St Philip's Catholic Church, Ozubulu, scene of bloodbath last Sunday, Aug 6.
Not too long ago, I wrote a piece entitled, ''Our Church, Our Pains: My Thoughts Ahead of Synod''. It was seen by many as very thought provoking, being that I deplored the growing negative influence of money in the Church of Christ. I highlighted, among other things, how emphasis is laid on money and money making at the detriment of actual worship. I recalled how in many parishes, money making takes more hours than the actual Mass. I also recalled how in a bid to raise money for projects, people of dubious backgrounds are approached and their patronage enjoyed, regardless of their shady characters and businesses. It was this last point that was brutally brought to full public glare by the gory, unspeakable, reprehensible and highly opprobrious shooting incident inside St Philp's Catholic Church, Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State, last Sunday. A gunman entered the church and started shooting sporadically. At the end, many lay dead, dying and wounded, with the actual number of the dead initially oscillating between 11, 20 and even 47, depending on which source one relied on. It was later learnt that it was a retaliatory action against the man who built the church over what he did to others.
To say that the Ozubulu incident which drew national condemnation, was a huge embarrassment to the Church is to state it very kindly. This situation was a disaster waiting to happen, a time bomb that was bound to explode with shattering consequences. Well, as you have all known by now, it exploded and my dear Church has become the object of ridicule and derision by her haters. They had a field day and how they enjoyed it! I could not begrudge them their moment for we had seen the disaster coming, long before it did.
What pained and still pains is that for long, despite muted complaints and the occasional public protestations, we played the ostrich and believed there was nothing wrong. Perhaps, we believed that our vast numbers gave us the luxury of not feeling any impact if any member left.
For the records, it is not only in the Catholic Church that the new menace has found its way into. It is also in other denominations. The Catholic Church is actually one of the last to have embraced it. But because the Church had for years prided herself as traditional, and given her long years of conservatism, the current style where she has mimicked the Pentecostals has been seen as strange. To some, the Church has even surpassed the Pentecostals in many respects, especially money. To her legion of conservative faithful, the new perception of the Church is worrisome.
We have all been witnesses to the way we have embraced money, the love of which has been described as the root of all evils. Today, it is all about projects, projects and endless projects to which the faithful have been taxed and over which the traditional way of worship in the Church has been abandoned.
Hence, as I observed in my earlier write up, all manner of people are welcomed because we need their money. They are made bazaar chairmen, ordination committee chairmen, vice chairmen of parish council, knights of the Church, etcetera, etcetera. Now, the new craze is for those people to build churches and hand over their keys to their parish priests. Building churches by individuals is good, but problem arises when we fail to carry out checks on their backgrounds. This is necessary because we are talking about faith.
Indeed, in the heat of the outrage generated by the Ozubulu killings, some people in the social media wondered why such background checks should be restricted to the Church. They wondered why journalists who write about those people do so without bothering to check the people's backgrounds. But, as I have already pointed out, those cases are different because it is purely professional or even business. If the man called Bishop in Ozubulu, because of whom many lost their lives, invites the media to cover an event, for sure they will do so. If he wants to have his business advertised, it will be done for him. That is purely business. But when it has to do with the Church, it is an entirely different thing because it has to do with the faith. The Church has the duty to uphold good morals. She shouldn't be seen to be condoning evil in any form.
Granted that no man's sins are written on their foreheads, there are certain situations that warrant some questions being asked. For instance, as in the case of the Ozubulu man, if a young man of 36 years, the majority of whose mates are still struggling, suddenly begins to throw money about and display wealth whose source is both unknown and suspicious, especially given the prevailing incidence of advance fee fraud or 419, it behoves the Church to be wary of such a person when it comes to donations, patronage, honours and so on. And when it is about single-handedly building and donating a church, the alarm bells ought to start ringing when all the afore-mentioned indices are in place.
Now, such caution was not taken in the case of ''Bishop''. And no one can say that his people do not know his source of wealth; after all, wasn't it said that the feud between him and his business associate had been on for some years, with the matter being treated at communal level? Wasn't it also said that about 30 lives had been previously claimed as a result of the feud, both at home and in South Africa where it all started? Besides, the indigenes of any place always have an idea of the backgrounds of their people.
So, for ''Bishop'' to have scaled all the hurdles of scrutiny to have been celebrated by his people, the Church and the government, including the police (as pictures showed), means that the situation is more serious than imagined. It bespeaks of a society heading for doom. Celebrating that man and his ilk by institutions and people who should know better is one sure way of bequeathing anarchy to posterity. The young people who see this being done, are made to believe in the wrong role models. They will believe that the end justifies the means, rather than the other way round. Any wonder then that at functions, the otimkpus recognize such dubious but rich characters, while ignoring such accomplished people as professors, renowned teachers and top civil servants? To them, those people have no money to throw about and so there is no need for the otimkpus to waste their time on them. Indeed, money rules us today, and how tragic it is!
Now, in the aftermath of the Ozubulu incident, the Church, the government and the town's monarchy, which at one time or the other, either glorified the man or enjoyed his patronage, are all cowering in shame. That singular incident has brought to the fore, the need for an overhaul of the system. It is necessary if we hope to emerge from this shame stronger. It is particularly necessary for the Church to do that by taking far-reaching measures to undo the mistake she made in the past, as well as in this very matter. It is no time for sentiments. Mistakes should be accepted when made, especially by institutions that ought to lead by example.
Some people have suggested a demolition of that church donated by ''Bishop''. Others called for a re-dedication of that church or cleansing. That is their opinion but it is left for the Church to know what to do. But while at it, there are other actions that can be taken to lay down a serious marker.
One: the Church should recognize that everybody is equal before God. Thus, during Mass, no person; be they governor, president or local government chairman, should be given special recognition. If they attend Mass, let them attend it like others and go like others. They should not even be allowed near the altar to speak. The altar is not a political platform. Those who want to play politics know where to play it. I've not seen any U.S. president speak in the church, or have you? Does that mean they don't go to church?.
Two: certain positions in the Church should cease being the exclusive preserve of the wealthy. Let's take the knighthood for instance. It should be given to deserving members and by deserving, I mean those whose lifestyles show them as true Christians. It should not be given because of one's wealth. After all, how many of those knights have risen in defence of the faith in trying moments? Is it not the so-called poor that come out to fight and die for their faith?
Three: honours by the Church should go to those with proven good backgrounds. So, whether as bazaar chairmen, parish council leadership, or whatever, the people involved MUST be seen to be clean. No one fell out of the sky in their village or parish. Their people know them.
Four: even among the women, awards such as ''Ezinne'', ''Nne Okwukwe'', etc, should really go to the Ezinnes and real Nne Okwukwes; not just any woman that drives a flashy car or whose son is rich.
Five: we should stop using our churches as stock exchange offices or markets. They are places of worship. If money needs to be raised, let it be on designated days in the church premises. Doing such inside the church has robbed her of the solemnity she used to have.
Six: let's encourage anonymous donations. Such donations encourage humility and true Christianity. Many today would not help their needy neighbours with five thousand Naira but would donate a million Naira in the church because they will be seen and applauded. That is vanity at its very height!
Seven: this one is very important. The matter of individuals building churches should be subjected to very serious checks to avoid the recent embarrassment. I've said earlier that if it takes us a hundred years to build a church with money donated by good people, so be it. It is far better than doing so with blood or 419 money. Allowing such people to build churches is akin to worshipping in the pit of hell.
I can go on and on on this very matter but I have to stop here.
Readers reactions are welcome