How It All Started

Before now, it seemed that the entire vocation to the Christian consisted in working for the reward of heaven alone. It spelt no serious responsibility on his/her part towards the betterment of the world order. The world was seen and interpreted as a vale of tears from which the children of God must gladly and quickly escape.

Gradually and fortunately however, new biblical hermeneutics, rediscovered the “two wing” theory of St. James: faith and good work, which added weight to the perennial exhortation of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 5:14 “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.” Without the Christians therefore the world would be in darkness.

This darkness was looming in 1891. the world was at the brink of being consumed by poverty and many millions died of hunger and poverty, deprivation and disease. It was not that the world was suffering real famine. It was not that the world had lost all its wealth. It was suffering real famine.

It was not that the world had lost all its wealth. It was not that the land stopped producing, nor was man suffering a dearth of inventive capacity. No! The case was that the wickedness of man had reached its peak. Food was scarce but it was an artificial scarcity. The goods of the earth therefore were appropriated by a few men for their private use to the exclusion of the rest.

This was the source of so much hunger and men achieved this by a lot of means including manipulation of economics and means of production and consumption. The church could not look the other way anymore. It took the bravery of Pope Leo XIII to shake off the monastic spirituality of “fuga mundi” of the church and to challenge the temporary errors of the past which held man in bondage.

It was the birth of Rerum Novarum, the ground breaking encyclical letter of the Pope which launched the church into the cause of social reform. It was a rediscovery of the social vocation of the Christian, and a radical response of the church to the socio-political situation of the time. The world just had to become better!

The passion for the betterment of the world turned into a refrain in the Church and the Popes supported this development. In 1931, Pope Pius XI released the Quadragessimo Anno, in commemoration of the forty year of Rerum Novaram. In 1961, Pope John XXIII published Mater et Magistra.

In it he wrote “though the Church’s first care must be for souls, how she can sanctify them and make them share the gifts of heaven, she concerns herself too with the exigencies of people’s daily life, with their livelihood and education, and their general welfare and prosperity” (no 3) With this therefore a caveat has been created for social work as a legitimate concern of Christians to make the world a better place.

It was in 1965 that the Fathers of the Vatican Council II released the document: Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) in which the church agreed unequivocally that temporal issue besieging mankind like poverty is really of special interest for the Church.

“Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in the heart of Christians. For theirs is community composed of men, of men who, united in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, press onwards towards the kingdom of the Father and are bearers of the message of salvation intended for all men. That is why Christians cherish a feeling of solidarity with the human race and its history”.

On January 6″ 1967, Pope Paul VI inaugurated the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace “lustitia et Pax” with a clear mandate to set the pace of witness to Gospel Values in the modern world of today.

On December 10, 1979, Pope John Paul II issued a Motu Proprio “lustitiam et Pacem” (Peace in the World) which maintained that “promotion of justice and peace and the penetration of all spheres of human society with the light and leaven of the gospel have never ceased to be the true object of the Church’s efforts in fulfillment of our Lord’s command”.

With this theoretical framework on ground, all Episcopal Conferences and Dioceses were therefore encouraged to form or set up such commissions that will be saddled with the responsibility of discharging the social concerns of the church in their immediate environment.

In 1986, under the inspirational leadership of Most Rev. Michael Ugwu Eneja, a diocesan commission for Justice and Peace was formed, with Rev. Fr. Obiora lke as chairman.

Months later precisely on October 4 1986, on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Fr. Obiora lke founded the Catholic Institute for Development, Justice and Peace, the active organ for promoting and executing the mandate of the Justice and Peace Commission and other social concerns of the church.

Anything that is worth doing, it is said, is worth doing well. Pope John XXIII also said very emphatically that “it is not merely enough to formulate a social doctrine. It must be translated into reality.

And this is particularly true of the Church’s social doctrine, the light of which is truth; justice its objective and love its driving force”. To translate this into reality means to be active and result oriented.

This penchant for action translates into the personal dictum of the director: I want results, no ifs, no but. Just get your job done. Perform. Under this spirit of action therefore we have lived out our mandate in executing our numerous projects.

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