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THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, THE CONFILIATION OF CHRISTIANS VIS-À-VIS SON OF THE SOIL, DIALA, OSU, OHU, UME DIVIDE/BONDAGE

BY MOST REV. ANTHONY J.V. OBINNA

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AT THE SECOND AQUAVIVA CONFERENCE AT THE HOLY GHOST JUBILEE HALL ENUGU 31ST AUGUST – 1ST SEPTEMBER 2021

INTRODUCTION:

A Providential Preparation for Interrogating Caste Systems

Permit me to approach my subject of discourse from some personal experience. Although Emekuku in Imo State is my parental home of origin, my conscious awareness of myself, of my parents, of my people and my environment took place in Umuahia in present day Abia State. Thanks to my father who was a Catholic headmaster in the Catholic Primary School – St. Teresa’s and an organist in the Parish Church – St. Teresa’s, I came into contact close and distant, with many persons from different parts of Nigeria, West Africa and Europe – the Irish and the English. In addition the Holy Ghost Teacher Training College, Umuahia, was visibly close to the Primary School I attended.

School events, Church events and College events attracted so many people from near and far that Umuahia looked like the home of everybody, a one-world-home.

As I moved to new locations in School and Church thanks to the transfer of my parents, my world continued to expand to include new humans that I had not yet met nor seen.

When I entered the minor Seminary I was excited to meet new persons from other parts of Igbo land and Nigeria. In my second year in the Seminary a fellow Seminarian from somewhere in Owerri stopped me short to whisper a message to me: “Do you know that the Seminarian with whom you are so friendly is Osu?” Surprised and curious since I was hearing the word and the allusion for the first time I asked: Who is Osu? What is Osu? In whispering secretive tone he explained that the Osu person carries a “baggage that crawls around him” which could contaminate me. Deep inside me, I resisted the subtle insinuation. Later on, I decided to search my friend in order to discover this “baggage that crawls around him”.

Happily my friend accepted my offer to spend a few days with him in his home. I equally invited him to spend a few days with me in my home. I never mentioned to him why I made the offer. But after being so close to him, searching and seeing no “baggage crawling around him”, I concluded that my whispering informant had been prejudicially indoctrinated against a fellow human. I was 15 years at the time, a sacramentally confirmed Catholic. The friendship with my fellow Seminarian was equally confirmed. Thus without knowing it I had been providentially prepared to interrogate Caste systems in Igboland.

From 1975 when as a Catholic Priest I first preached in my home town against the diala – osu – ume – ohu – caste system and until today I have continued to push for and advocate the abolition of this obnoxious tradition and practice. I am grateful for this opportunity to speak on the subject at this Second Aquaviva Conference following the kind invitation of Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu.

But beyond my personal involvement in this issue of the Igbo caste system, lies the bigger Providence of the Good News in Christ which gave birth to the Catholic Church and to the Catholic mission in Igboland that triggered the rethinking and re-evaluation of the caste system. It is within this wider providence that this presentation continues.

USAGE OF TERMS:

Filiation – Unifiliation – Refiliation – Confiliation – Reconfiliation.

The English language draws so much from the Latin Language. The English words son and daughter are not able in one sweep to capture the saving dynamic of Jesus’ unique sonship – Filius Unicus. The derivative filiation – from filius, the Latin for son and from filia, the Latin for daughter captures it appropriately.

The incarnation of Christ is the act of filiation (becoming son in the Blessed Virgin Mary– filia) whose goal is the Unifiliation or gathering into one family of God’s children – (filii et filiae – sons and daughters) and which evokes Refiliation (the restoration to the identity of filius and filia – son and daughter) and pushes on to Confiliation – sharing sonship and daughtership in Christ –and on to Reconfiliation –perfect unity of sons and daughters in Christ.

In dealing with the issue of caste systems the emphasis is placed first and foremost on the filial identity and dignity of the person –sonship or daughtership. While brother and sister are complementary family terms they do not guarantee the objective primacy of son and daughter. One remains a person –a son or a daughter – even where and when there is no blood brother or sister.

