By Stephen Ojapah msp
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (Psalm 43:5). As a theological virtue, Hope is so central to our lives. When we lose hope, we have lost our steam and vitality in life. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. (Psalm 71:5). No matter the tragedy of life, a Christian is a man of Hope. We are optimistic in the face of the most daunting task. No wonder the Holy See chose Hope as its central message for this Year’s Ramadan. Certainly Hope is a universal value. No one religion has the monopoly of it.
Addressing all Muslim brothers and sisters, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in her message on Ramadan and ‘Id al-Fitr began by passing on “fraternal good wishes for a month rich in divine blessings and spiritual advancement”. The message noted that “fasting, along with prayer, almsgiving and other pious practices, brings us closer to God our Creator and to all those with whom we live and work, and helps us to continue walking together on the path of fraternity”. The message further noted that over the last few months “of suffering, anguish and sorrow”, especially during the lockdown periods, “we sensed our need for divine assistance, but also for expressions and gestures of fraternal solidarity”. There are so many small gestures, continues the Message: a telephone call, a message of support and comfort, a prayer, help in buying medicines or food, advice to simply “show the security of knowing that someone is always there for us in times of necessity”. This need for divine assistance that we need and seek “is manifold”, continues the Message: God’s mercy, pardon, providence and other spiritual and material gifts. “Yet, what we need most in these times, is hope”.
The Message then turns its attention to the importance of hope. “As we are aware”, it reads, “while certainly including optimism”, hope goes beyond it. The Message explains that “while optimism is a human attitude, hope has its basis in something religious: God loves us, and therefore cares for us through his providence”. “Hope arises from our belief that all our problems and trials have a meaning, a value and a purpose, however, difficult or impossible it may be for us to understand the reason for them or to find a way out of them. “Hope also carries with it belief in the goodness present in the heart of every person. Many times, in situations of difficulty and despair, help, and the hope it brings, can come from those whom we least expect”
The message then notes that “human fraternity, in its numerous manifestations, thus becomes a source of hope for all, especially for those in any kind of need. It continues with a word of gratitude. “Thank you to all those who so promptly reacted by showing the utmost signs of solidarity in times of crises. All these persons and their goodness remind us believers that the spirit of fraternity is universal, and that it transcends all boundaries: ethnic, religious, social and economic”, read the Message. “In adopting this spirit, we imitate God, who looks benevolently upon the humanity he created, upon all other creatures and upon the entire universe. This is why the growing care and concern for the planet, our ‘common home’, is, according to Pope Francis, yet another sign of hope.
We are also aware that hope has its enemies,” warns the Message. “Lack of faith in God’s love and care; loss of trust in our brothers and sisters; pessimism; despair and its opposite, unfounded presumption; unfair generalizations based on one’s own negative experiences, and so forth”, are all enemies to faith it says. “These harmful thoughts, attitudes and reactions must be effectively countered, so as to strengthen hope in God and trust in all our brothers and sisters”.
Bringing the Message to an end, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue notes that in his most recent encyclical, Fratelli tutti, “Pope Francis speaks frequently of hope”. In it, he says, “I invite everyone to renewed hope, ‘for hope speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfilment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love… and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile’. Let us continue, then, to advance along the paths of hope”. Finally, the Message reads that “we, Christians and Muslims, are called to be bearers of hope, for the present life and for the life to come, and to be witnesses, restorers and builders of this hope, especially for those experiencing difficulties and despair”. And in a sign of spiritual solidarity, it says, “we assure you of our prayer, and we send best wishes for a peaceful and fruitful Ramadan, and for a joyful ‘Id al-Fitr.”
What other time can this message be more apt other than now? India, has suddenly fallen into the unfortunate situation of the third wave of the COVID 19. We see them cremating the loved ones in hundreds. We stand in hope and solidarity with the people of India, and all citizens of the world. The Political situation in Chad is another cause for concern, after 30 years of rule by the former president Idriss Deby. We hope and pray for a stable Chad. Instability in the land of our neighbours will mean doom for Nigeria. We are hopeful. We have gone through worst moments in our history, but hope for a better Nigeria, to keep us all together. Commenting on the patient and resilience of Nigerians. Bola Ige once said: “If you know how to package shit you can sell it in Nigeria” Karl Maier in his book about Nigeria titled: This House Has Fallen wondered, “Nigeria has witnessed at least one million deaths in Africa’s biggest civil war, (an old data though in the face of current reality). The assassination of two government leaders, six successful coups and four failed ones, and thirty years of army rule. Yet somehow the country has stayed together. And in sha Allah we will continue to stay together, with proper dialogue and consultation of all the aggrieved section of the country. All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23).
Do you remember the CIA report that predicted the end of Nigeria in 2015? We have long surprised those prophets of doom. But right now, we are all at a crossroads. And their prediction is gathering steam, like the hurricane that gathers momentum from the coast of Africa and makes a devastating landfalls in the Americas. The indicators are scary and the reality is getting clearer. I have never imagined that an angry rebel group in Nigeria can publicly declare a seating governor wanted, after destroying his personal house, and setting everything ablaze. These are signs of bad things. All we can do is to fall back to our reservoir of hope. The type that believes that things can still be better when our leaders bring all warring section of this country on the dialogue table. To our political leaders who am sure are overwhelmed right now, I say to you: Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Fr Stephen Ojapah is a priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul. He is equally the director for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism for the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, a member of IDFP. He is also a KAICIID Fellow