Challenges of mission1

Mission has always posed questions and challenges to those who genuinely engage in it. In the past, the challenges were primarily of a physical nature, consisting in the acceptance of uncommon privations for the missionary.[2] Today the challenges transcend the physical and affect many other dimensions due to the complexity of modern society. Generally, “mission is quite a herculean enterprise, and very demanding. The Church right from her inception never found it easy and she still finds it really tough.”[3] The Church in Nigeria faces a lot of challenges in her mission to enshrine the Gospel message and values in the hearts of the Nigerians.

Many authors have pointed out some challenges or the other to mission. For T. Okere it is primarily the problem of inadequate missionary method.[4] B. Ukwuegbu thinks that the lack of an explicit confrontational evangelization is the major challenge to mission in Nigeria.[5] For J. Ukpong, the socio-economic contexts and problems make mission an uphill task here.[6] A. Vasumu et al conceive it as the problem of lack of proper catechesis, syncretism, secularism and illiteracy.[7]

The CBCN highlights the setbacks and some areas of weakness with regard to mission to include: lack of genuineness of purpose in the so-called vocation boom to the priestly and religious life; lack of vocations in some parts of the country; a sense of male, clerical domination in the Church; lack of personal conversion among the teeming population of Nigerian Christians as evident in the high level of corruption in the country; lack of sufficient catechesis; religious syncretism; Pentecostalism; proliferation of ethnic and religious violence in the country; lack of proper coordination and documentation of the mission ad extra activities of the Church in Nigeria.[8] The problem of ignorance, diseases and misery (poverty), postmodernism, ethnicity and cultural differences, lack of proper inculturation, failure of inter-religious dialogue, division among Christians, proliferation of churches, the improper and inadequate use of means of social communication are among other problems and challenges that befall missionary activity in Nigeria today.[9]

From the above barrage of challenges this study, while claiming not to be exhaustive chooses to concentrate and focus on some of these challenges.


Pope Paul VI in his address to the College of Cardinals on June 22, 1973 said:

The conditions of society today require us to revise our methods and to seek out with all our energy new ways and means by which the Christian message may be brought to the men of our times, for it is only in this message that they can find the answers to their doubts and the inspiration to carry out the obligation arising from their mutual dependency.[10]

On another occasion, the Holy Father asked: “What method should be followed in order that the power of the Gospel may have its effects? Does the Church not find herself better equipped to proclaim the Gospel and to put into people’s heart with conviction, freedom of the spirit and effectiveness?”[11]

In his 1982 Address to the Nigerian Bishops, Pope John Paul II called them to a new era of evangelization that will be new in its Zeal, new in its Methods, new in its Expression and new in its Strategies: “in this pastoral visit, I express the hope that it would initiate a new era of evangelization. This is my earnest prayer, that zeal for evangelization will envelop the Church in Nigeria.”[12]

The above seeks to show how important method and strategy are to mission. Mission succeeds and fails by means of the method employed. The changing Nigerian society demands that missionary methods and strategies be revised and updated. To better appreciate why missionary methods today are considered inadequate a glimpse at some of the methods used by the early missionaries will suffice. These among others include

a) The Ruling Class Method[13]

The first missionary method of evangelization used by most early missionaries was that of finding favour with the Ruler and the Upper class of the place they visited; with these they could convert them and their household and through them their subjects. This was precisely the method used by the Holy Ghost Fathers. For instance, within the old Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province they converted the traditional ruler Samuel Obi Anazonwu and Chief Idigo of Aguleri and their families. Both not only surrendered vast portions of their lands to the Church but also became the flag bearers of evangelization in this zone together with their families

b) Christian Mission House[14]

Following the abolishing of slave trade by the British Parliament’s Act of 1807, there were movements of slaves from those countries where they were sold. This gave rise to the problem of settling the slaves who could not go back to their original homes due to the loss of contact and segregation. The missionaries took it as a challenge to settle the ex-slaves and the proximate thing to do was to keep them in camps called Christian villages which later graduated into Mission houses. With Fr. Lutz one sees concrete examples in Onitsha, Aguleri, Nsugbe and Nteje. In doing this, the early missionaries were convinced of doing service to God and that eventual conversion was obvious. There was also the sense of removing those free slaves from being contaminated by impurities and ungodly ‘paganism’ of their society. The freed slaves did eventually become the foundation members of the Church especially in the Southern part of Nigeria

c) Humanitarian/Charitable Work[15]

