This perilous period of Covid-19 pandemic has further accentuated the quintessential quality of the Catholic Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, Most. Rev. (Dr.) Alfred Adewale Martins as a leader of faith. In this trying time, he has been a veritable voice of reason, comfort and hope and in more ways than one, a metaphor of compassionate and selfless leadership.
At the time some religious leaders resisted the suspension of worship places, the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos suspended Public Mass as far back as on March 22 in compliance with the restriction on social gatherings imposed by the Lagos state government in a display of knowledge and understanding of the need to protect the congregation from the ravaging virus and safeguard public health.
Yet Covid-19 couldn't come between him and his duty of shepherding his flock. The Archdiocese leverage technology to continue to minister to the entire Catholic faithful as one family in one Church. Till date, the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos conducts Mass every Sunday on DSTV Lumen Christi channel. For almost three months, DSTV’s Halleluia channel featured these Holy Masses at exactly 8.30a.m every Sunday. Archbishop Martins celebrated the Holy Week that culminated into Easter at the Cathedral and gave the Catholic family the experiences of Holy Mass and other liturgical celebrations; and in the same manner, on Sunday, May 24, World Communications Day, Catholic media professionals were invited to present their tools right in their homes and he blessed them and delivered the important messages.
Most. Rev. Martins sermon from Sunday to Sunday is delivered with his usual virtuosity that reminds the world of the vintage Archbishop with apostolic qualities and spiritual gifts that make him easily a revered figure in the Church and public discourse. Archbishop Martins’ consistent call on the government to parley with the religious leaders in the reopening of public space shut down by the coronavirus pandemic is particularly noteworthy.
His eight years so far as the fourth Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos has been an inestimable era of giant strides in spiritual, pastoral and physical developments. This brings to mind that glorious day, August 4, 2012, when the Lagos Catholic faithful witnessed the Episcopal Ordination of Most. Rev. (Dr.) Alfred Adewale Martins by the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Most. Rev. Dr. Augustine Kasujja, just as his predecessor, Anthony Cardinal Okogie left office at his attainment of the bishopric retirement age of 75.
The ceremony which took place at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos, in a Pontifical High Mass was witnessed by representatives of the Vatican, Nigerian government officials, distinguished Nigerians and the Catholic faithful from across the country and beyond. But this was just the climax.
The historic event took his roots from Rome and it occurred in interesting phases. It would be recalled that on May 25 that same year, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Anthony Cardinal Okogie as Archbishop of Lagos and also appointed Bishop Martins as Archbishop-elect of Lagos. A month and four days later, Bishop Martins received the pallium from the Pope Emeritus on June 29, 2012 in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican, Rome. There were 44 Archbishop-elects from various countries at this unforgettable ecclesiastical vestment ceremony traditionally held on the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. One after the other, the Pope Emeritus placed the pallium on the shoulders of the Archbishop-elects as a symbol of jurisdiction delegated to them by the Holy See. The pallium is also an icon of communion between the Metropolitan Bishops and the Bishop of Rome.
Most. Rev. Martins’ co- Archbishop-elects were Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, Archbishop of Berlin, Germany; Francisco Robles Cardinal Ortega, Archbishop of Guadalajara, Mexico; Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, Patriarch of Venice, Italy; Archbishop Alfredo Horacio Zecca of Tucuman, Argentina; Archbishop Ignatius Chama of Kasama, Zambia; Archbishop William Charles Skurla of Pittsburgh of the Byzantines, U.S.A; Archbishop Luc Cyr of Sherbrooke, Canada and a host others.
Prior to his elevation, Archbishop Martins was the Bishop of Abeokuta Diocese that was carved out of the old Archdiocese of Lagos in November 1997. He was appointed by Pope John Paul on November 24, 1997. His 14 years as Bishop of Abeokuta was full of achievements. The most obvious was how he built a young and struggling local Church of only nine parishes and eight incardinated Priests into a vibrant and dynamic Church of 60 priests, 44 of them incardinated Priests of the Diocese. His stewardship was characterized by remarkable contributions to the education sector in Ogun State, epitomized by the establishment of the Sacred Heart Catholic College, Abeokuta in 1999 and St. Patrick’s Catholic College, lmeko in 2006. The establishment of St. Bernadette of Lourdes School, Abeokuta and the relocation of St. Luke School, lwoye, happened under his watch. Bishop Martins was a leading broker of the mediation that culminated in the return of Secondary Schools to their original owners. Two of such institutions, St. Peter’s College, Olomore and Catholic Comprehensive High School, Ibara, were returned to the Diocese of Abeokuta.
With such a profile, his appointment as the Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos wasn’t farfetched. Same developmental attainments have trailed his eight years as Archbishop of the See of Lagos. So far, he has acquitted himself capably in the office. Succeeding Anthony Cardinal Okogie at the Lagos Archdiocese, he took over 98 parishes and numerous outstations spread across seven Deaneries in the Archdiocese of Lagos. He has since created eight new Deaneries and 77 new Parishes. Presently, the Archdiocese of Lagos has 15 Deaneries, 175 Parishes and 20 Chaplaincies while there is an imminent expansion into the Eko Atlantic City, Banana Island and Badagry and Ikorodu, where large hectares of lands have been designated for schools and other future developments.
