“How I wish For a Church of the poor, and that the Church were poor…How I wish for a poor Church and Church for the poor” –Pope Francis. March 16, 2013.”
(Quoted from www.osv.com, Our Sunday Visitor Vol 101, no 48, pp.4 &8. OSV, weekly Catholic Newspaper published in Huntington, Indiana, US)
The Easter has different significance for different people. For Catholics, the week preceding the Easter is the holiest week with Holy Thursday, Friday and Saturday being the holiest days. They are called the Sacred Triduum. They commence the coming to pass of the divinity and eternity of God’s love. In Catholic teaching, the Sacred Triduum is the eternity and divinity of true love. But before the coming to pass of this divine truth and prior to his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus Christ washed the feet of his disciples as sign of divine love, divine service to God’s peoples in the world independent of their races, identities, faith, orientation etc. It is also at the heart of Catholic faith and social ethos, teaching modesty, divine and unconditional service to the most vulnerable among us, to our neighbors in whom we see the face of God for in each of our neighbors that we see the face of God, we see Jesus. So when Pope Francis went to the prison and washed the feet of the inmates, he was carrying out a spiritual act where each and every one of us regardless of our class, ethnicity, race, and religion is God’s divine love.
Consistent with Jesus’ teachings, the Pope washed the prisoners’ feet, kiss their feet, including those of two Muslims and two women. In washing the feet of the “prisoners” behind walls, the most “poor”, vulnerable and weakest among us all”, Pope Francis said “it is important because it shows that the person who is most high among us must be at the service of others …we have to help one another, each one.”(www.thecatholicsun.com, April 4 p5) And here we go for Nigeria our country for two of Pope Francis’s neighbors’ feet –whose feet he washed and kissed as an indication of divine love and service are Muslims. Two are female. This is significant in our illegitimate patriarchal world. It is significant for faith reasons in our country, Nigeria that Boko Haram and their sponsors want to divide along religious lines.
Pope Francis’ example reminds me and my family of last summer 2012. Then, my family and I had a contact with one of the ecumenical movements within and outside the Catholic Church. The name of this movement is called FOCOLARE. Chiara Lubich a Catholic laywoman founded it. The FOCOLARE movement rests on the Unity of all God’s peoples and creatures on earth, the FOCOLARE’s Cube of Love and the Love of Neighbor for in your neighbor you see God’s face. One of the greatest moments in interfaith relations in human history here in America which my Nigerian Boko Haram -which claim to be an Islamic group that wants to Islamize Nigeria through the use of terrorism against Muslims and Christians and other Nigerian citizens -may want to learn from what happened here in Harlem New York. On May 18, 1997 in Harlem, New York, two leaders of two faiths met. Chiara Lubich (1920-2008) a Catholic lay woman, founder of the International Focolare movement met with Imam Warith Deen Mohammed (1933-2008), son of Elijah Mohammed and spiritual and religious leader of one of the largest Muslim associations in America. Given the false and illegitimate polarity among all peoples of faith (especially Christian and Muslim) globally, the meeting was a historic moment in the history of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.
Since 1997, this example remains a beacon of unity of the spirituality of love among all God’s peoples of all faiths. This event will put our Boko Haram to shame for it calls to question Boko Haram’s claim to the Islamic faith which according to them must Islamize Nigeria through the use of terror. Nigerian Muslims and Christians have something to learn from the 1997 meeting of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, an Islamic leader and Chiara Lubich a Catholic lay woman (seehttps://livingcitymagazine.com/category/story-topic/unity-making/interreligious-dialogue). If Boko Haram is committed to any form of reflection, it must learn from this kind of meeting. So, with the 1997 event in mind and from the nudging and support of my parish priest, St Thomas Aquinas Church, Binghamton NY, we met FOCOLARE movement at their annual Mariapolis meeting (see http://www.focolare.us/us/home,) at Scranton University, Scranton, Pennsylvania. Present were peoples of all races, faith, identities etc. As part of the spirituality and divinity of love, human and faith diversity and dialogue, which Focolare represents, as Nigerians, my family and I were called by the Focolare to sing Nigerian songs in a Nigerian language. With one of our kids on the piano, we did it the cool exhilarating, friendly and warm Nigerian way, singing and dancing to the audience (which was 100% non-Nigerian and non-African except my family) in a Nigerian language. The hall was electrified. The 2012 Focolare event was the finest moment for our children in summer 2012, so they want another FOCOLARE!
