Father Drew Christiansen's recent "Of Many Things" included a sentence deeply relevant to the psychology, theology, and politics of conflict resolution: “International lawyers and human rights advocates are often adamant that those who violated the peace need to be punished, whereas professionals in conflict resolution are willing to accept amnesties or truth and reconciliation commissions, even though they entail foregoing, at least for a time, punishment of offenders.”
Recently, I found myself enjoying a great dinner, along with friends and four priests from Nigeria who got along with each other like best friends, laughing, bantering, and sharing. The man next to me was dressed in native African clothing, as down-to-earth, personable, and funny as anyone you’d want to have a meal with. Only his ring and his highly polished shoes gave an inking that he was an archbishop--one whose job includes some of the most taxing conflict resolution in the world. It was a huge honor to be sitting with the Most Rev. Dr. Archbishop Matthew Man’Oso Ndagosa, Diocese of Kaduna, Nigeria. His presence in Nigeria requires that he practice the approach to peacemaking outlined in Father Drew's column.
Merely a look at the past five years in Nigeria reveals indiscriminate violence whose multiple causes and perpetrators are difficult to pin down, as indicated by the Nigerian Bishops 2006 letter, “The Church in Nigeria: Keeping Hope Alive.” They stated: "We are outraged by the violence, and we strongly condemn the horrific killings of innocent Nigerians, both Muslims and Christians, including Fr. Michael Gajere from Maidurgi Diocese who was brutally murdered and burnt beyond recognition....Government should ensure that those who are beyond this latest round of riots are brought to justice.”
Earlier this year, January 17, 2010 and March 7, 2010 saw riots, cruel killing of children, burning of houses and places of worship in Dogo Nahawa, Razat, and Fan and Sot villages.
Archbishop Matthew is a graduate of the Angelicum University in Rome and he is one of the few bishops in the world to hold a doctorate degree in Eceumenical Relations; he wrote a dissertation titled “Christian Unity in the Quest for Relevant and credible Evangelization in Nigeria in the Light of Pertinent Church Documents, especially Ecclesia in Africa.” He possesses the inner peace and wisdom needed to transcend the raw emotions evoked by rapidly changing events and look at what is best for his flock in the future. Twice his house has been destroyed, including one time where he would have been burned and killed had he been present. One of his priests marvels at his ability to avoid resentment and revenge: “You would expect more anger. They burn down his house and try to kill him. You know what he says? ‘Dialog is good.’”
In his writings and homilies Archbishop Matthew has focused on both bringing perpetrators to justice as well as dialog and reconciliation for a peaceful future, and addressing the delicate balance between these two endeavors.
“Each time there is a crisis,” Archbishop Matthew has said, in an article in The Daily Independent, “the church will come out to condemn it. We condemned Boko Haram. Therefore, if there are people who think the Church has been vocal enough it is not true. In the Catholic Church the records are there for anyone to see that the Catholic Church has consistently condemned bribery and corruption. We have prayed against bribery and corruption.”
Yet in addition to taking a strong stand against injustices, Archbishop Matthew seeks reconciliation and peace in the many situations involving toxic and even deadly conflicts. “My Christian faith teaches me that all of us were created in the image and likeness of God. For me, this is what my religion teaches me. Of course, that you are richer in power doesn’t make me any less human and doesn’t make you more super human. We are all creatures of God, created in the image and likeness of God.”
What was it like to discover his house destroyed and in ruins, facing the knowledge he would have died had he been there? “I left my house, everything in my house, library, everything,” Archbishop Matthew told The Daily Independent. “It was an experience you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. But then I think what helped me actually was my Christian faith, the very fact that I am a Christian, religiously a Catholic leader. I know that anybody in his right senses wouldn’t do that to a fellow human being. And I do believe that somebody who could do that thing is somebody to be pitied...Therefore if I encouraged violence I would be just like them. Christ himself said it very clearly, ‘love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. In this way you become children of your father who is in heaven.”
Archbishop Matthew has held several leadership posts in Nigeria, and knows his country very well. I suspect we will be hearing and learning from this man of peace in the years ahead.
William Van Ornum