Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins, born on June 1, 1959, was the choice of the Pope Benedict XVI as the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos and consecrated on July 5 to replace His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Okogie, who retired on attainment of the age of 75. Martins spoke to FUNSHO AKINWALE on his 60th birthday celebration, state of the nation, and other issues.
At 60, how grateful are you to God?
These 60 years, by the grace of God, I have no cause to feel abandoned by God. Indeed, I have had every cause to feel His grace that has been carrying me on. God has been like a wind behind sea, sailing me all through my life.
So, the celebration is all about thanksgiving to God who has been gracious to me. I am also grateful to some people who have been part of my life since the beginning. These are my family, the church, the leadership of the church and all those who have taught me one thing or the other all these years. That is the greatest feeling I have at this point in time.
What has life taught you these years?
Life has taught me that practising the faith is a very important part of life and that one cannot live a fulfilled life without having faith in God. I tried to live the faith from day to day. Life has taught me that every individual human being is important.
Every human is created in the image and likeness of God and therefore what you do to each person is greatly important for how you will spend your life after this world. In other words, the relationship you have with people, how you treat them, how you respect and disrespect them are important. That is one of the things life has taught me these years.
I have also learnt that it is important to do the best possible, look through the lenses of the other people to see their point of view, appreciate it and help them to realise the position that you have.
Life has also taught me to be fair to all as much as necessary. In fact, it is important to be fair to all as a part of justice. All in all, faith, life and religion are very key in having a cordial relationship with God.
Is there something you still expect from God even at 60?
First of all, I wish God would still continue to keep my feet on the path of faith, practice of the faith, helping people to live in the faith and to chat a path for people to live in faith. That is the greatest thing I will love God to do for me.
Really, what is someone purpose in life? The purpose of one’s life from the point of view of faith is to know God, love God and to serve Him. All of these are in order to be with Him forever when the world to comes to an end. So, the fulfillment of my own purpose in life is for God to keep my feet steady on this earth.
What are the activities lined up for the celebration?
It is a four-day event, during which we would be engaging with the motherless homes run by the Sisters of Mother Theresa. We need to celebrate and pray together. We had a special package for Children’s Day on May 27 and we also engage with old people’s home, so as to interact with our elders who are in the home. There would be an evening of music and then on the day of the celebration (today), there would be a Thanksgiving Mass at the cathedral here before the reception.
Where did you spend your formative years?
I was born at the Sikira Hospital in Lantoro area of in Abeokuta. I attended St. Augustine Catholic Primary School in Abeokuta, after which I went to St. Theresa Minor Seminary in Ibadan before proceeding to SS Peter and Paul Seminary School, also in Ibadan. Basically, my formative years were spent between Ibadan, Abeokuta, and Lagos, in the sense that during my formation, we were part and parcel of the Lagos Archdiocese.
So, my life was centered on Christianity.
At a point did you choose to go to the seminary and what was the reaction of your parents?
My parents were happy that I was going to become a priest. They were so confident and satisfied with my decision that they even allowed my younger brother to also enroll in the seminary school, even with the danger, in quote, allowing both of us to become priests.
My brother later left, but I chose to stay and my parents have been supportive.
Looking at the state of the nation, with the problems of insecurity, kidnapping and armed robbery here and there, as a Christian leader whose role is also important in governance, what do you think should be done to check the menace?
Let me say that as a Christian, a priest and a bishop, it is not just a role, but it is my obligation, my duty to advise and give counsel to those who lead us.
It is part of my duty, so one cannot run away from that. When I said the country is in a mess, I am referring to the fact that underlying some of the difficulties that we have today is that we don’t have adequate respect for one another as people within the country.
When a Yoruba man wants to talk about Igbo man, he has a fixed mentality about an Igbo man and an Igbo man about a Yoruba man, they tend to have fixed mentality about who the other person is. The kind of respect we expect is just ability to listen to one another.
So, I will say kidnapping and robbery are fall out of a basic lack of respect and understanding; hence we are constantly at war with one another. We have harmonised our interest in such a way that we cannot boast of a country to call our own.
We need to build a nation out of many people within the country and we need our leaders to be in forefront, because if they are not in the forefront, these problems will continue to happen and the troublemakers will eventually take the leadership.
There seems to be no trust between practitioners of the two major faiths- Christianity and Islam. What do you think is the solution the incessant religious distrust and mistrust in Nigeria?
I think the problem is not between the Christianity and Islam, but those sections of people who are using the two faiths to further their own interests. I grew up in a society where Christians and Muslims were living side by side.
I remember in those days, we young children in the Catholic filled bottles with water the Muslims used for prayers.
So, the two religions are not the problem, but it is our leaders in government that brought about this cleavage between the two faiths. When a particular religion believes the other faith is being given advantage, naturally problems begin.
So, one hopes that the present government will make an effort to disabuse the mindset of people concerning religion bigotry in the country.
Do you think the federal government under President Muhammadu Buhari is doing enough to disabuse the minds of the people in this regard?
In his first tenure, that accusation was right. Everybody and including myself were of the opinion that he didn’t do well as far as federalism is concerned. But he has promised in his second coming that he would right the wrong of the past, which means that he accepted that what he did in the past was wrong.
So, we are looking for a situation whereby all anomalies will be corrected.
Do you have any fear for and about Nigeria?
Fear about what? I don’t have any fear, but if you say concerns, yes, I have concerns for this country. Insecurity and the future of our youths are some of my concerns.
The only fear I have is to lose or miss heaven. Nigerians need to build a country they can truly call their own.
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