Following the abolition of the slave trade, the atmosphere favoured humanitarian and charitable works. The situation was already gleaming in Africa as many thought of bringing something better to poor Africans so as to uplift their ugly situation. Fr. Lutz on arrival at Onitsha after experiencing the mission in Sierra Leone had at the back of his mind ‘integral human development.’ Celestine Obi puts it thus:

For him evangelization meant more than teaching the natives to read the bible in their own language, he came to win the whole man- body and soul for Christ. Charity, commiseration and seeking the well-being of the natives marked his evangelical method.[16]

As such he not only built schools, but also leprosarium, dispensaries, hospitals and workshops to cater for all kinds of persons. The sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny who came from France helped in giving medical assistance to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In Western Nigeria, for instance, the S M A Fathers, Francois and Coquard opened the first dispensary and orphanage in Lagos. This method was very effective, but the motive was sometimes misguided.

Other Early Missionary Methods include: The Sponsored Mission or Portuguese Padroado System, the School Apostolate, Dialogical Method and Catechesis. All these methods did have their various strengths and weaknesses.

The paramount questions now are: since there is still the need for both primary and secondary evangelization in Nigeria, how is the Church in Nigeria responding to these missionary needs? What missionary methods is the Church adopting today?

A survey of the missionary activities of the various Dioceses, parishes and organizations that make up the Church in Nigeria, as well as written documents on Missionary efforts in Nigeria,[17] indicate that some of the methods adopted by the Church in Nigeria today are similar to those she inherited from her early missionaries. These will include among others; promotion of indigenous clergy and religious orders, creation of new dioceses, parishes and ecclesial basic communities[18], human promotion, evangelization through means of social communication, charity apostolate (care of the poor, sick and needy), school apostolate and inter-religious dialogue. A brief highlight on these latter methods will also serve the purpose of this study.

a) Promotion of Indigenous Clergy and Religious Orders

Pope John Paul II, following the indication of the Second Vatican Council in the document Ad Gentes Divinitus, wrote that the evangelization of all peoples is the direct responsibility of the bishops both as members of the College of Bishops and as pastors of the particular Churches. Religious institutes and diocesan priests also share in this direct responsibility for mission apart from the mission of all the baptized in Christ.

The first missionary approach of the Church in Nigeria is to ensure that there is a stable growth in priestly vocations and indigenous religious orders. The Nigerian factor of the segmentation of the country along geographical, ethnic and linguistic lines has made such an approach, an imperative for any successful mission. The success of mission in Nigeria largely depends on this factor and method because the gospel must consider the ethnic, linguistic and cultural peculiarity of the people if it is to be embraced.

The yearly ordination of priests in the different dioceses in Nigeria and the profession of final vows in the Religious Institutes by the sons and daughters of Nigeria show the effectiveness of this approach. This is what propelled the establishment of the Missionary Society of St. Paul by the CBCN[19], The Sons/Daughters of Mary, Mother of Mercy Congregation by Bishop Anthony Nwedo, The Holy Rosary Sisters, Daughters of Divine Love, Society of Jesus the Saviour by Fr. Emmanuel Edeh, Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, etc.

When Pope Paul VI addressed the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) in Kampala, Uganda in 1969 he said: “Africans, you are now your own missionaries.” This could be interpreted to mean that for the success of mission in Africa, especially in Nigeria, a vibrant and robust network of indigenous clergy and religious institutes is indispensable.

b) Creation of Dioceses, Parishes and Ecclesial Basic Communities (EBCs)

The Church in Nigeria believes in the creation of dioceses, parishes and ecclesial basic communities. The fact that the world’s population is increasing in a geometric progression has also given rise to a relative growth in the population of Christians in the globe including Nigeria. This increase in the population of the laity which is unfortunately inversely proportional to the increase in the population of the clergy has given rise to the formation of ecclesial basic communities where some trained lay faithful are placed in charge in line with the Vatican II’s ecclesiology of the Church as people of God.[20] The logic and the theology of the creation of new dioceses, parishes and EBCs are to bring the Good News and Faith in Jesus Christ nearer to the people especially in their own language and culture. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and a multi-lingual society; thus, for the Gospel to be relevant it must speak to the people in their own particular context and life situation. With the creation of more dioceses and parishes the gap created by differences in culture, language and tribe is bridged so that people can feel at home with the faith

c) Human Promotion

The Church in Nigeria strongly believes that authentic development is centred on the human person, on the actualization of his potentials and on the fulfilment of his legitimate aspirations.[21] She is fully aware that development is not just a matter of building beautiful bridges, fanciful airports, business and holiday resorts and skyscrapers but primarily about building the human person. She also believes that “a nation is not just a geographical space. It is an aggregate of people who live a common life rooted in and inspired by common ideals and core values, a common life in which the dignity of every human person is respected.”[22] This means that a geographical space where people are forced to live together at gunpoint may be called a state, but it cannot be properly called a nation.

