THE PASTORAL MINISTRY OF A PARISH PRIEST IN THE LIGHT OF CAN.519 USING THE NIGERIAN CONTEXT
THE PASTORAL MINISTRY OF A PARISH PRIEST IN THE LIGHT OF CAN.519 USING THE NIGERIAN CONTEXT
Sr. Cheluchi Emenike, DDL
NCCF: Seminar, March 2018
In this era of globalization and technological explosion, the Catholic Church has stood out as a unique structure. This is because of her particular characteristics; that is, she has some attributes that made her outstanding and distinguished her from among other churches. But today especially in the Nigerian context, can one truly say with conviction, that, this is true of the Catholic Church? If yes, why then is her members leaving the Catholic Church and turning back either into paganism or joining other Pentecostal churches? Why are most of the Nigerian Catholics dropping their legacy and tradition and are fast emulating other churches who, ironically, are busy copying the Catholics? What could be the reason or reasons for this backslide on the part of the Catholic faithful? And what could be the possible solution or remedy for this challenge in the Catholic Church in our country today?
For a better understanding of our topic, our work will be divided into three parts. In the first part, we shall enumerate those distinguishing characteristics that made the Catholic Church unique among other churches. Secondly, we shall treat the possible causes that lead to the abandoning of the faith, by some of the lay faithful. Finally, we shall discuss the role and responsibility of a parish priest in the light of can.519 over the community confided to him by the local ordinary, with whom, he is to collaborate in his pastoral ministry.
I.I CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
The Catholic Church is the one and only Church on earth instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. On the night before he was betrayed, he chose to eat the last supper with his apostles: “Then he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me’. He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood poured out for you. (cf.Lk 22: 19 – 20)’. By so doing, Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist. From thence, the Catholic Church has kept this Tradition which is the source of her foundation, the centre and summit of her celebration.
Christ whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world (Jn 10:36), has made the bishops successors of the apostles and, through these same apostles, made them also participants of his consecration and his mission. In their turn, the bishops have transmitted legitimately in the Church the function of their ministry according to the different degrees to different subjects. (cf.LG 28).
In the Catholic doctrine, expressed in the liturgy, the Magisterium and the constant practice of the Church recognized that it exists two degrees of ministerial participation in the sacerdoce of Christ: the Episcopal and presbyteral. The diaconate is established to help them and to serve them. That is why the term sacerdos signifies in the actual usage, the bishops and the priests, but not the deacons. However, the Catholic doctrine teaches that the degree of sacerdotal participation (Episcopal and presbyteral) and the degree of service (diaconate) are conferred by a sacramental act called “ordination”, that is by the sacrament of Order
In addition to the institution of the Holy Eucharist, the Catholic Church has other attributes that mapped her out. These attributes which are: one, holy, Catholic and apostolic are interwoven and cannot be separated. They show the essential traits of the Church and her mission. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explained this very well when it says that, the Church does not hold these attributes by herself, but that Christ through the Holy Spirit has made his Church, to be one, holy, Catholic and apostolic. What is the significance of these attributes? Again the CCC goes on to give the answers:
I.II THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ATTRIBUTES OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
- The Church is one: “The sacred mystery of the Church”
The Church is one through her source: The supreme model and centre of this mystery of the unity of the Church is in the Trinity of the three persons in one God Father, and Son in the Holy Spirit. The Church is one through her Founder: “The son incarnate in himself has reconciled man with God through his cross, re-establishing the unity of all in one People and one Body. The Church is one through her “soul”: The Holy Spirit living in the faithful, and who fills and renews the Church, realizes this admirable communion in the faithful and unites all intimately in Christ, who is the centre and Unity of the Church. But this unity of the Church is assured through the visible bond of communion:
- The profession of one faith received from the apostles
- The celebration of the divine culte,especially the sacraments
- The apostolic succession through the sacrament of the Order
The unique Church of Christ, (…) is the one that our Saviour, after his Resurrection, handed on to Peter for him to be the pastor, him and other apostles, to spread and to lead (…). This Church as an organized and constituted society in the world is realized in the Catholic Church governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops who are in communion with him (cf.CCC 813 – 816)
- The Church is holy: The Church (…) in the light of faith is indefectibly holy. Christ, Son of God, who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is proclaimed “the holy one”, loved the Church as his spouse, gave himself for her so as to sanctify her, he is united to her as his Body and bestowed on her the gifts of the Holy spirit for the Glory of God. The Church is therefore the “holy People of God” and her members are called “saints”. The Church, united in Christ, is sanctified by him, through him and in him she becomes also sanctifier. All the work which the Church does aims as her goal towards the sanctification of man in Christ and the glorification of God. It is in the Church that it is found the plenitude of the means of salvation. It is also in the Church that we obtain holiness through the grace of God. (cf.CCC 823 – 824)
- The Church is Catholic: The word Catholic in its integrity and totality means universal. The Church is Catholic in two ways:
- Because in her Christ is present. Wherever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. In her exists the plenitude of the Body of Christ united with her Head, which implies that she received from Him the plenitude of the means of salvation which He wants: confession of true and complete faith, integral life of sacrament and ministry ordered in the apostolic succession. The Church in this fundamental sense, became Catholic on the day of Pentecost, and shall remain thus till the day of parousy.
