A Nigerian-born JPII Leader, Fr. Prof. Michael Ufok Udoekpo, organized a conference on interreligious dialogue at the National Catholic University of Nigeria on May 12, 2022. Fr. Michael is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Ikot Ekpene and a Professor of Biblical Theology, specializing in Hebrew Bible and Judaic Studies and Religions.
The conference “Rethinking Interfaith, Cultural, Ecumenical & Religious Dialogue in Nigeria’s Pluralistic Context” aimed at fostering and promoting dialogue and friendship among all religions and cultures present in Nigeria. Speaking about the universal human rights and respect to the dignity of the human person, the event was called to decrease interreligious conflicts in Nigeria and around the world.
In addition to over 200 guests (individuals and groups), the conference hosted professional speakers from diverse fields to address and shape the dialogue. Among them were His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan (Archbishop Emeritus, Abuja Archdiocese); His Grace Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama (Archbishop, Abuja Archdiocese); Fr. Prof. Hyacinth E. Ichoku, Sr. Prof. Theresa Okure, SHCJ; Rabbi Israel Uzan (Chief Rabbi of Nigeria); Dr. Muhammed Kabir Adam (Chief Imam, Abuja National Mosque) and others.
The participants gathered to find out how to use the great resource of world religions and Scriptures, nurturing inspiration from the ecumenical and interreligious steps made by Pope John Paul II visits to the Synagogue in Rome and his presiding over an interfaith prayer for peace in Assisi in 1986.
In his beautiful and generous introductory address, Professor Ichoku, the Vice-Chancellor, welcomed everyone to the dialogue conference, expressing particular gratitude to God and the source of the true dialogue, the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue and its Leaders, in particular Professor Udoekpo, as well as those who have been championing the course of dialogue in Nigeria (John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Bishop Kukah’s and UFUK Foundation, CAN, NIREC, etc). Being the first of this kind at Veritas University, “when we consider the state of the nation today… when our country is hemorrhaging from multiple atavistic cleavages arising from ethnic, religious, political, and economic differences…..,” the Vice-Chancellor claimed the conference was not only apt but urgent and necessary. In addition, he affirmed the need for interfaith, cultural, and religious dialogue “to avoid religious extremists that lead to conflicts in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-ideological country like Nigeria.”
Presenting the aims, objectives, and mission of the conference, Professor Udoekpo, drew participants’ attention to the pluralism of religions in Nigeria. He pleaded with all to acknowledge that “sometimes these religions have not only misunderstood other faiths, but viewed them with suspicion and tragic distinction.” This has often contributed to the current poor and divisive state of Nigeria today.
In his thought-provoking four chapters paper “How to be a Catholic-Christian in Nigeria without Being anti-other Religions and Denominations,” His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja, discussed the “religion for peace” and praised global efforts that promote “honest dialogue,” by seeking common ground and acknowledging respectfully our differences, even amid counter currents.
Furthermore, the Chief Imam of Abuja National Mosque Dr. Muhammad Kabir Adam, spoke passionately on the challenges of peaceful co-existence, and how to practice Islam in Nigeria without being anti-other religions.
In addition, Most Rev. Dr. John Bakeni, also a JPII Leader, talked about “Reading Nostra Aetate,no. 2/Unitatis Redintegratio Again in a Contemporary Nigeria’s Pluralistic Context.” He insightfully discussed the general background of both documents. He also noted the four general principles of Catholic ecumenism (the Church is one, unity of the Church is Christ’s work, conversion, and prayer), stressing universal salvation as well as the importance of intra- and extra-religious dialogue in Nigeria.
Overall, the conference hosted over 400 participants, both in-person and online, from all over the world. Fr. Michael Udoekpo believes that such a successful implementation of the interreligious conference will be encouraging and very positive for Nigerian society.
The conference “Rethinking Interfaith, Cultural, Ecumenical & Religious Dialogue in a Nigeria’s Pluralistic Context” was funded by the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue and supported by the Veritas University, with its Vice-Chancellor, Very Rev. Fr. Hyacinth E. Ichoku.