Hence, no national development or growth can be recorded without an integral and harmonious human promotion and development, and the Church in her wisdom is fully aware that her evangelizing mission can make little or no meaning without its inseparable connection with human promotion. No wonder Pope Benedict XVI declared in his parting words to the Synod Fathers, during his sermon at the closing Mass, that: “…as she offers the bread of the Word and the Eucharist, the Church [in Nigeria should] dedicate herself also to work, with every means available, so that no African [Nigerian] will be without daily bread. That is why, along with the task of primary evangelization, Christians are active in the interventions of human promotion.”[23] Thus, the Church as part of her missionary methods makes concerted effort to promote the human person. This can be seen in the areas of education, healthcare, aid to the needy, development projects, defence of human rights and commitment to bring about democracy and legally constituted states.

Even though every member of the Church is called to be a promoter of Human dignity, this function is specifically given to the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), acting in the name of the Church and as prescribed by the Synod. With the JDPC the Church in Nigeria not only speaks out against all forms of “unfair conditions” and “inequalities” but also works to bring an end to such structures of social evil to ensure the development of peoples which according to Pope Paul VI is the new name for peace.[24] During the Second Plenary meeting held at Bishop Nwedo Pastoral Centre, Umuahia the CBCN exclaimed:

Nigerians continue to live in fear and tension. In spite of the acclaimed efforts to beef up security in the nation, bombings and senseless killings of innocent Nigerians, continue in the northern part of the country, while kidnapping and periodic murders and armed robberies continue in the southern part. The failure of government at all levels and other security agencies to provide adequate security for all Nigerians is a grave form of abuse of human dignity. This unfortunate situation leads to distrust of government and allied authorities. It creates loopholes for evil doers to thrive and for the proliferation of arms and dangerous weapons under the guise of self-defence.[25]

The Church is, therefore, committed to the principles of Justice, Peace and Development not only in words but also in action. This is made evident in her various interventions in the process of National policy formulations. The Church is fully aware that this is one of the major ways to make herself present to the oppressed, the sick and the voiceless and defenceless of our Nigerian society. This is a veritable missionary method and stride.[26]

d) Evangelization through Means of Social Communications

Gone are the days when the Church stayed aloof from utilizing the means of social communications in her mission. Today the media – both print and electronic – play a major role in the evangelizing mission of the Church. The media aids in publicizing the missionary involvement of the Church as well as canvasses for sponsorship and support by way of financial or material missionary cooperation. The Church must really see this method as indispensable in this age of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) if she is to succeed in her mission. For example, almost all the dioceses in Nigeria have a Newspaper which creates awareness of the presence of the Church in the society and her role as the conscience of the society. Furthermore, almost all the Catholic institutions, schools, colleges, universities publish magazines and journals; all for the promotion of the continuance of the evangelizing mission of the Church. Also, there is a widespread use of the cyberspace to preach the Gospel through Church owned websites, Facebook pages, Twitter, etc. Many also utilize the Television and Radio services for the broadcast of evangelization programmes. This is a method that must be strengthened and maintained

e) Charity Apostolate

The Church cannot be indifferent to the plight of the poor in the society. Like every other human society Nigeria is beset with the problems of ignorance, poverty, malnutrition, disease, premature death which at times are caused by human selfishness and unjust social structures. Whatever the case, the Church undertakes a missio pauperes (mission to the poor) as part of her evangelizing mission. A clear example of this is found in the establishment of Orphanages, leprosarium, Home for the physically challenged by the Church and the constant visit by Church organizations to these places in terms of giving material support. We also see this gesture in cases of displaced persons and refugees by way of relief aids to them through the JDPC. For example, on October 10, 2010 residents of Yakassawa Kwari who fell victims to flood waters from the Tiga/Challawa dams were given relief materials worth millions of Naira through the JDPC of the Catholic Diocese of Kano. Even in the 2012 flood saga, the JDPC was at the frontline of giving relief materials to displaced persons. And in 2014, the JDPC of Ijebu Ode diocese gave out over N12bn in loans to the needy. The Scheme, which had empowered about a 100,000 beneficiaries, who are women in small and medium scale agric-business and allied sectors across the South West of Nigeria was designed to boost the women and the agricultural sector of the economy. The loan which was meant to promote small and medium enterprises in agro-produce, expand existing ones, as well as empower women, could be repaid over a period of 10 years.[27]