- She is Catholic because she is sent on mission by Christ to humanity(cf.CCC 830 – 831)
- The Church is apostolic: The Church is apostolic because she was founded on the apostles, in three ways:
- She was founded and built on the foundation of the apostles, witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself
- She keeps and transmits, by the help of the Holy Spirit that lives in her , the teaching, the deposit, the good words heard from the apostles
- She continues to be taught, to be sanctified and to be guided by the apostles till the return of Christ, through the help of those who succeeds them in their pastoral charge: the college of bishops, “assisted by the priests, in union with the predecessor of Peter, supreme pastor of the Church” (cf.CCC 857)
The Church solidly constituted by Christ does not comprise only of the pastors. The lay faithful also are members of the Church through baptism: “By baptism one is incorporated into the Church of Christ and is constituted a person in it with the duties and rights which are proper to Christians in keeping with their condition, insofar as they are in ecclesiastical communion and unless a legitimately sanction stands in the way” (cf.can.96). From this definition, the baptized becomes a “person” in the Church; and what does a “person” mean in the canonical language? This simply means that once an individual is baptized in the Church, he / she automatically is invested with rights and obligations as enumerated in cann.208 – 223. In Nigeria, experience has shown that the lay faithful in spite of the baptism received and the rights and obligations, invested on them in the Church do not exhibit solid faith in their worship. The question that comes to mind is: what could be the reason or reasons for this backslide in their faith? We shall attempt to analyze the reasons in our next development.
II.I THE REASONS WHY WE EXPERIENCE LACK OF FAITH IN OUR WORSHIP IN NIGERIA
In the history of evangelization in Nigeria, the first Catholic missionaries brought the Gospel in 1885 to the Eastern part of Nigeria then called the Lower Niger. The then people of God in the then Eastern Lower Niger had the joy and privilege of having the Gospel proclaimed to them, by the first Catholic missionary priests. Their arrival in the South-Eastern Nigeria marked the beginning of Catholic evangelization in that zone. According to report, these people “know no God” referring to the people they have come to evangelize. Having settled to begin their mission of evangelization, they were faced with the most tasking job of evangelization; the people to whom they have come to evangelize were pagans, they have not yet known God. The missionaries then adopted various strategies for the work of evangelization, such as :
- the establishment of orphanages to accommodate children and other unfortunate people ransomed from the degradation of slavery;
- establishment of schools in which the slaves and the free would be in the Catholic faith and in western education;
iii. Charitable work
These, therefore, explained the methods the missionaries used in their evangelical missionary activity. To some extent, these methods proved to be successful, though it has its limitations in the sense that some authors argued that it did not really delve into evangelization, that is, teaching the people about the unknown God. However, this has remained a debate among scholars. As a matter of fact, the author Emefie Ikenga – Metuh and Christopher I. Ejizu consider this issue of success questionable. Among the questions they posed were:
- To what extent is this success attributable to the methods and strategies employed by the missionaries?
- How successful in fact is the so-called Catholic success in Igboland?
- How ingrained is Christianity in the hearts and minds of the Igbos and in the Igbo culture?
- Has Christianity been adapted to the Igbo life and culture?
- What is the link between this failure to Christianize Igbo life and culture and the methods and the attitudes of the missionaries?
These doubts were obvious, because despite the efforts of the early Catholic missionaries, a number of anomalies were already conspicuous among the Christians. The new converts wanted to maintain some links with the ancestors and house hold deities. This is an area where neither the early missionaries nor the contemporary clergy have succeeded in offering any known effective counter-appeal.
