The Birth of Catholic Biblical Association of Nigeria
May 1st 2008 will forever be a hallowed year in the annals of the Catholic Biblical Association of Nigeria. It is the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord and Labour Day, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. More comprehensively, today is the first day of the month of May which the Church dedicates to our Blessed Mother Mary, “the Handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).
On the ecclesial dimension, God has been pleased to give birth to our long-awaited Association, described by many as “a dream come true”, “something new”, in this year that Pope Benedict XVI has dedicated to the Word of God (October 2007 – October 2008). The desire to form a new association based on the negative experiences of some members in the Nigerian Association for Biblical Studies (NABIS) had often been discussed. At the CATHAN meeting in Ekpoma in 2006, Fr Camillus Umoh had sounded persons who showed keen interest in forming such as association.
It should be recalled that this Association had its first exploratory meetings on 11th and 12th April 2007 during the annual conference of the Catholic Theological Association of Nigeria (CATHAN) in Makurdi.
Beginnings at Makurdi (Easter Week 2007)
CABAN members who were present at the CATHAN conference in Makurdi in 2007 will recall the impromptu announcement made at my request by Fr. Ignatius Obinwa, then Rector of Iwene Tansi Major Seminary: “Professor Okure would like all people with biblical formation to meet immediately after lunch in the room adjacent to the dining room”. The purpose of the “summons” was not stated. Yet the “people with biblical formation” present responded with great enthusiasm to the call, though this meant sacrificing an hour or so of siesta.
As we were proceeding to the meeting point, his Grace Archbishop John O. Onaiyekan arrived for the conference. As he got out of his car, I said to him “Your Grace, the biblical people are meeting next door to see whether they can form an Association. You will join us, won’t you?” Without the slightest hesitation or asking any questions, he said: “I am coming”. He did, straight away. This show of solidarity from a member of the hierarchy was a source of great encouragement.
The group at Makurdi showed its excitement for the nascent association by taking swift actions in the two brief (lunch break) sessions. Different suggestions were made concerning the name of the Association. Finally CABAN was adopted (modeled after CATHAN). Since other Catholic associations related to Bible existed in Nigeria (such as the Catholic Biblical Apostolate of Nigeria, CBAN; and the Catholic Biblical Instructors Union, CBIU), it was decided that the minimum requirement for full membership in CABAN would be a Masters degree in biblical formation. Students who were still doing their masters could register as associate members.
The group entrusted the moving forward of the Association to CIWA, specifically to the three CIWA biblical lecturers who were present at the CATHAN conference. They designated Prof. Sr. Okure Teresa as the Coordinating President and Frs. Luke Ijezie and Camillus Umoh as Coordinating Secretary and Treasurer, respectively.
A total of seventeen people registered interest at Makurdi; some gave names of potential members, and all made a commitment to spread the good news to other “persons with biblical formation”. The momentum and enthusiasm initially generated at Makurdi has been maintained by all who have heard of the Association, those resident in Nigeria and abroad.
CIWA as Venue of the Inaugural Convention
A major hurdle the CABAN Coordinating Committee had to jump over was to find a suitable venue for the inaugural meeting. In the end, they settled for the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA), where all three coordinating members were located. This was taking a leap in the dark, as the CIWA has no accommodation facilities for conferences, especially when the Institute is in session. Staff and students of the Biblical department were brought into planning this inaugural conference and worked in the different Committees. The accommodation sub-committee did its best to locate possible places close to CIWA where members could be lodged. But the many efforts yielded very little fruit, especially considering costs and transportation.
Then almost out of the blue God sent an incredible windfall. Fr. Stephen Ziga Dedua who had registered early in 2008 at CIWA as a doctoral student, took it upon himself to contact benefactors who surprised us with their generosity. Mr. Patrick Ugboma and Mr. Eze Ugboma offered free accommodation to participants at their newly launched Algate Hotel at Abacha Road, Port Harcourt. The generous benefactors went out of their way to ensure that we had enough room for the numbers expected. In addition, they made available a new air-conditioned bus with a driver to transport participants to and fro for the entire duration of our meeting. What would we have done without their generosity?
Prof. Sr. Teresa Okure, SHCJ