f) School Apostolate

The Church has considered school apostolate a very indispensable and pertinent tool for evangelization. Francis Bacon says that “knowledge is power” and man is a being that is in constant pursuit of knowledge. The Church has throughout the ages recognised this demand so that she uses school apostolate in the work of mission. To take a concrete instance, the Church has numerous schools and institutions of learning from where she spreads her teaching. The Church uses her schools for enlightenment on the faith and for catechesis. When the early missionaries came to Nigeria, they built schools alongside churches and these helped to facilitate evangelization and indoctrination as what was not fully taught in the Church was completed in the school. Today as before the school apostolate is still a veritable missionary method; though it may not be strong as before. The Church in Nigeria lays a serious and strong emphasis on education and she notes:

Quality education produces citizens who will work for the establishment and maintenance of a just socio-economic and political order. It is the antidote for the recurring and related problems of poverty, corruption, insecurity and incompetence in our land…Quality education involves the formation of the whole person, that is, the human person in his or her spiritual, intellectual, moral and technical dimensions. It is rooted in and animated by spiritual values. Does not the evil of science without morality stare us in the face? Technical education without ethical values creates persons who promote a culture of death. The terrorists in our midst are without doubt well educated in the technique of making explosives. In the same way, religion without the use of the intellect makes us intolerant of other people’s religious beliefs. Faith without reason breeds fanatics. Artisans of a new Nigeria—religious leaders, politicians, civil servants, business men and women, parents—need holistic education.[28]

The Church in Nigeria can be proud of her track record in the field of education. In some Nigerian towns and villages, the only place of learning is a primary or secondary school built and run by the Catholic Church and her dedicated teachers drawn from her clergy, religious, lay faithful and even men and women of other faiths. Before the ill-advised take-over of the schools by the military government in the early 1970s, Catholic schools showed that Nigerian children could live in harmony in spite of religious and ethnic differences. Her schools were noted for the formation of the intellect and the conscience for competence

g) Inter-religious Dialogue

According to experts the expression “inter-religious dialogue” unfolds in four major forms: Dialogue of Life, Dialogue of Action, Dialogue of Discourse and Dialogue of Religious Experience. In each of these, the common denominator is dialogue which generally means “a communicative process that entails a mutual and an impersonal relationship between two or more partners on the platform of subject-to-subject communicative encounter.”[29] It is all about emphasizing the common elements that bind people than what separates them, understanding their common values and grounds. It is all about understanding the other and trying to live in harmony. The Church sees this as a veritable method of evangelization especially in the Nigerian situation. Her ability to make her presence felt after the example of God, the Father who welcomes all that come to him will add to her missionary progress. That is why the CBCN has on several occasions summoned the nation to peaceful co-existence beyond the ethnic, religious and political divide. Through the JDPC department of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), she carries out with other faith traditions a common action in aid to the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden and as a conscience of the society. She is at the forefront of religious tolerance and freedom of worship. The Church in Nigeria really believes in inter-religious dialogue and goes all out to engrave it as one of her evangelization or mission strategies.

The above are the current missionary methods in Nigeria. Though they have created much impact, they are still considered inadequate as missionary methods per se. This is either because of their superficiality or their inability to convert. One should not forget that the end of every missionary outreach is to convert hearts to Christ. The Conciliar document on the Church’s missionary activity make it explicitly clear that mission is going out and planting the Church in places where people do not yet believe in Christ. But not only that, it also involves ministry in places in need of renewal, where there is a state of regression and weakness. In this regard, pastoral ministry is not mission in the strict sense of the term though it is closely associated with missionary activity. It is on this note that one could see that the above enumerated missionary methods today are somewhat geared towards pastoral ministry. The missionary methods she adopts does not make her ‘confrontational’ and zealous in the quest for souls as is seen in the resurging ‘Pentecostalist movements’ or ‘Independent churches.’[30]


Not only that Pentecostalism has made serious inroads into the Catholic Church in Nigeria as observed by the Catholic Hierarchy in Nigeria but their proliferation in the country seems to occasion an accelerated divide within the Christian fold such that missionary efforts by the Church is seriously challenged. In order not to ‘lose her members’ some Catholic missionaries, priests and religious tend to incorporate the Pentecostalist mentality in their mode of worship, prayers and preaching. So that in the Church today one finds some tendencies of a fundamentalist interpretation of the scripture, an overly emotional style of worship, an unhealthy preoccupation with demons and demonology, and an excessive insistence on miracles, signs and wonders. These New Religious Movements as most authors prefer to call them challenge the Church in the areas of Inculturation, Dynamic and lively worship, Catechesis or Bible study, Holistic Gospel, and true brotherhood.[31] Thus, if the evangelizing mission of the Church in Nigeria is to be relevant and successful in this present era, she must take into serious consideration the challenges posed by Pentecostalism.[32]