Father O’Keefe, C.S.SP.,in the 1950s and 1960s during parish retreats made great bonfires of thousands of idols and charms collected generally from “Christians in good standing”. The more surprising thing was that he usually collected more idols from the same persons if he returned to that same parish after two or three years for another retreat.
This particular attitude from the Christians led Pope John Paul II to make an appeal to the Nigerian Bishops during his pastoral visit to Nigeria in 1982. This visit marked a turning point in the life of the Church in Nigeria, he proclaimed for Nigeria “a new era of evangelization”. He told the Bishops:
I have been sent by Christ and you have been sent by Christ. And together with the rest of the College of Bishops throughout the world we are sent to announce Christ, to proclaim Christ, to communicate Christ and his Gospel to the world. In the pastoral visit, I expressed the hope that it would initiate a ‘new era of evangelization’. This is my earnest prayer: that zeal for evangelization will envelope the Church in Nigeria.
This call for evangelization was made because of the observation made in the quality of faith of the faithful who are baptized but not yet converted, who go to church but still worship idols. The third Enugu diocesan synod held in November 2013 in its article n°13 states clearly this observation when it said “ We note with Christian concern the absence of deep commitment to the faith received from the Apostles which accepts the cross as a means to salvation ( in cruce salus)”.
In addition to the crisis of faith experienced by most of our Christian faithful, others factors contributes to the abandoning of faith by them. What are these factors? This shall be our next line action in our development.
II.II FACTORS LEADING TO THE ABANDONING OF FAITH BY SOME OF OUR LAY FAITHFUL
In my pastoral charge, I have had the opportunity to discuss with some of the lay faithful, below is the outcome of our discussion:
- The attitude of some of the pastors towards them especially when they are in need or sick: Some of them shared their experience, that when they are sick, the priests do not visit them nor care to bring Holy Communion for them. They said that the most painful part of it, is that when they were in good health, they use to attend and participate actively in the life of the Church, but today, because of ill health they could no longer move about as before, and now they needed spiritual encouragement, they see no one, even the parishioners too have no time to visit the sick members of their parish. They also pointed out that it is not like this in other Pentecostal church where they notice easily any member that is absent and go immediately in search of him or her.
- The attitude of fellow brothers and sisters towards one another: some of the parishioners, even though they belong to the same parish, see and treat one another as strangers.
- Unhealthy competition among them: some said that in the church, some come to show off their wealth.
- Constant demand for fund raising in the Church: some of them said, they no longer feel very free to come to the Church because of unending raising of funds. That the homily is hurriedly said so as to embark into fund raising and that at the end, they do not know the destination of the funds raised.
- Unprepared homilies during Mass: they pointed out also that, some priests do not take time to prepare their homilies; this often make them not to go deep in their reflections and some may not even touch the readings of the day, but will just go outside it completely or will most part of the time singing.
Having observed these challenges in our Church today, we can conclude in this section that the Tradition of the Church still remains intact, it is still the same as the apostles handed it over but the challenge lies in the faith of the faithful.
What then shall be done so as to build up the faith of our people? How can the parish priest, under whose care a community is entrusted help them? In our next development, we shall be discussing on the pastoral care and responsibility of the parish priest over the community entrusted to him in the light of can.519.
III.I THE PASTORAL CARE OF A PARISH PRIEST IN THE LIGHT OF CAN.519
The office of the parish priest is very important. Not only because of the office but also because of the community to whom he has been entrusted to care for by the local ordinary. For a better understanding of this section, we shall define the following terms:
- The parish priest
- The parish and the community
III.II THE PARISH PRIEST
- Notion of a pastor: According to can.519 “ The pastor (parochus) is the proper pastor(pastor) of the parish entrusted to him, exercising the pastoral care of the community committed to him under the authority of the diocesan bishop in whose ministry of Christ he has been called to share, so that for that same community he carries out the functions of teaching, sanctifying and governing, also with the co-operation of other presbyters or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of the Christian faithful, according to the norm of law”.
The parish priest is the proper pastor of the parish. It is a new concept because it did not figure in the definition given by the code of 1917 in the person of the parish priest, though with certain variation, it existed “after the Middle Age in the phrase sacerdos proprius, rector proprius” The 1917 code defined the parish priest as “the priest or moral person to whom a parish is entrusted, as his proper office, with the care of the souls to be exercised under the authority of the local ordinary” This definition given by the 1917 code is more juridical than pastoral.
