnic, geo-political and even party lines, that vision, competence, character, credibility and track record are to count most in this election. In sum, this election has shown that elections are not inconsequential events. Their outcome determines so much in the life and history of the people. The people can only have it good when persons of character are elected and entrusted with their affairs, as affirmed in the Book of Proverb (29:2) and acknowledged by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in the Communiqué issued after her meeting in February 2023.

Like the Nigerian election, the Lenten period calls us to decision. The Ash Wednesday not only invites us to decide to make the best of the Lenten season but the season challenges us in the words of Moses “today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster” (Deut 30:15) or in those of Joshua “today you must make up your minds whom you mean to serve,” Yahweh who saved you or other gods (Joshua 24:15) . The Lenten period is an invitation to all to choose to serve God who in Jesus Christ, out of love, suffered, died and was raised to life, “for us and for our salvation,” as we recite in the Creed. If we choose to do this, then we must embrace a life of love for all, commitment to the good of all, especially the poor, the disadvantaged, the lowly and the despised. If we decide to choose life in God, we are called upon to present our hearts to God in prayer to be transformed; to strive at self-conquest so that we become persons of character not easily distracted by selfish desires; and to invest our energy and resources in making life better for everybody. This will not only lead to individual transformation but also to the transformation of our communities.

Here we see the convergence. It is by seeking the kingdom of God and its righteousness that we become the kind of persons who can build up a political kingdom of life, love, truth, justice and prosperity for us. As we are marked with the Ash and reminded that dust we are and to dust shall we return, may we realize the great privilege God has given us to contribute in shaping history. Thus as we clamor for and decide to vote vision, competence, character, credibility and track record in the coming election, let us be ready also to aspire and strive to become persons of vision, character, competence who over time will have track records of commitment to the common good. This Lenten season can be the starting point or a milestone to energize us to make more effort.

Happy Ash Wednesday and may this Lenten season bear fruits of faith, love, hope and justice in you, through Christ our Lord – Amen.


✠ Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke
    Bishop of Ekwulobia

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