THE JEW-SAMARITAN DIVIDE/BONDAGE: JESUS’ UNIFILIATION MISSION

It was among the Jews that Our Lord Jesus Christ began and continued his mission of redeeming mankind from prevailing evils and darkness. Although within the Jewish religious community there were distinctions between the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Scribes, these distinctions were based on variant beliefs and practices within the one religion –Judaism – traceable to Abraham and Moses. There were no discriminations that undermined the common identity and dignity of Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes as Jews. Jesus drew his initial disciples from this body of Jews.

It is the relationship and distinction between Jew and Samaritan that gives us a clear picture of what a caste system is and which draws us intimately into Jesus’ redeeming mission. The Jews considered themselves pure-blooded worshippers of the God of Israel. They considered the Samaritans to be heretical Jews who had contaminated their pure Jewish blood by marrying non-Jews or foreigners. The divide between the Jews and Samaritans was such that they not only hated each other; they could not intermarry nor even extend a hand or a cup of water to each other. The shock of the Samaritan woman that Jesus, a Jew, would ask her a Samaritan for water to drink, (John 4:8-9) summarizes the hateful relationship. The surprise of the disciples that Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan, a woman for that matter, reflected the typical Jewish attitude to Samaritans.

In the eyes of Our Lord Jesus Christ both the Jews and the Samaritans were living in a divide, in a walled-in-world, that prevented them from seeing and treating each other as children of God, as fellow sons and daughters of a common Father in a shared humanity. Jesus’ entry into the Jewish enclave as well as into the Samaritan enclave caused a crumbling of the walls of discrimination and bondage and opened the way for the refiliation of humans to God and the unifiliation of humans in himself and among themselves.

Jesus’ unifiliation mission is well-captured in this text from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

But now in Christ Jesus, you that used to be so far off have been brought close by the blood of Christ. For he is the peace between us, and has made the two into one entity and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart, by destroying in his own person the hostility, that is, the Law of commandments with its decrees. His purpose in this was by restoring peace, to create a single New Man out of the two of them … (2:13-16).

THE PETER-PAUL APOSTLESHIP: EXPANDING THE INTERVENTION

Peter the premier disciple and apostle of Christ and Paul the latter day frontline apostle of Christ jointly constitute the major arms extending Jesus’ unifiliation intervention in the early Christian Church. In obedience to God’s charge, “what God has made clean, you have no right to call profane”, Peter set out with some fellow Jews against the Jewish taboo, to visit the Roman centurion Cornelius in his residence. While he was preaching and to the astonishment of the Jewish Christians who had accompanied Peter the Holy Spirit descended on the gentiles there as he had descended upon the apostles. The divisive bondage that kept the Jews and the Gentiles apart as strangers and enemies was broken. Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians now realized that they were refiliates and unifiliates in Christ –fellow sons and daughters –one human family in Christ.

In the face of later opposition from the Judaizing Christians that Peter had been “visiting the uncircumcised (the unclean) and eating with them” (Acts 10:3) Peter boldly defended his God-given mission to Cornelius and for a clincher added, “who was I to stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:

From being a die-hard Jew to the point of approving Stephen’s death and persecuting Christians in Jerusalem and Damascus, Paul at his conversion by Christ became such an effective preacher of Christ that his fellow Jews began a persecution against him to the point of plotting to kill him. Acts 9:20-30. Starting at first to preach to his fellow Jews, Paul at God’s instruction directed his mission outreach more to the Gentiles. Acts 9: 15. His successful mission to the Gentiles is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and echoed in his several letters to the Gentile Christians –Romans, Corinthians 1 & 11, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians etc. Where he had once emphasized the supremacy of the Law as given to Moses he now emphasized Faith and Baptism in Christ. As a consequence “there can be neither slave or freeman, there can be neither male nor female –for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Galatians 3:28. The refiliation of humans to God and their unifiliation in Christ thus took on a more intensive and expansive movement in St. Paul.

FROM JUDAIZERS TO GENTILE-CATHOLIC CHURCH: THE WIDER EXPANSION

Jerusalem had been the final scene of Jesus’ mission on earth culminating in his death by crucifixion. After rising from the dead Jerusalem was equally the scene of the descent of the Holy Spirit. From there the Good News of salvation continued to spread through the apostles who were largely Jews. By the time the Good News spread to Antioch in Syria the number converted to Christ was so large that they gladly began to answer Christians. From Antioch missionary journeys were undertaken to draw more and more people into the one family of God in Christ.

