July 22, 2024

EAST & WEST Churches meet in Ibadan


By Fr. Michael Nsikak Umoh

In the spirit of the on-going Synodality called for by His Holiness, Pope Francis, Bishop Simon Faddoul of the Maronite Eparchy of the Annunciation, in collaboration with Most Rev. Gabriel Abegunrin, the Archbishop of Ibadan Archdiocese, convoked a synodal gathering on Saturday May 13, 2023, composed of clergy, religious, seminarians and laity of both Churches.

According to the Bishop of the Eastern Catholic Church, the event was targeted towards creating an awareness about the identity and presence of the Maronite Church within the Catholic Church community in Nigerian, consolidate the collaboration enjoyed with the Roman Catholic Church in Nigeria and particularly with Ibadan Archdiocese, and finally, to set goals for other modes of possible collaboration.

With the theme, “Walking together the synodal journey: when East and West meet in Africa”, the very interactive event entailed paper presentations by
Fr. Nicholas Djebah, Mrs. Marie-Antoinette Feghali, Fr. Dr. Armando Elkhoury and Fr. Anthony Igbekele, while Bishop Faddoul gave an historical overview of the Maronite Church.

In his presentation, Bishop Faddoul traced the origin of the Maronite Church to the hermit called Maron who lived in the 4th century in Antioch, where the followers of Christ were first called Christians. Those who saw him as a spiritual father and followed him came to be known as the Maronites, and after his death, around the year 410AD, they built their first monastery called Beth-Maron (which means the house of Maron) in Apame. ย This community formed the nucleus of the Maronite Church. Thus, being Patriarchal with a Monastic spirituality is one of the defining elements of the Maronites; other elements are Antiochene (their origin from Antioch), Chalcedonian (participation in the council of Chalcedon), love and devotion to the See of Peter in Rome (loyalty to the Pope) and integrally tied to Lebanon (where they eventually found a home and thrived after so many persecutions and dispersions).

The Maronite Church or rite, from the liturgical point of view, is one of the Churches that make up the Catholic Church, and as also revealed in one of the five elements, it is under the pastoral guidance of the Holy Father, the vicar of Christ and the supreme Pontiff as the visible Head. Other Churches that make up the Catholic Church are the Chaldean Catholic, Melkite Greek Catholic, Syro-Malabar Catholic, Ruthenian Greek Catholic and the Roman Catholic Church, which we are more familiar with.

Thus, the Maronites are Catholics, except that they are different from the Roman Catholic Latin Rite that Nigerians are used to; they belong to Eastern Catholic Church belonging to the Syriac Antiochene Tradition. They are also Chalcedonians because in the year 451, a delegation from the monastery of Beth-Maron participated at the council of Chalcedon and stood by the Pope in his teaching affirming the two natures of Jesus Christ, human and divine. This was a defining moment of the Maronites loyalty to the Pope to the present age; all through history, the Maronites have never fallen apart from the Pope.

After suffering so many persecutions and attacks from various internal aggressions and from external invasions, the Maronites started enjoying some level of peace and formally became an independent Church around 685 AD, when they elected Patriarch John Maron, the bishop of the city of Batroun, as the first Patriarch. The current Patriarch, His Beatitude and Eminence Bechara Cardinal Rai, is the 77th, in a long chain of unbroken succession, despite incessant heavy persecutions across the ages.

While the Patriarch has jurisdiction within a patriarchal territory, which for the Maronite Church include Lebanon and the Middle East (Egypt, Syria & Palestine), the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, reserves the right of establishing an eparchy and the appointment of eparchial bishops outside of the patriarchal territory to the Pope. Presently, the Maronite Church consist of 28 dioceses, with 18 within the Patriarchal zone (Lebanon, Syria, the Holy Land, Egypt and Cyprus), while 10 diocese are outside the Patriarchal zone in the Americas, Australia, Europe, and Africa.

It is within this context that Pope Francis, in 2014, acceding to the request of the Maronite Synod, launched the Maronite Exarchy of Africa and appointed the then Chorbishop Simon Faddoul, to start the process of founding an Eparchy. The efforts yielded bountiful fruits in February 2018 when His Holiness elevated the Exarchy to the Eparchy of the Annunciation, nominating Monsignor Simon Faddoul as its first Bishop-Eparch.

Maronite missionary journey in West Africa, which started from around 1884 can be said to have come of age today with the creation of the Maronite Eparchy of the Annunciation, with the Cathedral in Ibadan, Nigeria. This comprise of 12 parishes in Nigeria (4), Ghana (2), and one parish each in Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Liberia. Besides the 12 parishes, there are also missions in Nigeria, Niger, Mali, DRC and Sierra Leone.

In his remark, the Archbishop of Ibadan, Most Rev. Gabriel Abegunrin expressed joy that the Maronites, the Eastern Catholic Church, are connected with the Catholic in Nigeria, the Western Catholic Church, through Ibadan Archdiocese, describing their presence as a truly enriching and a great blessing for the Archdiocese and for the entire Catholic Church in Nigeria. He was full of gratitude and praise for Bishop Faddoul whom he described as a fatherly and committed pastor with great initiative and zeal. On behalf of the Archdiocese, he reassured the Maronite community of total support and openness to collaboration though various pastoral initiatives, including catechesis, pastoral services and personnel exchange. He requested the Bishop to consider a repeat of the tour of the relic of St. Charbel to Nigeria and providing guidance on managing the relationship with the Muslim community, relying on their experience in the Eastern Church.

On his part, Bishop Faddoul expressed gratitude to Archbishop Abegunrin, whom he said is a very simply, unassuming, loving and caring pastor. He thanked him for the warm welcome accorded the Maronites in Ibadan Archdiocese and for all his support and openness.

The two Chief shepherds exchanged symbolic gifts on behalf of their flocks. Among those present at the occasion were the emeritus Archbishop of Ibadan, Most Rev. Felix Alaba Job, Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo Diocese, Bishop Francis Adesina of Ijebu-Ode Diocese, the Administrator of Ilorin Diocese, Very Rev. Fr. Anselm Pendo Lawani, Rt. Rev. Msgr. John Aniagwu, representing the Archbishop of Lagos, the Secretary General and some Directors of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), the Rector, some staff and students of Saints Peter & Paul Major Seminary, Bodija, Ibadan. There were also Maronite priests, deacon, seminarian and lay faithful from all over Africa and United States of America.

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