The Holy See
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24 September 2000

1. A week of grace

The last seven days have been a week of special grace in Onitsha Archdiocese. This second Mission Exhibition and fifth Christian Religious Art Fair centred at Shanahan Hall have been a powerful recall of the missionary character of the Church and also of the incisive way in which good art can nourish our faith. I congratulate the Archdiocese, its Pontifical Missionary Works Office, the National Directorate of the Pontifical Missionary Works, the religious congregation and all others who have in any way contributed to the success of those events.

Let us focus our reflections on four themes:  the missionary nature of the Church, the actual missionary work being done by the Church in and from Nigeria, the contribution which good religious art can make and our expected contribution.

2. The Church is missionary

The Eternal Father sent the Son to be the Redeemer of all humankind. The Son in turn sent the Apostles and through them the whole Church:  "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you" (Jn 20: 21). The Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and the nascent Church. The Second Vatican Council therefore says that "the Church on earth is by her nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, she has as her origin the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Ad gentes, n. 2). "Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be "the universal sacrament of salvation', the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel to all men" (Ad gentes, n. 1, cf. also Mt 28: 19-20; CCC, nn. 849-854).

This explains why the Second Vatican Council paid great attention to the spreading of the Gospel, especially among peoples who do not yet know Christ, and that refers to two-thirds of humanity.

The Council's 1965 Decree Ad gentes was commemorated by Pope John Paul II 25 years later in the Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, in 1990. In this great document he insists on the ever present urgency of evangelization. In the context of the present Great Jubilee Year, a Missiological Congress to be held in Rome next month will stress many of these points and will be a great encouragement to the heralds of the Gospel.

3. The Church in Nigeria does missionary work

The missionaries brought the faith to Nigeria towards the end of the 19th century. We thank God that our people have embraced the faith in Christ in millions and that the Church in Nigeria is not lagging behind in participating in the missionary activity of the universal Church. Nigerian priests, religious and lay faithful are helping to spread the Gospel outside their home areas in Nigeria. Nigerian priests are doing missionary work in other countries of Africa and in other continents as members of the international missionary congregations such as the Spiritans, the Claretians, the Jesuits and the Dominicans. So are Nigerian sisters. Indeed sisters' congregations founded in Nigeria have more than 25 convents in Italy alone. The National Missionary Seminary, as an arm of the Society of St Paul, has produced more than 120 missionary priests. Nigerian brothers, although lesser in number, are also active. And there is an increasing number of Nigerian diocesan priests working outside the country as emissaries of their Dioceses. We thank God for these developments.

4. Art can help promote the faith

In the Christian Religious Art Fair just concluding in the Shanahan Hall, you have observed how believers in Christ can express their faith in painting, sculpture, music, dancing, theatre and other forms of art. People use their God-given talents to express their faith in visible, tangible and audible forms. Good artists help us to sort of seek to bridge the gap between man and God, between the creature and the Creator, if that were possible. Art helps to underline the transcendent and to lift up our hearts. Seeing that we are body and soul, matter and spirit, the contribution of good religious art is not to be undervalued.

5. Our contribution

We thank God for the gift of the Catholic faith. We resolve to do, with God's grace, what we can to share in the missionary activity of the Church, local and universal. This will include prayer and good works. It may mean some of us becoming missionaries. Our contribution in cash or kind is part of our proof of our missionary commitment.

May God bless the Pontifical Missionary Works in Onitsha and in all Nigeria. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Apostles, obtain for us the grace to do our part so that the kingdom of Christ may most abundantly flourish.