Nigerian archbishop: Evangelising in an interfaith context

2012-10-12 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Bishops from around the world were back in the Vatican’s Synod hall on Friday to continue their discussions on ways of becoming more effective evangelisers in our contemporary world. Participants prayed together and enjoyed a moment of relaxation, as they shared a lunch with Pope Benedict XVI, but they also heard stories of the very dramatic ways in which the Gospel of Christ is lived out in difficult situations in many countries today, as Philippa Hitchen reports…..
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ That ancient biblical cry of the psalmist, echoed by Jesus himself on the cross, were the first words I heard as I walked into the synod hall on Friday morning. They were spoken by a well-known African archbishop, John Onaiyekan who was sharing the story of a visit he made to a Nigerian prison some 30 years ago.
He described in vivid detail the smell of the dark, dirty, overcrowded cells as he made his way to the area reserved for men awaiting execution. Suddenly, he heard the extraordinary sound of prisoners singing hymns of praise as they saw the tall young bishop walking towards them. As his eyes got used to the dark, he saw they were almost all wearing rosaries around their necks. How come you are all Christians in here, he asked, a little taken aback, since Nigeria is fairly evenly divided between Christians and Muslims? Many of us were Muslims, he was told, but when we saw the Christians singing – even in a place like this – we asked for the secret of their joy and discovered how Jesus can bring peace out of even the deepest places of pain and suffering.
Many people in Nigeria - and in other conflict ridden countries today - still cry out to God and wonder if he has abandoned them. Dramatic images of blood stained benches in churches targeted by terrorist groups have become depressingly familiar on our TV screens. For Archbishop Onaiyekan and many other church leaders working in interfaith contexts in countries around the world, true evangelization means being able to work across religious, ethnic or political divides, to be living witnesses of love for God and our neighbours, even in these darkest, most despairing moments.
Listen to Philippa's interview with Nigerian Archbishop John Onaiyekan: 00:09:31:63