KEYNOTE ADDRESS OF MOST REV. PETER PAUL YELEZUOME ANGKYIER, BISHOP OF DAMONGO AT THE 2014 NORTH-WEST REGIONAL CONFERENCE
LIVING OUR FAITH AS MARSHALLANS IN A CHALLENGING WORLD” KEYNOTE ADDRESS OF MOST REV. PETER PAUL YELEZUOME ANGKYIER, BISHOP OF DAMONGO ON THE OCCASION OF THE 2014 REGIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE NORTH-WEST REGION OF THE KNIGHTS AND LADIES OF MARSHALL AT BOLE. 9TH AUGUST, 2014
Delivered by Fr David Dum
It is with a deep sense of gratitude, appreciation and joy that I stand here this morning on behalf of the Bishop of Damongo, Most Rev Peter Paul Angkyier to address this august gathering, on the occasion of the 2014 Regional Conference of the North-West Regional Council of the Knights and Ladies of Marshall. This conference I believe, is not only a historic event in the life of the Catholic Church in Damongo Diocese and Bole in particular but a significant moment which offers participants an occasion to deliberate on your commitment to the mission of your respective local churches and the entire Catholic Church in Ghana, as lay apostles.
That is why the Bishop thanks the organizers of this program for the invitation extended to him to be part of this event. Unfortunately, the event has coincided with another vital event which the Bishop cannot miss-the National Pastoral Congress in Sunyani. Since he most probably does not have the gift of bi-location, he cannot be in Sunyani and in Bole at the same time. He wishes you a fruitful and successful Conference.
He however asks you to permit me to stand in for him and to share with you a few thoughts on the Theme of your Conference.
The Knights and Ladies of Marshall and the lay apostolate in the Church
My dear Marshallans, today you have gathered here from all over, for this North-West Regional conference to deliberate on issues of importance to your organization and the mission of the church in our country. You have chosen as your theme for this conference: “Living our faith as Marshallans in a challenging world”. This theme speaks to the very essence of your organization and to the charism of Sir James Marshall.
Recently we had an open forum in our Parish Church here in Bole and the youngsters wanted to know more about the Knighthood in the Church. After the discussion I spent time to find out more about this Knights. Then I laid hands on a document which says of the Marshallans, “the Noble Order of the Knights and Ladies of Marshall is a Catholic friendly Lay Society dedicated to the service of the larger society,enhancement of fraternal Catholic Spirit among members and in the church and to help members to develop their Catholic faith and practice.” This was partly confirmed by your letter head which reads, “The Noble order of the Knights and Ladies of Marshall(Catholic Friendly Society)”
What stands out here is the definition of the Noble Order of the Knights and Ladies of Marshall as a Catholic, lay society with a mission to promoting a Catholic spirit among its members and in the church; to develop the faith and Catholic practice of members and to render service to the larger society of humanity. In a few words it can be said that this society was established to promote the lay apostolate, which is a vocation in the Catholic Church. The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, of the Second Vatican Council, clearly underlines the importance of the lay apostolate and work of the laity within the temporal order in relation to eternity:
But by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. They live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were, constitute their very existence. There they are called by God that, being led by the spirit to the Gospel, they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially by the witness of their life, resplendent in faith, hope and charity they must manifest Christ to others. It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are so closely associated that these may be effected and grow according to Christ and may be to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer. (LG 31).
The special vocation of the lay faithful is to live the faith in the challenges of the world. The specific and unique role of the laity in the Church is to continue the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, which “by its very nature concerns the salvation of humanity, and also involves the renewal of the whole temporal order”. (CL 15). Therefore living your faith as Marshallans in a challenging world is the very essence of your vocation as lay faithful in the Church.