Syncretism on the other hand refers to a process of combining different religious practices or beliefs, which may lead to a new synthesis or to a strengthening, weakening or dissolution of old allegiances.[33] Syncretism is really an axe that the Church must grind and grapple with. Even though the Christian Faith has come to stay in Nigeria, there is still a vacuum or a gulf existing between the Christian Faith and the African Traditional beliefs and practices. Many Christians are neither fully Christians nor are they committed worshippers of the African Traditional Religion. Thus, the people among whom the message of salvation is announced are sometimes set on the horns of dilemma in trying to really part with their traditional practices and to embrace the Gospel message in its entirety. Even though several and concerted attempts have been made and are still made at inculturating the message of Christ, syncretistic practices are still shooting up in unimaginable proportions, and this constitutes a serious challenge to the mission of the Church. This challenge will only be overcome when the Church in Nigeria gets it right on inculturation.


“Nigeria’s poverty level rises, hits 71.5%, Sokoto, Niger top list of poorest states” was the Monday, 13 February 2012 Newspaper headline of the Nigerian Tribune written by Gbola Subair of Abuja. In clear terms, the analyst wrote:

POVERTY in Nigeria is rising with almost 100 million people living on less than $1 a day despite strong growth, data showed on Monday. The percentage of Nigerians living in absolute poverty — those who can afford only the bare essentials of food, shelter and clothing — rose to 60.9 per cent in 2010, compared with 54.7 per cent in 2004, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said. Although Nigeria’s economy is projected to continue growing, poverty is likely to get worse as the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. “It remains a paradox … that despite the fact that the Nigerian economy is growing, the proportion of Nigerians living in poverty is increasing every year,” Statistician General of the Federation, Dr Yemi Kale, told reporters at a press conference in Abuja, on Monday.[34]

Poverty is to be understood here in the sense of a sub-human standard of living. It is a condition prevalent in most underdeveloped and developing countries of which Nigeria is a typical example. Poverty is often accompanied by class distinctions in society and social alienation. In Nigeria the level of poverty is extremely on the increase every day. The Church must see it as part of its proclamation of the kingdom as well as her missionary activity to help people in the country attain a level of living that befits their human dignity. However, while hating poverty and seeking to wipe it out, or at least diminish it in society, the Church must love the poor and devote time to them. The purpose of ministry to the poor must not be to keep them poor and good Christians and citizens. Rather the purpose must be to give them the hope and the means they need to conquer poverty in their lives and to serve God and their neighbour in freedom. Poverty poses a challenge to the Church in Nigeria as it is everywhere. The Church must see it as part of her missionary imperative. In this way, she will integrate it into her mission programmes and recognise that intermittent charity is not the solution. A true response to the situation must be founded on a planned programme that will help the people themselves overcome their condition of poverty.

The serious challenge here is the other side of the story. Because of the level of poverty in the country, some ‘missionaries’ or preachers of the gospel and regrettably too Catholic priests and religious tend to see the ministry as a means of getting rich and accumulating wealth. “Some Nigerian Missionaries display an inordinate desire for money and other material benefits. This is a great hindrance to the credible proclamation of the Gospel.”[35] Materialism is a serious set-back to mission in Nigeria. Many priests in mission lands mismanage and divert the funds meant for missionary promotion to their private accounts in a bid to get rich. This attitude by some missionaries has become scandalous to the extent that those who voluntarily supported mission financially (missionary co-operation) withdraw their support and resources. This is because the intention of the donors is defeated due to sheer greed and materialism.

Thus, for the Church in Nigeria to really go far in mission ad intra she must join forces with other organizations to combat the rapidly increasing widespread poverty in the country. The 1971 Synod of Bishops states that: “actions on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel, or in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”[36] Actions to remedy the situation of poverty in Nigeria should not be considered as secondary aspects of the Church’s mission.


