For a change, religious and ethnic differences completely disappeared recently at the launching/inauguration of Mirian Soup Kitchen in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. The coming together of the Sultan of Sokoto and Cardinal John Onaiyekan brought memories of what the nation was envisioned to be by our founding fathers to be.
People of all faiths in the country sat together eating as they listened to Reverend Father Willy Ojukwu’s homily at the launching of the soup kitchen, with the primary focus on the promotion of inter–religious harmony.
The atmosphere and moral messages lifted up the spirits and expectations of not a few Nigerians, including those in government on the urgent need for a sustainable platform that should bond all religious and ethnic differences into one unique humanity.
While cutting the tape at inauguration of the Kitchen, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan noted the much tension in the country that makes preaching of unity and mutual natural love difficult. “There are so many people who are fanning the flames of discord and of hatred and it is becoming very difficult to preach unity and mutual natural love. I perceive there are those who had envisaged a clash between Christians and Muslims in the inauguration of Marian Soup Kitchen (MSK), but this place is ordained as a centre for free humanitarian services in Gwagwalada. Meeting here one-on-one of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, Rev. Ojukwu and myself have sent a strong message on interfaith unity and love amongst the citizenry.’’
The Cardinal who recently escaped death in an ambush by suspected herdsmen in Delta State added: “There is a terrible wind blowing around our country right now, but we give thanks to God that there are many Nigerians who do not believe that we are doomed to kill one another, that there is hope for us to live together as fellow Nigerians. We have done it for many years; despite the civil war, we have lived together and the civil war in any case was not a war between Christians and Muslims.
‘’We have proved to the whole world that we can live together. I go all over the world boasting of this, telling them that in Nigeria, we have not less than 80 million Christians, 80 million Muslims, living side by side, day by day at every level of our lives. From the Executive Council meetings at Aso Villa down to the women in Wuse market we must live together because nobody has anything to gain from conflicts and confusion.’’
The Cardinal further noted that what he and the Sultan have been preaching all along is to rally Nigerians to realise that that the things they have in common are much more important than the things that divide them.
‘’Even in doctrine, to believe that there is one God, that is something great; only a few mad people will tell us that the God of Christians is different from the God of the Muslims. How many God do we have? To believe in this one God, that is something great. When we suffered Ebola in Nigeria, there was no Christian Ebola or Muslim Ebola. We all faced it together.”
In his address to the people, Sultan Abubakar advised government to do more for the less privileged, saying Islam will never teach violence, insurgency or killings.”
Represented by the Executive Secretary, Abuja National Mosque Management Board, Alh. Ibrahim Jega, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar also urged Nigerian youths to shun violence and stick to the teachings of their religion.
Earlier, the founder of MSK, Rev. Father Willy Ojukwu, said religion should not separate us but unite us, hence, the promotion of inter-religious harmony from grass root. ‘’We should be our brothers/sisters keepers, hence the feeding of the hungry, counseling the downtrodden and giving hope to the hopeless all for free,” the Reverend said.
Father Ojukwu further revealed that his experiences during the Nigerian civil war and the fact that so many Nigerians presently go about hungry and helpless, were the inspirations that moved him to establish the center so as to demonstrate through MSK that Religion should not separate but unite Nigerians, hence the promotion of Inter-Religious Harmony from grass root.
Activities that are lined up to be carried out at the center involve among others the feeding of the hungry, counselling the down trodden and giving hope to the hopeless through human empowerment and training in different skills
The multipurpose center also maintains an outreach where it visits and feeds inmates at such places like Dukwa, Suleja and Kuje prisons and has so far fed over 52,000 inmates for free. They also offer free health care services for the people around.
Ojukwu’s dream of a comprehensive humanitarian center however appears incomplete as he maintained that, “We believe in the fact that we can give one fish, but better teach him/her to fish, hence our Human Empowerment Centre (HEC); when completed, it will provide skill acquisition and trade for lots of people all for free.
‘’Every day, several families in Nigeria go to bed hungry and wake up even hungrier. Many more Nigerians cannot afford balanced nutritional meals, which may result to bad health and death. This is unacceptable for a society like Nigeria that is blessed with vast human, natural and material resources. Consistent with God’s call on all Christians and persons of faith to live out the full Gospel values, the Marian Soup Kitchen was conceived with the primary goal of frontally tackling hunger in the indigent population among the poor and the downtrodden in our society.”
Observers however doubt the sustainability of the project, considering the huge capital required to run it on daily basis. But Ojukwu debunked these fears, insisting that he believes in divine providence and that God, through the people and corporate bodies will sustain the programme.
While promising to replicate the projects in other states, he called on government at all levels support the project MSK. Also, the Reverend requests the Nigeria Customs to divert some of the seized food items and contrabands that carry NAFDAC approvals to its store for the benefit of the downtrodden instead of destroying or burying them.
‘’MSK is determined to make a difference by providing at least one hot nutritious meal and mind-nourishing session at a time. The MSK platform is non-discriminatory and nondenominational; irrespective of ethnicity, geopolitical zone, social status, and any of the other needless colorations which have historically and inappropriately suggested that we are different in the eyes of God.”
It is hoped that Mirian Soup Kitchen (MSK), which emphasizes the central truth that all are the same and equal in the eyes of God, in spite of varied circumstances, will bring about the elusive National rebirth and all encompassing inclusiveness