The theme of your conference also reflects the charisma of, Sir James Marshall. Sir James Marshall lost his right arm as the result of an accident at the age of 16, a challenge he took in stride and went on to graduate as a lawyer. Marshall’s faith was important to him and wherever he found himself in his secular job, he took the opportunity to evangelize. In 1873, Sir James Marshall accepted an appointment in the British Colonial Service as Chief Magistrate and Judicial Assessor to the native chiefs in the Gold Coast. In 1879 he asked the Office of the Propagation of Faith in Rome to provide missionaries. Frs. Auguste Moreau and Eugene Murat, were sent to establish the Catholic Mission in the Gold Coast at Elmina, and the Apostolic Prefecture of the Gold Coast was created. Marshall played a significant role in enhancing the growth of the Roman Catholic Church in Lagos and was involved in preparations for the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church at Asaba, Nigeria.
My dear friends not only are you mandated by Christ to implant the gospel in the hearts of men and women in the world, you also have a great example of living your faith as Marshallans in a challenging world, in Sir James Marshall.
3.0Some Challenges of the modern world.
3.1 Secularism and religious indifference (ref. CL 4)
In our world today is an ever growing existence of religious indifference and atheism in its more varied forms particularly in its perhaps most widespread form of secularism. Expression of this culture is the tendency to push God out of all spheres of life, the use of freedom without bounds, individuals cut the religious roots that are in their hearts; they forget God or simply retain him without meaning in their lives, out rightly reject him and begin to adore various “idols” of the contemporary world.
2.2 The Culture of exclusion and inequality
The second challenge to the gospel of the world today is the culture of exclusion and inequality. In our world today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a result masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work and without possibilities. We also live in a world hopelessly divided along age, gender, race, geographic, ethnic, religion, politics, social groupings, and economic lines. Even within the Church these divisions are present. The greatest sin of our time is that “our baptismal water is not thicker than blood”. In Africa we say that blood is thicker than water, yet in the African Catholic Church, our common baptism, our sharing in the one bread and one cup is not strong enough to unite us. These divisions create inequalities, favoritism, nepotism, old boyism or old girlism etc. Even among the lay organizations in the same parish there seem not to be unity.
One way the knights of Marshall can live their faith is to face up to this challenge in our modern world. The Catholic Social Teachings are clear on the dignity, equality and inviolable rights of every human person independent of gender, race or social status. Jesus prayed to the Father “all may be one”. My dear friends, there is only one humanity, our gender, ethnicity, race are accidents of birth. In essence human nature is one. Our differences are meant to complement and enrich us and not to divide us. Our task is to work for this unity that Christ prayed for.
3.3 The culture of material prosperity
The third challenge of the modern world is the culture of prosperity, of materialism. The new idolatry of money and dominion has overcome us. We no longer value the human person and the dignity of human life. When materialism takes over our lives, human beings become disposal objects that we acquire, use, and discard. Today in Ghana, popular religion has been consumed by the gospel of prosperity. Everywhere people are flocking to Churches that promise them prosperity, painless and problem free life. This is Old Testament theory in which the faithful of Yahweh will not experience poverty, sickness and any of the challenges of our human condition. The entire book of Job is humanity’s battle with the suffering of the just man. Job’s friends try to convince him that it is because he has sinned that God is punishing him. Today we still find it difficult to understand why bad things happen to good people.
Jesus reveals to us the true meaning and purpose of human living. First we read from the letter of Paul to the Philippians that “even though Jesus was God, he did not cling to his divinity, he humbled himself and took human form that he may raise us up”. Jesus abandon’s his divinity, his power, his dominion and becomes man. He even goes to the extent of giving up is life for us. Loving money interferes with our ability to love God and love others.
Loving money is expensive. It can cost you your family, precious time (as you pursue its accumulation), and of course your relationship with God. When you allow money to be your god, you find out rather quickly that it makes a poor god. It becomes a jealous god that has but one goal: to destroy anything in your life that doesn’t believe as it does. That’s not love. Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus told us the two greatest commandments we can keep are love of God and love of others.
God created us to love people and use things, but materialism leads us to love things and use people. Where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God “has lost” His authority. And if God loses authority over your heart, there will be a God-shaped hole in your heart that can’t be filled by anything or anyone other than God.
Today we are seeing the fruits of the culture of prosperity in the proliferation of churches, moral decadence, corruption, tribalism, ethnocentrism etc. Money is necessary. We need it for food and shelter, but God in his wisdom has made it such that money cannot buy the essentials of life. Life, good health, good friends, happiness cannot be bought with money.
