The Catholic Church has announced its return to the Christian Association of Nigeria after about five years of dissociating itself from the body.
The return process was concluded on Thursday and Friday in Abuja when a delegation of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, led by Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Cornelius Omonokhua, attended the expanded National Executive Committee and quarterly meeting of CAN for the amendment of its constitution.
The CSN delegation participated in the two-day meeting.
The President of CAN, Dr Samson Ayokunle, according to a statement issued on Sunday by his Special Assistant, Media & Communications, Adebayo Oladeji, could not hide his happiness on the new development.
Ayokunle was quoted as saying, “Their return is one of the best things that have happened since I was given the mandate to become the President of CAN. One of my visions for CAN is to bring our Catholic brothers and sisters back to the fold and I must acknowledge the support and understanding of my brother in Christ, Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, the president of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria and his team.
“I give kudos to all the principal officers, the directors and some Christian leaders in the country for their support and understanding while the dialogue lasted. My joy knows no bound with the presence of the CSN at the constitutional amendment meeting of CAN held on Thursday and at the NEC meeting on Friday. It is our prayers that the body of Christ in the country will remain one forever in Jesus’ name.
“At a time like this when Christians are almost becoming endangered species in Nigeria, when churches are being denied Certificates of Occupancy, especially in the core North, when Christians are being denied key public offices and when the Church is expected to speak for the voiceless, especially over the economic and social hardship in our country, we cannot afford to be at war with ourselves.”
CAN’s Director of Legal Issues, Kwankur Samuel, said the organisation was working on the new constitution to ensure that “CAN has an effective internal mechanism to address any misunderstanding among its members. We are all happy with the return of the CSN. Our strength lies in our unity.”
The CAN Chairman (North Central Zone), Rev Dr Israel Akanji, said the return of the Catholics was a sign of good omen to the body of Christ in Nigeria.
“We are all happy with this new development, now the Body of Christ in Nigeria is one, virile and strong. We can now speak with one voice. With their return, CAN is even now stronger and greater. We have learnt one lesson or two from the challenges that led to their withdrawal. Never again will any of the blocs withdraw its membership,” he stated.
The CBCN had in a letter to CAN, dated September 24, 2012, announced its withdrawal from the organisation.
CAN was formed in 1976 by the five Christian blocs in the country. They are the Christian Council of Nigeria; Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria; Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria/Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria; Organisation of African Instituted Churches, Tarayar Ekklesiyoyin Kristi a Nigeria and The Fellowship of the Churches of Christ in Nigeria/Evangelical Church of Winning All.
Kagama had last year led the leadership of CBNC to the national secretariat of CAN where, in a meeting with Ayokunle’s team, he identified the controversial areas and hinted of their readiness to work with CAN.
When contacted, the Director of Caritas Nigeria and Executive Secretary, Justice Development and Peace Commission, two agencies of the Catholic Church, Rev. Fr. Evaristus Bassey, confirmed to The PUNCH the return of CSN to CAN.
He said, “Yes, I can confirm that Fr. Cornelius (Omonokhua) led the CSN team to the CAN NEC meeting. The Catholic bishops had demanded that CAN should make some adjustments to its constitution. And they have satisfied those things that the bishops wanted.
“It is not that the Catholic Church totally left CAN; the bishops just said they were suspending their activities; that was just what happened. Satisfying those conditions would mean that the (Catholic) church is fully back to CAN. Fr. Cornelius just went to the CAN NEC meeting preparatory to a full lifting of the suspension.”