How many Catholic TV and Radio Stations are there in Nigeria? How many Catholic programs are aired on the TV Channels and Radio stations all over Nigeria in a day, in a week, in a month and in a year? How many Nigeria Catholic websites are there? Does the Church in Nigeria have a National Daily Newspaper?[37] How many Catholic printing presses are there? How else can her explicit and prophetic proclamation of the gospel message and values be heard except through these means of social communication? The above questions suggest that the lack a massive employment of the means of Social communication is still a challenge to the evangelizing mission of the Church.[38] The Lineamenta for the First African Synod states thus: “Given the importance of social communications, the Particular Churches should endeavour to seek the greatest possible access to these tools which would permit the Church to proclaim “quite openly and unhindered” (Acts 28:31) the Good News of Jesus Christ. If possible, these Churches could acquire themselves and run their own transmitting stations; they should at least seek to obtain air time in local and national programs. The Church should take advantage of these means to awaken people to Christianity whose message can lead to a just and peaceful society.”[39] How many provinces, diocese and religious houses have hearkened to this Synodal directive? Africae Munus directs that “The Church [in Nigeria] needs to be increasingly present in the media so as to make them not only a tool for the spread of the Gospel but also for educating the African peoples to reconciliation in truth, and the promotion of justice and peace.”[40] The Church in Nigeria must optimally employ the use of these social media if her mission is to effective today.


Who are the missionary agents in Nigeria? The College of Bishops and the Clergy are primary missionary agents. They are supposed to work together to stimulate, promote and direct the work for the missions as well as make the mission spirit and zeal of the people of God present and as it were visible. The Nigerian Bishops and priests are currently doing their best in coordinating missionary activities not only in Nigeria but also beyond her frontiers. But the fruits of mission may likewise suggest that their best is not good enough. For, considering the facts, the number of priests in Nigeria now is not commensurate with the work they do. They are all engrossed in pastoral care and ministry. Little or no work is done in the area of primary evangelization and charity.

Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, active as well as the contemplatives are supposed to be playing a very serious and major role in the evangelizing mission in Nigeria. The birth of many indigenous religious orders and many vocations to them is a special gift of God to the Church in Nigeria. They are supposed to carry often the burden of primary evangelization in those parts of the country that are yet to be evangelized. Though their efforts so far are to be commended, more still must be done.[41] Religious institutes play a major role in the evangelization of the world. But according to the Second Vatican Council, they:

Should ask themselves sincerely in the presence of God, whether they could not be able to extend their activity for the expansion of the Kingdom of God among the nations; whether they could not possibly leave certain ministries to others so that they themselves could expend their forces for the missions.[42]

This question is very important for instance in Nigeria where many Religious institutes are almost becoming secular, competing with the secular-diocesan clergy. In fact, some of them simply have no missionary focus or target. It is among them, that true missionaries in the strictest sense of the term are supposed to be born. Considering the number of religious houses in Nigeria today, one wonders whether the missionary work is proportionate to their ever-increasing numerical presence.

Among the other agents of mission in Nigeria, the laity occupies a distinguished place. This is because through them the seed of mission is sown in the family, (the domestic Church) and actively engaged in socio-economic and political life in the civil societies, they act like the leaven of the Good News in the world:

If the mission of the Church is ever to be accomplished in the area of Justice, development and peace, lay Catholics who are competent and enlightened in the noble art of politics should devote themselves to the service of the state and courageously take on the burdens of political life.[43]

The laity are the primary agents in the task of inculturating and evangelizing the moral values of postmodern society. Among the laity a special mission is assigned to the Catechists. If this task is neglected, the Church will become more and more an irrelevant “ghetto Church” and will be isolated from the creative currents of postmodernity.[44] Many lay faithful have hearkened to this clarion call of the Church in Nigeria and are already putting up their best to permeate the polity with the Gospel values. On the contrary those who are not measuring up to expectation need to hear the Synod’s advice:

Many Catholics [Christians] in high office have fallen woefully short in their performance in office. The Synod calls on such people to repent, or quit the public arena and stop causing havoc to the people and giving the Catholic Church [Christianity] a bad name.[45]

The problem with all the above agents of mission lies with either the improper formation or the lack of it. Due to this lack, there is proportionate lack of personal conversion on the part of the agents themselves. Pope Paul VI and John Paul unanimously agree that “the evangelizers must first be evangelized themselves.”[46] That is why the proper formation of missionary agents is indispensable if the Church wants to take her mission serious. Some are not even convinced of what they do. This is blamed in part on insufficient catechesis. The great majority of adult Catholics in Nigeria ended their catechesis with the lessons they received while preparing for confirmation either as teenagers or young adults. Thereafter, they have received no further religious education to match their academic or professional education. As a result, they have not been challenged to a personal and mature commitment to Christ and his Gospel. They are simply nominal Christians, even Church goers.[47]

This lack of personal conversion is evident from the fact that though in Nigeria we have many Catholic flocking to the church for liturgical activities and devotional exercises, there is a sharp contrast between their lives within the Church premises and their conduct outside, in their places of work and business and they are prepared to engage in all manner of sharp and corrupt practices that bedevil the Nigerian society even while professing to be good Catholics.[48]

The foregoing excursus has been an attempt to critically examine some of the most serious challenges the Church in Nigeria faces today with respect to her missionary mandate. And somehow ‘possible’ solutions have been proffered to these challenges. What remains now is the positive reception of these on the part of the key players and the respective follow-up actions.