In 1Timothy 6:8 – 10, we read:
Yet true religion with contentment is great wealth. After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:8-10).
In this text Paul captures the utter failure of money to give us anything. As long as we believe that money will bring us happiness, we will always be disappointed. When we love money, we learn it is an empty of love. You see, money can’t love you back. It is incapable of reciprocating your love. Personal satisfaction and greed are the most important aspects of life of the society driven by materialism. Many people echo the sentiment that the real cause of the economic problems that has hit the world is the greed caused by materialism. The real problem may not be so simple but it could be one of the reasons. Here the greed is not only confined to acquisition of money but also power. Where there is power, corruption is bound to happen.
Materialism promotes many other negative feelings as well like lust, selfishness, jealousy, sense of hopelessness, etc. People are forgetting their moral values and often fail to understand the distinction between right choices and the wrong ones. The only thing that matters is good quality life and false comforts. They think that everything around them is dictated by need of humans and is being provided by the environment. All their beliefs are based on scientific inference only. The worst of all, they have lost faith in God as they refuse to believe in anything that we cannot see or hear or touch. As a result, they remain unrepentant after committing sin.
Thus materialism has adversely affected the entire framework of our society and relationship with God and neighbour.
4.0 The lay apostolate and the church’s mission of New Evangelization
The Knights and Ladies of Marshall is a lay organization in the Catholic Church and so is part of the lay apostolate in the mission of the church. Pope Paul VI captures the role of the laity in the evangelizing mission of the Church. The Pope writes:
For the Church evangelizing means bringing the good news into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new. (Evangeli Nuntiandi 18)
In the transformation of the society, the lay faithful have an irreplaceable role. Through its lay members, the church is made present and active in the life of the world. The laity has a great role to play in the Church and in society. The lay faithful in fact are ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20) in the public place, in the heart of the world (AM 128). The world looks to the “ambassadors of the good news, the lay faithful from the parishes who are in love with Christ and the Church, filled with joy and gratitude for the baptism they have received, brave peacemakers and heralds of true hope.
In Cotonou, delivering the Exhortation Africae Munus to the people Africa and the entire universal church, Pope Benedict XVI had this to say about passing on the faith:
All those who have received the wonderful gift of faith, the gift of the encounter with the risen Lord, also feel the need to announce it to others”. The mission comes from faith, a gift of God to be accepted, nourished, and deepened because we cannot accept that salt becomes insipid and that light is kept hidden” (Motu Proprio Porta Fidei 3). The acceptance of this divine gift goes hand in hand with the enthusiasm for the proclamation of the gospel in a kind of a “virtuous circle” where faith moves the announcement and the announcement strengthens the faith. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. Faith is strengthened by giving.
5.0 How can Marshallans who are Christians and lay apostles live their faith in the face of the present challenges of the world?
5.1 Commitment to knowledge of the faith –it is important to know the doctrine of the church. Sir James Marshall was a man of great conviction and firm faith, deriving a deep knowledge and personal encounter with God. In this light Pope Francis in his recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium writes: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them.” (EG 3)
With reference to their special role in transforming the temporal order, Pope Benedict in Africae Munus exhorts lay people with responsibility in the political, economic and social fields to equip themselves with a solid knowledge of the social teachings of the Church, which can provide them with principles for acting in conformity with the gospel. The call here is, to faithful citizenship inspired by the teaching of Christ. Indeedthe work for justice requires that the mind and the heart of Catholics be educated and formed to know and practice the whole faith.”
The Pope goes on to say that lay men and women are called, above all to holiness, a holiness which is to be lived in the world. He encourages lay people to cultivate an interior life and a deep relationship with God, so that the Holy Spirit may enlighten you in all circumstances (AM 129). To ensure that the human person and the common good remain effectively at the center of all human, political, economic or social activity, lay people must endeavor to know and love Christ by devoting time to God in prayer and in the reception of the sacraments.(illustrate on reception of sacraments as nourishing faith and expression and of witness of faith).