Of the 295 clerical workforces he met on ground, 110 were indigenous priests; so far, His Grace has ordained 44 indigenous priests. Currently, the Archdiocese has over 156 indigenous Priests with over 250 Religious and Fidei Donum Priests working in Lagos. Archbishop Martins was the Principal Consecrator of Bishop Kayode Odetoyinbo (2014), Bishop Francis Obafemi Adesina (2019).
Most Rev. Martins also gave impetus to educational development with three new Archdiocesan Secondary Schools in Iju-Ishaga, Ikorodu, and Bogije. He completed the Augustine University, started by his predecessor, Anthony Cardinal Okogie. Inaugurated in October 2015, the University currently has nine departments across two faculties, graduated its first set of students on October 17, 2019. The St. Albert the Great Major Seminary has since commenced its session while the St. Joseph the Worker Technical Institute is underway. Additionally, over12 priests have proceeded on further studies in America, Rome, Spain and France. Others, too, studied at the Catholic Institute of West Africa, Calabar and the University of Lagos, while a schedule has been set up for the rest to further their education in the coming years.
Having served in various capacities––including as Assistant Secretary (2002-2008) and later Secretary (2008 -2012) of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) respectively for two terms; Co-Chairman, Nigerian Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission (2001- 2008); Episcopal Chairman, CBCN Committee on Ecumenism (1999-2008); and a delegate of the Nigerian Church to the 2nd Ordinary Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops in Rome in 2009, it is expected that he would know better if there was a need to tweak the administrative processes to enhance efficiency. His promulgation of the Parish Pastoral, Laity and Finance Councils has galvanized the church to be more forward-looking and action-oriented.
The Chief Shepherd of the Archdiocese of Lagos has tried to live by his motto of “Called to Serve in love.” This is reflected by his creation of Caritas Lagos in 2013 to assist dioceses, mission territories, congregations, institutions, parishes and individuals in need within and outside Nigeria.
His Grace is known for his outspokenness and that is because the Archbishop of Lagos Catholic Archdiocese knows the importance of adding the Catholic Church voice to important national discourses.
Over the years, he has been a major contributor to discussions in diverse issues and varied areas of national life, especially in the critical spectrum of politics, political engineering, government and governance. His statements are easily distilled into weighty soundbites, like when he urged that “Our president should recognize the fact that he is president for all and of all.”
Yet his outspokenness couldn’t be taken as mere grandstanding by a religious figure. “Let me say that as a Christian, Priest and Bishop, it’s not just a role, but also an obligation to advise and give counsel to those who lead us,” he clarifies.
In a country with high volatility of religious intolerance, Archbishop Martins has consistently shown that he has a handle on the delicate topic.
“From my point of view, the problem is not that of religion, but rather of abuse of religion by people who want to feather their nest, their interest. They use, and indeed abuse religion to carry that through,” he explains.
He is persistent in his perspective that “the ordinary, regular average Nigerian is ready to interact with others across the divide.”
The Archbishop often substantiates his position with a recall of the idyll of his youth when there was bliss among faiths: “I grew up in a place where the Christians and Muslims were living side by side. I keep on saying that back then, as Catholics, we were made to fill bottles with water that Muslims were going to use for prayers.”
His recent message to the Muslim during Eid el Fitr reflects his mindset that such idyll –and it is discoverable. In his felicitation with “my Muslim brothers and sisters across the country on the successful completion of this year’s Ramadan fast,” he reminded and admonished them to allow the spirit of love, charity and total submission to the will of God which they exhibited throughout the Ramadan season to lead them always. “Such virtues are no doubt essential in the lives of every citizen of this country in our resolve to make Nigeria a more prosperous country,” he noted.
His distaste for the lackadaisical attitude of governments towards insecurity is well known. Together with the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, he had urged governments to protect not only to Christians but also Muslims and other vulnerable groups from the Boko Haram onslaught and incessant herdsmen attacks.
“We did ask the President to resign at a point in time when the issue got out of control. And we even went beyond that by showing our displeasure through a prayer procession that was held all over the nation,” he explains. “These actions were just to help the government to recognize our displeasure as leaders of a significant population of our nation.”
He is regarded as a symbol of hope majorly because of his practical means of bringing succour to the needy and the afflicted. This is epitomized by his creation of Caritas Lagos which has been an instrument of help to victims of violence and other catastrophes in Nigeria and West Africa. Aside from distributing palliatives to the needy during the lockdown, he continues to hold daily and weekly virtual interaction assuring the Archdiocesan Catholic faithful and Nigeria as a whole that the pandemic will be over. At the same time, he continues to remind the Federal government “not to stop giving palliatives to Nigerians,” telling how the lockdown has worsened the situation of the economy. In ways such as this, he has presented himself, pragmatically, as a leader of faith that people of all faiths can relate to; prismatically, as an ecumenical symbol, and still, a quintessence Catholic Archbishop.
With a fuller view of his multifaceted personality, there is no disputing the fact that Most. Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, the Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, is truly the salt of the earth––a priest for all.
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