While Faith in Christ was spreading fast and wide, there existed Judaizers who insisted that circumcision, a major component of Jewish religion, should be part and parcel of belonging to Christ or answering a Christian. They even travelled to Antioch, the growing centre of the Christian Faith and literally thundered, “unless you have yourselves circumcised in the tradition of Moses you cannot be saved”. Acts 15:1-2. To the gentiles who had no law about circumcision this insistence was troubling and disconcerting.

Fortunately at the Council of Jerusalem in AD 50 the insistence on circumcision was dismissed thereby paving the way for the unifiliation of Jews and Gentiles and the confiliation of all Christians. Thereafter the Christian community moved towards becoming largely a gentile Church and finally the Catholic Church, made up of Jews and people from all over Asia and the northern parts of Africa. By the fourth century Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan, 313 AD, gave Christians the freedom to worship after almost three centuries of persecution by Jews and other Roman emperors. By the same fourth century A.D. King Ezana of Ethiopia made Christianity his kingdom’s official religion. With these moves more and more people entered the Catholic Church based in Rome and the Orthodox Church based in Ethiopia. Nevertheless the common mission of uniting all peoples in Christ endured.

THE CHURCH’S CONFILIATION MISSION: SACRAMENTAL-CULTURAL

The expansion and presence of the Catholic Church in the seven continents of the world have created a family sense of belonging among Catholics, other Christians and even the entire world. I was happily delighted that in the snow-world of the Antarctica the Catholic Church has seven Churches there since 1976. In the better known continents of Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America and Australia-Oceania the Catholic Church has been there for centuries. The Church’s evangelization aim on all the continents and in their various countries, towns, cities and villages is to make every human, every person, a new child of God within the one family of God in Christ. With our Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour-Unifiliator, the Church’s mission in Christ is to draw every new child of God into sharing divine kinship from Christ – that is the act of confiliation –which now makes us confiliates, confiliants in Christ who in the Eucharistic Liturgy become concelebrants.

Baptism along with Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist give us our new full identity as confiliates and confiliants in Christ. Thus these sacraments of initiation are truly the Sacraments of refiliation and confiliation. We thus become ‘newdignified’ sons and daughters of God, sharing the same grace of equal filial adoption in Christ.

But because of the various human and inhuman baggage that we inherit from our family cultures and local traditions the sacramental confiliation of Christians must be complemented by the evangelical purification, rectification and abolition of beliefs, attitudes, symbols, customs, rituals and laws so as to glorify God in spirit and in truth and new-splendour humanity, culture and society appropriately.

This mission of sacramental confiliation and evangelical humanization and recticulturation has been going on from the redemptive filiation of Christ to our humanity and our world. In many ways humans have been renewed in Christ unto Saints and faithful sons and daughters; cultures and societies have been renewed with nobler and decent institutions and structures. Nevertheless the mission continues and must continue.

Unfortunately humans, lands, cultures and nations that once shone brilliantly with and in the light of Christ have in various places across the world rejected the light and denounced their Catholic-Christian nobility out of spiritual-moral fatigue or the mass pressure of forces inimical to nobler Christian and human living. The situation calls for vigilance and repentance.

New-comers to the Church and to the Catholic Faith are often excited about the goodness and novelty of the Good News. Gratitude marks their attitude. Yet there is enormous work to do in order to arrive at resilient, persevering faith. Therefore daily prayer, daily repentance and daily vigilance must accompany members of the one family of God. There should be no room for presumption and easy self-satisfaction.

CONFILIATING CHRISTIANS IN IGBOLAND – THE SON OF THE SOIL –DIALA-OSU-UME-OHU DIVIDE/BONDAGE

From 1885 when Catholic missionaries from France, Germany and Ireland stepped into Igboland to evangelize it, so much good has been done. The beauty of nature in its multiple variety which had been subjugated to the dominion of the spirit-world has largely resurfaced with the cleansing presence of the Holy Spirit and the original goodness of creation. Ritual sacrifices and customs which gave deference to various minor divinities have given way to the Holy Sacrifice of Mass. Discriminatory Taboos about twins and others associated with childbirth have largely given way to the joyful welcome of twins and other children considered to be deficient in one form or the other.

