Holy Year of Mercy
Just before mass ended on Sunday at an outpost of St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Eziowelle, the hometown of Francis Cardinal Arinze, the priest invited a young man to make an announcement. The fellow said he had come from the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), to propagate the corporal works of the Year of Mercy.
The JDPC is a worldwide, non-governmental organization of the Catholic Church. Neither the JDPC nor the Year of Mercy was novel to me. But the man spoke in way that prompted me to discuss his message here. Not that there is nothing else begging to be addressed. For instance, the story that the security services would sooner discountenance Governor Ayo Fayose’s constitutional immunity and restrict both his travels and his right to free speech, is worthy of examination. Again, there is the bourgeois issue of who might or might not travel overseas for medical attention. And there is the human rights calamity imminent in the Niger Delta.
I decided to shelve all these and focus on Mercy because, vegetating in a dispensation that considers brutality an inevitable instrument of governance should not mean that Mercy must be yanked from the dictionaries of ordinary folks. The JPDC man’s message was on our right to always apply to golden rule, to always give the next person a hand to rise and stand with us. The man said, as if we were unaware, that dirt-poor people abounded in hospitals cured of the conditions that necessitated their admission who dared not be discharged because their bills had not and could not be settled either by them or by their loved ones. There were detainees in the country’s overcrowded prisons who should be elsewhere, awaiting trial, contracting tuberculosis and skin and nervous diseases like scabies and leprosy. He mentioned a pregnant woman imprisoned because her rival gave the green light. The lady soon gave birth inside the prison. The newcomer, even in her innocence, had started life as a prisoner. Both mother and child remain incarcerated because the rival has not rescinded her dictation! Needless sufferings such as these, he reminded us, are easily countered by financially supporting JDPC’s work.
Going back home I ruminated on what I had heard. The priest had discussed the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy during his homily. I crave the reader’s indulgence to reproduce them:
The Spiritual Works of Mercy:
- To instruct the ignorant.
- To counsel the doubtful.
- To admonish sinners.
- To bear wrongs patiently.
- To forgive offences willingly.
- To comfort the afflicted.
- To pray for the living and the dead.
The Corporal Works of Mercy:
- To feed the hungry
- To give drink to the thirsty
- To clothe the naked.
- To habour the harbourless.
- To visit the sick
- To ransom the captive.
- To bury the dead.
I also reviewed the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis in his April 2015 papal bull of indiction, Misericordiae Vultus, which is Latin for The Face of Mercy. This Year of Mercy runs from December 8, 2015 (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) to November 20, 2016 (the Feast of Christ the King). It is a period for remission of sins and universal pardon focusing especially on God’s forgiveness and mercy. In a letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelism, Pope Francis set out the central planks of the Jubilee Year, saying inter alia: “I have asked the Church in the Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus himself taught us. Each time that one of the faithful personally performs one or more of these actions, he or she shall surely obtain the Jubilee Indulgence. Hence the commitment to live by mercy so as to obtain the grace of complete and exhaustive forgiveness by the power of the love of the Father who excludes no one.”
Christian doctrine speaks here. But there is nothing I have written that our forefathers did not subscribe to, and practice, before the advent of Islam and Christianity. No sane man requires religion to understand that women should not be raped and vice versa. No one needs to sleep inside churches or inside mosques or inside the shrines of our traditional faiths to appreciate the atrocity of murder. Our responsibility is that, while soldiers go wiping out hundreds of Nigerian lives because they blocked the road on which a tin god was to cruise, our outrage must be spontaneous and insistence. Our duty is to stand eternally in condemnation of the routine shooting to death of unarmed and nonviolent demonstrators asking to belong to a different entity. Our imposition is that the fight against terrorism should not be a license for the rape of swamp dwellers and the bulldozing of their hovels. A police officer ordered to arrest a suspect could do so without knocking off people’s teeth or shattering their limbs!
Hours after the mass, I ran into a guy who, decades ago, matriculated to read Law as we graduated. He had since become a judge. “My lord,” I said after we traded handshakes. “The jails are over-congested, mostly by non-convicts, the so-called awaiting trial people. Is it not in your place to decongest the prisons?”
The judge looked me over in startled disapproval. “Oga, Chuks, these things have processes,” he replied. Well, the processes in question are implementable at various levels. State Governors, given their “tight schedules,” may be too preoccupied with serious issues to read this article, or even read newspapers. But, those close to them should advise on the need to routinely exercise the Prerogative of Mercy. Each governor deserves the name and circumstance of every prisoner or detainee in their state. Prisoners with the option of fine who can pay should do so and head home. Those in detention for longer than they would serve upon conviction should be released. This submission is nothing to do with dangerous criminals.
My daughter visited the Onitsha prison last Christmas. One of the inmates she beheld was a young man crawling on all fours – like a beast – because of a terrible case of hernia that could not be operated upon, given that no one knew where the N60,000 required for the surgery would come from. It is soul-destroying, the things that happen in this country. Our judicial system is advanced, of course. But it has no place for parole. It has space only for snail-speed dispensation of justice. Then, there are poor folk lynched near supermarkets for stealing to quench burning hunger. And there are jackboots in the streets trampling the wretched, and gun butts bashing the craniums of the hapless, and hot lead out of military-grade rifles dancing on naked flesh. And people are being told to shut up, turn their heads and look the other way…