Hope for a nation in crisis

Maiduguri Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme issued a pastoral letter Nov. 6 offering comfort to those hardest hit by Boko Haram. “We are thoroughly devastated by the Boko Haram attacks,” he began. “Therefore as a Church, families and individuals, we are wounded, traumatized and devastated. Each of us is experiencing a lot of pain and anguish, because we have lost our dear ones, our property, our wealth and our church structures.” The bishop encouraged his flock to keep their faith alive by looking to the future and seeking consolation in the unshakable love of God, asking for the intercession on the Blessed Mother, continuing to pray—“the strongest weapon”—including praying for forgiveness of the terrorists, and to be consoled “because our victory is at the corner.” Read the full letter online at www.churchinneed.org.

Maiduguri Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme issued a pastoral letter Nov. 6 offering comfort to those hardest hit by Boko Haram. “We are thoroughly devastated by the Boko Haram attacks,” he began. “Therefore as a Church, families and individuals, we are wounded, traumatized and devastated. Each of us is experiencing a lot of pain and anguish, because we have lost our dear ones, our property, our wealth and our church structures.” The bishop encouraged his flock to keep their faith alive by looking to the future and seeking consolation in the unshakable love of God, asking for the intercession on the Blessed Mother, continuing to pray—“the strongest weapon”—including praying for forgiveness of the terrorists, and to be consoled “because our victory is at the corner.” Read the full letter online at www.churchinneed.org.

While his country “bleeds and burns” from terrorist-driven violence and chaos caused by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, one Nigerian priest continues doing good with a passionate commitment to life.

Father Simeon Omale, 40, is a parish pastor, university professor and health director for the Diocese of Idah in rural Nigeria. He was in Denver last week seeking support for Magnificat Maternal Health Program, a nonprofit striving to reduce one of the world’s worst maternal and infant mortality rates, and to ask for prayer for his ravaged nation.

“The maternal mortality rate in Nigeria is 1-in-13,” Father Omale told the Denver Catholic Register explaining a woman’s great chance of dying in childbirth in his homeland due to a lack of medical resources. “Magnificat Maternal Health Program is committed to life and to saving mothers.”

The organization is fostering life in a nation suffering the death and displacement of thousands by Boko Haram since 2009. The Islamic extremists’ recent announcement that the 200-plus schoolgirls they kidnapped from a boarding school in April were converted to Islam and married reminded Father Omale of a group of Augustinian nuns who found safety in his diocese, the Diocese of Idah, after their convent in the Diocese of Maiduguri—which covers the part of the country hardest hit by Boko Haram—was attacked in September. A seminary in Maiduguri was also attacked, churches looted and a hospital burned down.

“That is the heart of this crisis,” Father Omale said.

Father Omale and the Diocese of Idah uphold the dignity of human life by partnering with Magnificat Maternal Health Program, which trains midwives and offers services at a hospital and seven clinics where women can be treated for a variety of pregnancy issues and bring their babies to safe delivery.

Just $15 covers the cost of a birth in Idah. Magnificat Maternal is raising money to improve its training institute, medical facilities and equipment.

“We call on Catholics who believe in a culture of life to help support the program,” Father Omale said. “When you save the life of a mother and her child, you never know what that child could be when they grow up—they could be a priest.”

Father Simeon Omale

Father Simeon Omale

This week Father Omale is in California visiting the three-year-old organization’s founder and medical director, Dr. Mary Davenport, an obstetrician-gynecologist in El Sobrante.

“Last year we trained 25 midwives,” Father Omale said, adding that Magnificat Maternal plans to expand its educational facility so it can train 50 midwives a year.

In addition to directly supporting the healthcare of women, the Diocese of Maiduguri is doing what it can to alleviate the misery of residents displaced by violence.

“(There is) a camp for displaced persons,” Father Omale said. “The Church is providing food and health care to them. The camp is open to all, Christians and Muslims.”

But people throughout Nigeria live in fear and poverty and parishes are often forced to suspend liturgies, he said. Liturgies are only held with the help of security.

The tragedy led the Catholic bishops of Nigeria to write a statement, “While Nigeria Bleeds and Burns,” and organize days of prayer for the nation Nov. 13-14.

“We are looking for people who share our vision to join us (in prayer),” Father Omale said. “It is one world and one family. Together, we are the body of Christ. This crisis is not an African problem. Let everyone see what they can do to help.”

For more about Magnificat Maternal Health Program, visit www.mmhp.org. For more from the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, visit www.cbcn-ng.org.

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.