But the 1983 code chose to bring into focus the pastoral dimension of the ministry of the priest whom it considers the direct person in-charge of taking care of the pastoral work of parish and the community of the faithful entrusted to him. The personality of a parish priest is equivalent to that of a bishop, “as the bishop is the proper pastor of the diocese, so also is the parish priest the proper pastor of the parish, in which he possesses all the faculties necessary to undertake his proper charge”
The expression “pastor propius” signifies that the parish priest is not the vicar of the bishop or his lieutenant in the exercise of his office He is rather the first person in-charge of the parish, the president of the community of the parish where is administering. He is the one who has the first responsibility of this portion of the diocese called parish without, of course being the proprietor
The expression proper pastor does not signify in any case that the parish priest enjoys the power of jurisdiction. Of course, his power is not a delegate power .The expression “proper pastor” does not mean that the parish priest is a pastor independent of the diocesan bishop This means, that, the same way he cannot assume the pastoral charge of a parish without a mandate from the bishop, the same also, he cannot work alone or carry out any pastoral action outside the organic plan of the Church. The author Montan simply wants to portray fact that even though the parish priest enjoys power from his office, he is not independent or autonomous from the bishop.
III.III The parish and community
- Notion of a parish: Can.515 § 1. Defines a parish as a certain community of the Christian faithful stably constituted in a particular church, whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor (parochus) as its proper pastor (pastor) under the authority of the diocesan bishop. Cann.515 and 519 shows that the parish carries out his function under the authority of the bishop who entrusted to him the care of community of the faithful to whom he is a father and pastor. Just as Jesus did not come to be served but to serve, the parish priest is also a servant to his community, he is nominated to serve them and this is why the law recognizes the specialty of his office. His pastoral charge is mainly for the integral edification of the lay faithful in his community especially: psychologically, spiritually and morally. His work entails also the salvation of souls, which is the supreme law and summary the code of canon law 1983(cfcan.1752).
In this section we have seen the function of the parish priest and his responsibility over the community entrusted to his care. We have also seen in the course of our development, that the Catholic Church is still the same in terms of her Tradition and Liturgy. The challenges we are having is in the faith of the lay faithful and the way some priests treat them. We are calling through this medium on all priests not only the parish priests to take up the responsibility of taking care of the lay faithful, who when desperate needs the assistance and attention of the priests but who on many occasions are disappointed by the way they are treated.
 CCC n°1554
 John Jordan,Bishop Shanahan of Southern Nigeria(Dublin,1949),p.8.
 Emefie Ikenga – Metuh And Christopher I. Ejizu, Hundred Years of Catholicism in Eastern Nigeria 1885 – 1985,the Nnewi story ( A Historico – Missiological Analysis), Asele Insitute, Nimo, 1985,p.16
 Emefie Ikenga – Metuh And Christopher I. Ejizu, op.cit. p.vii.
 Celestine A.Obi, « The French Pioneers 1885 – 1905 » in A Hundred Years of the Catholic Church in Eastern Nigeria, 1885 – 1905,p.46.
 Address to Bishops at the Nuntiature in Lagos, 15 February, 1982 cf.Anthony O.Gbuji, A Hand Book On The New Evangelization, A text For Study – Group, Social Communication Press Catholic Diocese of Enugu,p.82.
 G.MONTINI, « Il parroco ‘pastor proprius’ », et al.,La parrocchia come chiesa locale( Quaderni teologici del seminario di Brescia), Brescia 1993,p.187.
 Can.451 CIC/17.
 L.Chiappeta, il manuale del parroco, Roma 1998, p.60.
 Y. Zoni, Le transfer des pretres diocésains à un office ecclésiastique : Le rôle de l’évêque diocésain,Cocody, Rue Sainte Marie, ed.2017,p.221.
 D.Mongavero, « Il parroco e i sacerdoti collaboratori »et al.,La parocchia et le sue strutture, Bologna 1987,p.121 ; L.Chiappetta, Il manuale del parroco,p.60 ; C. Bonicelli, « Il parroco », Orientamenti pastorali 31 ( 1983)p.54.
 F. Coccopalmerio, La parrocchia,p.91.
 A.Montan, « I soggetti dell’azione pastorale nella comunità parrocchiale »,et al.,La parrocchia in una ecclesiologia di comunione,Bologna 1995,p.165.