I want another FOCOLARE too but perhaps for a different reason-I said perhaps. I am a parent. I was raised in and by the Nigerian stream and dream. Thus, throughout as I mingled with the Focolarinas (as members of the Focolare movement are called) in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 2012 Boko Haram, which claim to be Islam, bombed my country and continues to do so in 2013. They bombed children. They bombed women. They bombed pregnant women who the living God -that Boko Haram also claims to believe in- has given the privilege to help humanity carry the next generation in their bodies. They bombed men. They bombed children and students. They bombed market women and workers. They bombed churches. They bombed mosques. They bombed travelers and vendors on the streets. They continue to bomb my soul and threaten the love in the hearts of our children. They claim they do all these in the name of God, in the name of Islam. But I know Boko Haram are not Muslims because as a Christian I know a Muslim when I see one. So, last week, as Pope Francis washed the feet of the female Muslim, my mind raced back to my country Nigeria, my mind went back to FOCOLARE in Scranton Pennsylvania 2012. Why? In one of the FOCOLARE Scranton Pennsylvania group sessions, I was privileged to sit beside a Muslim brother. He was the only Muslim in the group and in the whole four day Focolare spiritual retreat. The rest of us were Christians. We asked him to open and close the prayer of the group for us. He was shocked and he stammered. We lovingly gestured that he give us an Islamic prayer as the Lord directed. He did it and did it in Arabic. We all said Amen in our different languages! So when Pope Francis washed the feet of the female Muslim, I remember my Muslim focolarina who we asked to pray for our group. That was God in him, my Muslim faith brother, in us, and in the Muslim female whose feet Pope Francis washed in Pope Francis.
After all these, how I wish I know or can make contact with the leaders of Boko Haram. I will like to meet them anywhere in or outside Nigeria. If I can, I would have asked them some simple questions: When Pope Francis washed the feet of the Muslim female as a sign of God’s will on earth, as a sign of divine love and service to our neighbors, what did you feel Boko Haram? Will you Boko Haram leader like to go out and do the same-wash the feet of others including Christians and females in Kano, Maiduguri or anywhere in our country Nigeria? In view of Pope Francis divine love, service, and ministry, to the Muslim female, if you Boko Haram were a Muslim do you think you are justified in killing fellow Nigerians? If so, why? Do you Boko Haram think the Muslim brother who we asked to pray for us in Focolare in 2012 Scranton, Pennsylvania, US and who gave an Islamic prayer to a predominantly Christian audience is a Muslim? Are you really Africans? If so why do you want to bomb out of existence the values of neighbourliness, brotherhood, sisterhood, family hood, and community which are the known foundational values of African societies? Why are you a violent threat to the African in us?
I will ask them more questions. If my children could sing of God’s love in their African language in a foreign land, in their adopted country, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, why will you prevent them from singing of and about love in Kano, in Maiduguri, in Sokoto, in Jos anywhere in the country and land of their mother and father? Why do you Boko Haram prevent children from singing about love in Kano, Maiduguri, Abuja, Kaduna and other Nigerian cities you constantly bomb? Why? Do you see the face of God in me as I see it in you?
As we continue in the Easter season and the resurrection of divine love, and the divine truth of the trinity let us all Christians, Muslims all peoples of faith and those of us who have reasons not to believe in God pray ceaselessly for Boko Haram to follow the example of the spirituality of love to our neighbours. Let us pray that God’s example through Pope Francis as a messenger of God and love be made manifest to Boko Haram in our country, Nigeria today and forever. Boko Haram my children, my family and I want to meet with you. This is in the spirit of dialogue. Choose your location in ANY part of the world of your choice. We will be there with at least one of my children. He wants to talk with you. Take this as a serious challenge. It is urgent. We have questions for you.
Adeolu Ademoyo firstname.lastname@example.org Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.