[1] This work originally formed the Chapter Four of my Memoir titled: “The Challenges of Mission in Nigeria: Fifty Years After Ad Gentes Divinitus” Submitted to the Theology Faculty of Seat of Wisdom Seminary, Owerri as a partial fulfilment for the Award of the Bachelor´s Degree in Theology, June 2014. It is also a development of my previous article titled: “A Critical Assessment of Mission Approach in Nigeria” Published in NACATHS Journal of African Theology, (Vol. 23, March 2013). Now it is here edited.

[2] Cf. T. Bellagamba, “Many and Mission Today” in Africa Christian Studies, (Vol. 5, No. 1, Nairobi, March 1989), p. 30.

[3] M. Warren, “The Missionary Obligation Today” In International Review of Mission, (Vol.39, no.1599), p.118.

[4] Cf. T. Okere, Church, Theology and Society in Africa, (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Pub. Co. Ltd., 2005), pp. 64-69.

[5] Cf. B. Ukwuegbu, Confrontational Evangelization: Foundations, Features and Prospects (Onitsha: Effective Key Pub. Ltd., 1995), pp. 100-119.

[6] Cf. J. Ukpong, “Proclaiming the Kingdom of God in Africa Today” in J. Ukpong (ed) Proclaiming the Kingdom: Essays in Contextual New Testament Studies (Port Harcourt: CIWA Publications, 1993), pp. 154-157.

[7] Cf. A. Vasumu et al, “Mission and Discipleship: A Call for Self-emptying” In NACATHS Journal of African Theology (Vol. 22, March 2012), pp. 68-70.

[8] Cf. CBCN, Op. cit, The Church in Nigeria: Call to Mission, pp. 13-16.

[9] Cf. CBCN, “Salt of the Earth and Light of the World”: Manual of the Laity, (Abuja, CSN, 2009), pp. 13-17.

[10] Paul VI, Address to the College of Cardinals, 22 June, 1973.

[11] EN 8.

[12] John Paul II, Address to Nigerian Bishops, Lagos, 15 February, 1982.

[13] Cf. J. Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria 1847-1891: The making of a new Elite, (Harlow, 1981), pp.14-15; C. Obi (ed), A Hundred Years of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, (Onitsha: Africana Pub., 1990), p. 29ff; E. Ayandele, Nigerian Historical Studies, (London: Frank, 1971), p.159ff; B. Okike, The Need for Mission Throug Inculturation and Dialogue, (Rome: Gregorian Press, 1995), pp. 1-4; V. Umoh, “A Critical Assessment of Mission Approach in Nigeria” In NACATHS Journal of African Theology, (Vol. 23, March 2013), p. 100ff.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] C. Obi, (ed.), A Hundred Years of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, (Onitsha: Africana Pub., 1990), p. 29.

[17] Cf. CBCN, The Church in Nigeria: Call to Mission, 2011; N. Omenka, (ed.), The Church in Nigeria: Studies on the Religious and Socio-Cultural Challenges (Enugu: Snaap Press, 2003); CBCN, The Church in Nigeria: Family of God on Mission, 2004; C. Njoku, & M. Ezeh (eds.), History of the Catholic Church in Owerri Ecclesiastical Province (1912-2012), (Owerri: Assumpta Press, 2012), etc.

[18] In some place these are also called Basic Christian communities.

[19] Initiated and Facilitated by His Eminence Dominic Cardinal Ekandem of blessed memory.

[20] Cf. S. Okanumee, “Formation of Ecclesial Basic Communities: Implications for Evangelization in Nigeria” in NACATHS Journal of African Theology, (Vol. 22, March 2012), pp. 13-15.

[21] Cf. CBCN, Growing a New Nigeria, Joint Pastoral Letter on the 50th Anniversary of Nigeria’s Political independence (13th March, 2011).

[22] CBCN, The Word of God and the Building of the Nigerian Nation, (Abuja: Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria), 10.