From initial hesitation to belong to the Catholic Church because so-called outcasts were the pioneer members of the Church, it is now normal for Igbos to baptize their newborn children. Parents, adults, youth and children regularly attend the Church and church activities in large numbers thereby making Christianity a largely accepted way of life for the majority of Igbos. Catholic Priests, Bishops, Consecrated religious and committed Laity indigenous to Igboland run the affairs of the Church. It is now rare to find expatriate European missionaries in Igboland unlike in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.

Watching the easy association of Catholics and other Christians in Church and society it would seem that the ideal of a refiliated, confiliated family Church of God has been realized in Igboland. But below the surface and deep down in many hearts, elderly, adult and youthful, across priests, religious and laity, there lie ancestral divides which belie the sacramental confiliation that lead to Church family concelebration of baptismal kinship and Holy Communion. Our subconscious and reflexes are not yet fully Catholic Christian.

The Phenomenon of “Son of the Soil”: The Igbo Peculiarity

The ancestral divides which periodically undermine the unity and Catholicity of the Church in Igboland revolve around the “son of the soil” allegiance which demarcates and estranges many Igbo people into Diala Igbo–Osu Igbo –Ume Igbo and Ohu Igbo. Although the concept of “son of the soil” or “daughter of the soil” is geo-culturally equivalent to an indigene or a native of any local human community, in the Igbo cultural context it takes on a socio-psychic status that triggers contrasting socio-psychic statuses.

In practical terms like between the Jew and the Samaritan the Igbo Diala could not marry the Igbo Osu and vice-versa; the Igbo Diala or Amadi could not marry the Ume and the Ohu and vice-versa. In addition only the diala could receive honourary titles in the community. It was the diala that defined statuses for the rest of the community. He considered himself the full-fledged human, a free-born, superior as a person and human to the others. The Osu was imposed upon to see and accept himself or herself as a ritual slave dedicated to the earth-deity. The Ume was equally imposed upon to see himself or herself as a human liability prone to die. The Ohu in some cases was also imposed upon to see himself or herself as a slave not fit to be in the superior company of the diala.

With the Good News illumination it is now clear that the deification of the earth –Ala –to which the diala was ancestrally bound, is the reason behind these divides meant to elevate the human status of the majority and to degrade the human status of the others. Now in Christ the diala bondage to the earth shows itself as idolatry. Geolatry and geogamy must give way to theolatry and theofiliance so that every Igbo will now see himself and every other Igbo as equal sons and daughters of God. Thanks to God progress is being made to dismantle the obnoxious divides and bondages that have led to fights, destruction, wars and murders even among apparently staunch Catholics.

CONFILIATION AND RADICAL CONVERSION TO CHRIST: PRIESTHOOD, MARRIAGE AND KINGSHIP

The Catholic doctrine of one God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth, of Jesus Christ, only Son of God and our Saviour and of the Holy Spirit, Our Sanctifier and Comforter, has gone a long way in dislodging the traditional Igbo allegiance to the earth-deity and other elemental forces of this material world. Igbos, Catholics and others have travelled and settled in other lands far from Igboland and thus feel at home everywhere because this one world is God’s world.

For confiliation –our one family kinship in the son of God and Mary –to become genuine and faithful, the residual socio-psychic resistances and inhibitions among Catholics need to be confronted through continuing catechesis, prayer for radical conversion to Christ and courageous witnessing in the face of odds. The example and encouragement of the early apostles and later missionaries need to be kept in view. Unlike original sin which is simply wiped away by Baptism, the Igbo socio-psychic bondage inherited from our ancestors needs to be broken not only by baptism and by renewed acts of allegiance to the Body of Christ and to the Holy Spirit. When one becomes totally Christianimated and Holy-Spirited the residual divides and bondages collapse and fizzle away.

There are three areas of Catholic Life calling for radical conversion to Christ in order to strengthen confiliation among Igbo Catholics and other Christians.