St. Jerome once said: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. As Marshallans you should develop the practice of reading the bible and familiarize yourself with the word of God. This intimate knowledge of Christ will first transform your own lives and make you prophetic witnesses in the various areas of life. You are called through your closeness to Christ, to provide exemplary leadership in your local communities. As Marshallans you need to be actively involved in the life of the local parish. This includes active participation in various activities in the parish. Marshallans should not place more emphasis on their own programs to the neglect of the activities of their parishes. (Ref to some negative comments about the Knights being too secretive, too focused on their members-naval gazing ).
5.2. Bearing witness to our faith: “The transmission of the faith not only brings light to men and women in every place; it travels through time, passing from one generation to another. Because faith is born of an encounter which takes place in history and lights up our journey through time, it must be passed on in every age. It is through an unbroken chain of witnesses that we come to see the face of Jesus.” (Lumen Fidei, 38). The call here is to be teachers of the faith. You must be people in the forefront to defend the faith, to be teachers of the faith.
First, in the context of Christian family life i.e issue of parenting. One great challenge facing the catholic church today is the falling away of our members to other churches or faiths due to ignorance or shallow knowledge of the faith i.e the youth and especially girls through marriage and enticement by material riches. A proper catechetical or faith formation for our youth is more urgent today than ever. The statistics of the 2010 population census of our country indicates clearly how many people we are losing from our churches i.e 13% to 15%. Other faiths and churches have renewed their strategies to draw our membership away and yet we seem not to pay attention. Leadership for the formation of the youth is a great challenge in the dioceses today e.g religious education is nothing attractive to even Catholic teachers, to find readily Catholic teachers to teach or head Catholic schools today is not easy. Here the Bishop makes a special appeal and a proposal, to you Marshallans to be in the forefront in our parishes when it comes to the issue of religious/catechetical instructions. We need catechists to teach the faith e.g lay theologians etc. Sir John Marshall implanted the Catholic faith in Ghana. You have the obligation as Marshallans to deepen and spread that faith.
Be prophetic in living your faith: Exercising your prophetic mission, you as Catholic intellectuals and leaders of the church, you must be men and women of integrity who seek the truth, live by the truth and are courageous to defend the truth. Our Bishops expect you to speak out from time to time on issues of national interest. Many of us fear to speak out lest we are made to suffer. But if you the Knights of the Church are afraid to speak to defend the church, or challenge national policies which do not promote the common good of the country then who would do that?
You who are professionals and in various sectors of life, you should be actively involved in social issues using your diverse professional skills to transform the social order e.g falling standards of education in the three northern regions. How many Catholic teachers do we have? Do they have any impact in the system? Issues happening in our country of great concern, our laity usually quiet and waiting for the Bishops to speak.
By being Knights you are challenged by your vocation to defend the church. Like the Knights of the medieval era, you are called upon to “protect the weak, defenceless, helpless, and fight for the general welfare of all.”
6.0 In conclusion,
In Lumen Fidei Pope Francis tells us: “The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives.” Faith as a gift becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. (LF 4).
The theme, Living your faith as Marshallans in a challenging world is about discipleship and the call to new evangelization i.e finding new ways of living the faith more effectively and more prophetically in our times. To be faithful to our vocation demands courage and commitment to knowing our faith and teaching of the church; being men and women of great conviction and faith; having the courage to bear witness to that faith in word and in deed through our commitment in the various sectors of life and professional careers to the common good of all in society; waking up to the challenge of being prophet and willing to defend the truth of the Gospel and be the voice of the voiceless in a world that is highly secularized, and has little regard for the dignity of the human person.
The Bishop acknowledges the many initiatives taken by you as Knights to promote the faith in the church. Some of you as individuals are generous in offering your services as leaders – time, skills, and knowledge. As an association your commitment to works of charity, fraternity and service is quite commendable. You have taken various initiatives to promote the vision of the society e.g The Marshallan Endownment Fund, The Marshallan Security Trust, The Marshallan Relief and Development Services (MAREDES) etc. He thanks you for your particular interest and support of the formation of our future priests.
May the Blessed Mother Star of the New Evangelization protect and guide you all in your deliberations in this congress and bring it to a fruitful conclusion.
Thank you for your attention.