As I read the readings and reflected on them for this Sunday, the images of Pope John Paul II began to flash in my mind. For no reason, I began to replay the visits he made to Nigeria in 1982 and 1998. Even as I type this message, there is so much to say about him. Yet I am happy that I got to see him not in the bureaucratic enclosures of the Vatican but in my town of Kaduna and in Abuja. He gave me inspiration as a young man from Africa to strive to be like him. And the one thing I wanted to be was become a priest and shepherd the people of God. And indeed I made it by the power of God.
During the 1982 visit to Nigeria, while he celebrated Mass in Kaduna and ordained many young men to the priesthood, I felt inspired to work harder. I watched the event on a blurry black and white television, but I could see the enthusiasm of the pope. The attraction of this visit was his eloquence and wittiness about human life. He desired that all peoples could live together as one.
Even during his second visit in 1998 at the capital in Abuja, he enjoined all peoples to live in harmony without bitterness or hatred. At this time, as a priest, I concelebrated Mass with the pope alongside numerous priests, religious and lay faithful. It was lovely to hear a leader of the Church evoke such kind words. The lesson I learned from the two papal visits will forever inspire me for the rest of my life. I saw in Pope John Paul II a leader I could relate with because of my humble background. Kids from developing countries look for superheroes. The message of this Sunday is about leaders who mislead people. On the other hand, we should recognize leaders who lead with the fear of God. The Prophet Jeremiah says, “You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.
I will gather the remnant of my flock from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadows; there they shall increase and multiply.” Down through the centuries, the Lord has raised up leaders to lead his people at different times. No matter the age, the challenge to leading people is always a call to service. Leaders are not born but leaders are made based on the challenges they encounter.
For all of us Christians, we look to our leaders in the Church for direction. However, we must look up to Jesus for inspiration, as all the intentions of Jesus were good. Did he receive complete praise for his actions? I do not think so since people had the right to follow him or not to follow him. For those that believed in his leadership, he taught them many lessons. Mark writes, “People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So, they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.” Does this sound real to you? Imagine the number of people that surged just to hear Jesus speak! Jesus had something important to say to them. He had the words of eternal life. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd and he was moved by pity to teach them about eternal life.
Leadership in the religious realm is a divine call that offers alternatives to people who are misled in the world of politics and bad governance. It’s our duty, priests and lay people alike, to join hands to make truth sacrosanct in the Church and society.
St. Paul says Jesus broke down the barriers dividing all peoples by establishing his peace on them. Now I know the reason why I saw flashes of St. John Paul the Great in my reflection. He loved peace. He said, “It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, make the world more human and more fraternal.” These words inspire me because they are down to earth. For me, I am a work in progress for Jesus. How about you? Keep praying!BACK TO LIST