[23] This Synod was held in the Vatican from 4th to 25th October 2009 with the topic: The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the World” (Mt 5:13, 14); Benedict XVI, “Message of the Second African Synod” (Vatican City, 25th October, 2009). Words in brackets are mine.

[24] Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio (March 26 1967), 76.

[25] CBCN, Promoting Authentic Development, A Communiqué issued at the End of the Second Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at the Bishop Anthony Nwedo Pastoral Centre, Umuahia, Abia State, 8th – 14th September, 2012, 4.

[26] Between February and April 2018, owing to the recent events of killings in some parts of Nigeria especially in Benue and Southern Kaduna which is a result of the failure of governance and the security agencies in the country, the CBCN had sent delegates to the Presidency who united with one voice made strong statements against bad governance and expressed the feelings of the poor masses to the President. This is one of such instances where the Church has made her missionary commitment felt in Nigeria with regards to human promotion.

[27] In times of serious crises like inter-communal violence, killings and natural disaster where many lives are lost and many persons either injured or displaced, The Church often make obligatory collections from the different parishes and the dioceses to ameliorate the sufferings of these brothers in need.

[28] Communiqué at the End of the First Plenary Meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) at the Daughters of Divine Love Retreat and Conference Centre Lugbe, Abuja, February 25 – March 2, 2012, 9.

[29]H. Ochulor, The Function of Dialogue in the Process of Evangelization (Owerri: Edu-Edy Publication, 2004), p.114.

[30] Cf. K. Enang, The Nigerian Catholics and the Independent Churches, (Nairobi: Paulines Publications, 2012).

[31] Cf. D. Udoette, Christianity in Nigeria: Trends and Interpretations, (Uyo: Alcollins Printers Nig., 2012), pp. 149-159.

[32] Ibid., p. 160. See also D. Ukpong, Nigerian Pentecostalism: Case, Diagnosis and Prescription (Uyo, Fruities’ Publications, 2008). For him all the positive impacts of Pentecostalism which range from the use of the Holy Bible, Music, Spirituality and Prayer, Preaching, Proclamation, Teaching, Worship, Lay participation, use of Mass Media, ecclesial consciousness, church support, devotional practices Aesthetics of Religious Ambience are a real challenge to the Church in Nigeria.

[33] Cf. A. Asiegbu, A Crisis of Faith and a Quest for Spirituality (Enugu, Pearl functions, 2000), p. 12.

[34] Gbola Subair, “BOKO HARAM’S FUNDING TRACED TO UK, SAUDI ARABIA” in Nigerian Tribune, Monday February 13, 2012 Headline reports. Maryam Uwais, the Special Advisor to the President on Social Protection says about 67% of Nigerian population live below poverty line as reported by Vanguard News in February 2018.

[35] CBCN, The Church in Nigeria: Call to Mission, p. 23.

[36] Synod of Bishops, Iustitia in Mundo, Justice in the World (November 30, 1971), 6.

[37] In 2014, a symposium was held in the Seat of Wisdom Seminary Auditorium, Owerri, organized by the Ecclesiastical Province of Owerri, this question was posed: Is a Nigerian Daily Catholic Newspaper possible? And one could also ask, is a Nigerian Catholic TV possible?

[38] However, it must be recognized that today, more than ever there is a wake-up action by many cooperate individuals, parishes and dioceses and so one can point out clearly to one or two examples of the Church´s effort. The Catholic Television of Nigeria (CTV) Abuja and the Lumen Christi TV Lagos stand as archetypes and testimonies of these efforts today. More are being expected in the years ahead.

[39] General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, Special Assembly for Africa, Lineamenta (Vatican City, 1990), 91.

[40] Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus (19 November, 2011), 145.

[41] For instance, they work in many dioceses in the Northern part of the country that are yet to receive the gospel, they provide services in those dioceses where the indigenous clergy and religious are either lacking or insufficient.

[42] AG 40

[43] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 75, see also CBCN, “Salt of the Earth and Light of the World” (cf.Matthew 5:13-16): Manual of the Laity, 2009, 140.

[44] A. Echema, Priests and Laity Collaboration in the Postmodern Church (Owerri, Assumpta Press, 2011), p. 164

[45] Synod of Bishops, Second Special Assembly on Africa, Message 23, (Vatican City, 2009). Brackets mine

[46] EN 15; RM 49

[47] Cf. CBCN, The Church in Nigeria: Call to Mission, p. 15.

[48] Ibid., pp. 14-15.
© Valentine Anthony Umoh 2018

Universidad de Navarra
Facultad de Teología