By Rev. Fr. Dr. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua

Director: Mission and Dialogue

Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja


In some of the conferences and symposia I have attended with my Muslim brethren, references were made to the manner of provocative preaching by some religious preachers. In a seminar and workshop on inter-religious dialogue organized by the Sisters of the Medical Missionary of Mary (MMM) in Benin, Nigeria on April 18, 2012, Dr. (Mrs.) Habeebah Oladosu reported that some Christians entered a mosque uninvited in the University of Ibadan to preach to the Muslims to give their lives to Jesus. I asked if the preachers were psychiatric patients and the answer I got was NO. This same story was reported by Prof.  B.O.S Noibi of the same university in the Symposium organized by NASRUL-LAHI-L-FAITH Society of Nigeria (NASFAT) at Shehu Musa Yar’dua centre, Abuja on 10th May 2012. Some Christians have also narrated their stories. For instance, in an Inter-denominational Church Service to mark the 2012 democracy day at the National Christian Centre, Abuja on Sunday, May 27, 2012 Most Rev. Peter Jasper Akinola claimed that Boko means book while Haram means Abomination therefore Boko Haram means:  “the people of the book are abomination and must be eliminated”. He affirmed that Boko Haram is an agenda by Some Muslims in Nigeria to wipe out Christians in order to establish an Islamic State. He claimed that this agenda is a long term project. In Sunday Trust of May 27, 2012, I reported the assertion of  His Eminence, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III CFR Mni, the Sultan of Sokoto on May 10, 2012 that the Muslims have no agenda to Islamize Nigeria. All these suspicions and reports show that each religion has a bitter or pleasant story to tell. These mutual accusations are indeed worrisome and could be seen as the basis of violence in Nigeria today.

In 1991, Francis Cardinal Arinze (then president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID) and Jozef Cardinal Tomko (Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of peoples) presented to the world a document titled: DIALOGUE AND PROCLAMATION. This document responded to the following questions:

  • Is missionary work among non-Christians still relevant?
  • Has it not been replaced by Interreligious dialogue?
  • Does not respect for conscience and freedom exclude all efforts at conversion?
  • Is it not possible to attain salvation in any religion?
  • Why then should there be missionary activity? (Redemptoris Missio, 4)

This document defines dialogue as mutual communication with an attitude of respect and friendship (DP, 42). Proclamation is the communication of the gospel message (DP, 10, 60-76). These are authentic expressions of the Church’s mission to all nations and individuals. “Dialogue and proclamation are thus both viewed, each in its own place, as component elements and authentic forms of one evangelizing mission of the Church. They are both oriented towards the communication of salvific truth” (DP, 2).  The conversion that dialogue seeks is not from one religion to the other but a conversion to justice and peace in the world. The Church through proclamation proposes and imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures and she honours the sanctuary of conscience (RM, 39). The Muslims also share this view in their proclamation that there is no compulsion in religion.

The nature of the world today imposes on all preachers to adopt a new style of evangelization that makes dialogue indispensable. The human mind has become so critical that the only argument that can convince the world today is witness of life because “action speaks louder than words”. To be a good preacher today, it is important that your way of life must be a holy scripture for people to read. This will be more effective than all the noise pollution with loud speakers all over the houses of worship without consideration for the next door neighbour who perhaps wants to enjoy some peace and quiet. What the world desperately needs today are not smooth talkers but pragmatic witnesses.

To be effective in dialogue and proclamation, education is very necessary. We must heal ourselves of the mutual fear of conversion that led to the taking over of schools by government thereby destroying the standard of education and morals in Nigeria. Dialogue will not make sense if we keep our children at the level of ignorance of other religions. Our Rector in the seminary, Msgr. John K. Aniagwu used to tell us: “if you think that education is expensive, try ignorance”. Dialogue is a sure way to learn from one another. Openness to dialogue can lead to conversion of heart and a change of attitude. The time has come for us to wage a jihad and a crusade against ignorance. An enlightened mind does not forget the ultimate vision of life and the prophetic mission to lead people to heaven. A trained mind is liberated from the gospel of prosperity that turns religion to a public liability company. A converted prayerful preacher sees the other person as God’s image and not a tool.

On June 1, 2012, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, Catholic Archbishop of Jos and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria in his proclamation of the word of God in the National Christian Centre, Abuja on the occasion of the National Catholic Prayer pilgrimage for Nigeria asked: How do you know that it is “day break”? You know that it is dawn when you can look at a neighbour’s eyes and see a brother or a sister in his or her eyes. As long as you can not see your neighbour as a brother or sister, you are still in the dark. A good skill to this awareness is the ability to forgive, reconcile and heal wounded memories through dialogue and proclamation that is attended by witness of life.