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1.1 Background of the Study
The concept of ecumenism is no longer new in Christendom. It began formally about 1900, in Edinburgh, with the aim of ensuring co-operation and unity among the Christian denominations.
The ecumenical dreams came on board because the church of Jesus Christ , which from time immemorial was founded on the basis of unity and love has been subjected to persistent schism, proliferation and disintegration. Even at the time the researcher concluded his findings, someone, somewhere is busy erecting and registering a new church - an aberration and a bastardization of what Christianity stands for.
Therefore, as mentioned earlier on, it was this phenomenal breakage that apparently led to the agitation for church unity, a situation whereby Christians from different denominational backgrounds will strive jointly for unity in the essentials of Christianity1. Efforts in ecumenism are the possible ways of facilitating the fulfillment of our Lord’s prayer for unity as in John’s gospel (17:21.)
Moreover, as a follow-up to that, this project of repairing the broken walls of Christian unity led to the conference of 1910, which took place in Edinburgh. Although, the move marked the beginning of modern ecumenical movement, it was mainly a Protestant affair because the Roman Catholic church stayed away from the movement.
From then, till the present moment, considerable progress has been made towards accomplishment of the project - Christian Unity. But additional leverage came with the merger of this protestant ecumenists with the Roman Catholics immediately after the historic Vatican II Council (i.e the twenty-first Ecumenical council) convened by both pontiffs subsequently, John XXIII in 1962, and Paul VI from 1963-652.
Back in Nigeria, the initial ecumenical movement began among the protestant missionaries who came with the aim of destabilizing the then Roman Catholic Missionary achievements in the country3. But because of a lack in ideological insight, according to Ekpunobi, the dream was ultimately shattered.4.
But the renewed zeal for ecumenism in Nigeria finally began in earnest from 19705. With this, there was an enhanced theological and liturgical dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians6. Again, this renewed move, affected CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) – an umbrella organization that looks after the Christians in Nigeria. Truly, it was not meant to be an ecumenical group ab-inito,7 but this renewed zeal for ecumenism affected it both in concept, context and nature, and the result was that CAN became almost an ecumenical group.
As a facilitator, the Roman Catholic Church, which incidentally is our focus in this research work, has been in the fore-front of this struggle in Nigeria. Armed with her Vatican II Council’s decree (Unitais Redintegratio), she has continued to encourage and enhance the move for Christian unity in Nigeria.
Although, she has been spearheading this ecumenical endeavor in the country, she has not yet recorded any landmark achievement in this area. And this becomes a big puzzle for her to solve. Above all, the researcher still believes that with the modern globalization, and interdenominational relationships, the church of Jesus Christ will ultimately rise above these anomalies and emerge as a religion of one faith and one shepherd.
1.2 Statement of Problem
A serious study of the state of the things in Christendom today reveals that all is not well with the church of Jesus Christ. The unity and love of brethren, which has been the remarkable identity of the early church has been replaced by persistent schisms, divisions and breakages. In fact, the above scenario is captured in the words of the Vatican II Council Fathers,
In so far as Christ founded one church and one church only, the divisions, among the Christian communities
scandalize the world and impedes the spread of gospel. Many Christian Communion present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ. All indeed profess to be the followers of the head but they differ in mind and go the in different ways as if Christ himself was divided8.
This, as an incurable case, has almost crippled all the ecumenical moves made in this country. In fact, it is on record that the first ecumenical move made in Nigeria (i.e. by the protestant missionaries) failed because of interdenominational prejudice and rivalry. It then becomes regrettable that despite the renewed effort of the Roman Catholic Church, in the wake of the Vatican II Council, to re-focus the ecumenical agenda in Nigeria, there is nothing yet to show for it.
Against this background therefore, the task before the researcher is to x-ray the contributions so far made by the Roman Catholic Church in the on-going ecumenism in Nigeria.
Although, other Christian denominations also contributed to the ecumenical development in Nigeria, the researcher is of the opinion that the Roman Catholic Church’s role should be studied alongside the reasons why the ecumenical efforts seem hindered.
Also the research work will examine the prospects of ecumenism and proffer solutions and recommendations, which will ultimately re-position the Church towards a lasting ecumenism in Nigeria.
1.3 Purpose of the Study
The main purpose of this work is to:-
- Identify the factors that gave rise to the emergence of ecumenism in Nigeria.
- Establish the level of Roman Catholic involvement (contribution) in the on-going ecumenism in Nigeria.
- Find out the likely reasons why the ecumenical endeavor has not been fully established in Nigeria.
- Identify the prospects of ecumenism and possibly proffer solutions or recommendations in order to facilitate and redress the problems discovered in the Nigerian ecumenical field.
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