By Valentine Anaweokhai
owards the end of every year, there are usually lots of exciting activities being put up both socially and spiritually. They come in the form of church programs like crusades, retreats, novena, and music festivals. They could also be social events like weddings, cultural festivals, comedy shows, birthdays, and carnivals. So, it was at the just concluded December 2021 music festival of praise and worship, tagged UNUSUAL PRAISE! organized by the Divine Mercy Catholic Church, Lekki, Archdiocese of Lagos, Lagos State. To say the least, it was indeed a festival of assorted Christian music by different talented Christian artistes who took their turns on stage to perform to the praise and glory of God and the edification of all who attended the event or watched from the comfort of their homes. It was a resplendent night! A night of glorious ultrasonic sounds! A night of rhythmic movements and gestures! A night of soothing sermons and speeches! An unusual night of praise and worship! I watched the praise night with much relish and enthusiasm from the comfort of my room. Indeed, it was very exciting!
Each artiste performed exceedingly well, and everyone danced so well and hard. Most of the invited artistes were popular faces and voices within and outside Nigeria. Significantly present was the archbishop of Lagos archdiocese, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, who graced the occasion, gave a speech, sang, and blessed the audience. Also present were Msgr. Francis Ishola Ogunmodede, a former rector of the Major Seminary of All Saints, Uhiele, Ekpoma, Edo state, whom then we fondly and more so, with a high sense of nostalgia, called “baba” (yes indeed, he was a ‘father-figure’ to many of us), Very Rev Fr. Mario Ozele, (whom I reverently regard as an ‘institution’ of a kind) who gave an excellent reflection on the importance of thanksgiving and its meaning in the different global languages, the Parish Priest of Divine Mercy Catholic Church, Lekki, Lagos, Msgr. Paschal Nwazeapu, (God bless him for this gigantic, rare, risky but impressively new method of evangelization) whom I would prefer to refer to as the convener of the music festival, and several other priests, religious, and lay faithful who gathered for the ceremony. The program ended with the celebration of the sacrifice of the holy mass early Sunday morning.
I consider the night of UNUSUAL PRAISE! as a new way of evangelization. And this is my point of departure. I praise the foresight, courage, initiative, and commitment of the organizers and planners, for choosing to invest so much in the event, and to use music as a viable means of evangelization. Music is attractive to all manner of people and has a lot of benefits. Music is a kind of food that revitalizes and nourishes the soul. Even Daniel would encourage: “bless the Lord all people on earth, sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever” (Dan. 3:82). The psalmist too, recommends: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing” (Ps. 100:1-2). St Augustine of Hippo would say, ‘he who sings, prays twice’. Music also has a therapeutic effect. For instance, when king Saul was experiencing some mental health problems, they got him a musician to play the harp for him. And “whenever the evil spirit from God bothered Saul, David would play his harp. Saul would relax and feel better, and the evil spirit would go away” (1 Sam. 16:23).
New evangelization is synonymous with mission, requiring the capacity to set out anew, go beyond boundaries and broaden horizons. It means, devising a strategy for transmitting the Gospel of hope in a practical way, having the boldness to raise the question of God in the context of the great problems of history, engaging in dialogue with different sectors, by not remaining confined to our communities and our institutions, but accepting the challenge to bear witness from the inside, sustaining efforts at uniting all Christians in a common witness to the world of the prophetic and transforming power of the Gospel message. The UNUSUAL PRAISE! in my opinion, is an innovative and prophetic way of transmitting the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps, besides the little stipends the artistes could get for the invitation to perform live on stage, it afforded them also a platform to minister and evangelize through their God-given voices and talents, for the edification of the church and the salvation of souls.
There was one particularly fantastic and outstanding young man who obviously held spell bound and ‘mesmerized’ everyone with the powerfully distilled sound of his saxophone, that even the forces of the night could not but bow in worship and praise of the One, true God, who made heaven and earth. It was like that silent night when the infant Jesus was born, even the stars of the night, including the shepherds, bowed in adoration (Lk. 2:8-14). It was indeed an unusual night of praise! I guess it always gets better every year. It is worth saving for and longing for.
Going forward, I feel this annual Christian music fiesta should be emulated by other well-to-do parishes and it should as a matter of necessity, be organized at diocesan, provincial, and national levels.
This would make it better and bigger. It would become a veritable instrument for promoting Synodality, Communion, and Oneness of the church. This would help to identify, encourage, and support more talents, create more vibrant and dynamic young singers and musicians in the church and help to empower them. Even the empowerment packages for the young people during the event is a welcome development.
With the teeming youth population in the church today, this would be one of the ways of keeping and retaining them in the church. It would also create jobs for them and put food on their tables. This may even be the beginning of the journey towards having a Deanery, Diocesan, and National Association of Catholic Artistes (comprising musicians, comedians, actors/actresses etc..). There is nothing wrong in evangelizing with what we have, with what appeals to the people, and where we can find the people, especially those in and outside church.
The idea of a new evangelization requires a new approach to the way things are done. In the words of Pope St. john Paul II, in his famous address to the bishops of Latin America, it calls for a ‘new ardour; a feeling of strong eagerness, methods; strategy and approach, and expression; tone of language and communication style’.
It takes someone with both good hindsight and fore sight, who can easily decipher the signs of the times, to adopt indeed, ‘new ardour, new methods, and new expressions’ in this contemporary age, in evangelizing. This is what the priests, religious and parishioners of Divine Mercy Catholic Church, Lekki, Lagos, are sacrificially doing for the church and humanity. Only time will tell the enduring positive impacts this would have on present and unborn generations. And without mincing words, the UNUSUAL PRAISE! project is a round peg, in a round hole or even more so, a square peg, in a square hole. I am already looking forward to the 2022 edition.
FR. VALENTINE ANAWEOKHAI is from the Catholic Diocese of Auchi, [email protected]