The Catholic Priesthood: 

Catholic Priests are ordained into the self-sacrificing priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the person of Christ they act and minister, offering the one saving sacrifice of Christ to the glory of God and the salvation of humans. Sometime in the 60s a community of Catholics came to protest to a Bishop against the prospective ordination of a young man whom the “diala” Catholics deemed unfit to become a Catholic priest because they claimed he was “Osu”.

Fortunately the European Bishop to whom they protested dismissed the protest and went on to ordain the priest. Since then no community has dared to oppose the ordination of a Catholic priest on the basis of the Igbo idolatrous human divide.

Yet I am aware of Catholic priests, religious and laity among the Igbo who like the Judaizing Christians continue to exhibit diala – idolatrous reflexes that call for abolition and therefore need radical conversion to Christ. Each Catholic must allow himself or herself to be pruned.

Marriage among Catholic Igbos:

Thanks to the Good News of Salvation in Christ many Catholic Igbos with Christianimated instinct seek to marry any man or woman of their choice. But not infrequently Catholic parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends who are still in bondage to idolatrous beliefs and discrimination try to prevent such marriages even violently. I have personally intervened to give pastoral-sacramental support to marriages of Catholics which would otherwise have been aborted. For my efforts I have only received a few abuses and been once threatened with a law-suit. In a few cases the opposers of the marriage have come later on to apologize for their anti-Catholic stance. This shows that with persistence more and more Catholics will be converted and persuaded to realize that in Jesus Christ there is neither diala-freeborn, nor osu-outcast nor ume-rejected nor ohu-slave-outcast. All Catholic Igbos are either actual or potential members of God’s family in Christ. I look forward to officiating soon at another marriage scheduled in the face of family opposition.

Kingship and Chieftaincy:

For so long in Igboland traditional rulership or kingship as well as chieftaincy honours were conferred on those considered to be diala-free-born. Even in a recent granting of chieftaincy titles the traditional ruler persuaded an honouree to cap himself rather than capping him because of his fictional lower status. The traditional ruler has now been forced to recall the man to cap him as a fellow man possessing equal dignity with every other human. Now that there are Catholic traditional rulers even crowned in the Catholic Church with Catholic ritual ceremony and with rotational kingships in many Igbo communities the time to choose kings and chiefs on the basis of spiritual and moral integrity and not on the basis of divisive bondages has come. It equally calls for radical conversion to Christ of Catholic traditional rulers and their associates.

ONGOING ABROGATION OF IGBO CASTE SYSTEMS – THE ONE HUMANITY MISSION

On the 10th May 1956 the Eastern Nigeria Parliament passed a law abrogating the caste system of osu, ohu and omoni without mentioning diala –the root-foundation of Igbo caste systems. It was only from 1976 that serious efforts were made by a Concerned Catholic Circle to push forward the abolition. With the help of a Pastoral letter by late Bishop Mark O. Unegbu on the Osu-Diala scandal a more intense attention was given to the issue.

By the year 2008 I supported a Catholic marriage that dealt a blow to the discrimination. The young man suffered physical assault from his father and was hospitalized before the marriage. In 2009 I officiated at a similar wedding in the Cathedral, after several efforts by the family of the young man to thwart it. Since then a few similar marriages have been taking place through the encouragement of willing courageous families and convinced Catholic Priests.

In December 2018 a coalition of traditional rulers and Christian Religious Leaders embarked upon a public denunciation and abrogation of the Igbo caste system. In December 2019 I was invited by four communities in Orlu area to lead the abrogation of the caste system. The participation in it was very impressive. In April this year another community in Mbano invited me for the same mission. Only last Saturday 28th August 2021 I equally led the communities in Mbieri –Mbaitolu in the denunciation and abrogation of the caste system.

Although the three abrogations in which I have been involved took place in public arenas for Catholics and non-Catholics I still give thanks to God for the co-filiation among Igbos at large that can lead to the sacramental confiliation of Catholics in the Church. I have pending invitation s to do the caste abrogation in some other locations. I see the on-going abrogation as furthering the one humanity mission of Christ –to reconfiliate all peoples and all things in Him.

LEAD STORY SEPTEMBER 19

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