By Bishop Emmanuel Ade Badejo, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Oyo, Nigeria
“If you feel pain, you are alive, if you feel other people’s pain, you are a human being” Leo Tolstoy.
There is Lent in VaLENTine. I mean that literally and the origins of the Valentine celebration are found in selfless love anyway. Lent and true Valentine celebrations will always be intertwined because true love always involves self-denial and sacrifice. “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Well, now, love is in the air. Valentine Day is here again.
I affirm that the trying period which Nigeria is experiencing at present actually calls for true valentine love, the type which embraces Lenten virtues like self-denial, sacrifice and laying down of one’s life for others in need. Indeed, there is need now more than ever before to reflect on the lent in the Valentine celebration.
Every year since 1992, on February 11, the Catholic Church has celebrated a World Day of the Sick (WDS) as established by Pope John Paul II the Great, a day of prayer for the sick and those who care for the sick and for sharing, a day for reminding everyone to see in his sick brother or sister, the face of Jesus Christ. Occuring just three days before the valentine celebration on February 14, each year, WDS qualifies to be the Church’s Valentine for the sick and the poor. The theme of the Pope’s message for the WDS this year is: “Standing Beside those who Suffer on a Path of Charity”. The Church thus focuses our attention specially on the plight of the sick and the needy, people who most need our love and care as well as on those who care for them.
I have heard it said often that poverty is, in fact the highest form of disease. Going by this, Nigeria must be one of the largest spaces for authentic valentine celebrations in all the world. Economic experts have declared that under the Muhammadu Buhari regime in the country, 8 million more people have become poorer than they were before.
The World Bank says that Nigeria currently has the highest rate of inflation in Sub Saharan West Africa and that the Nigerian government has done next to nothing to tackle rising inflation in the entire 2021. No one living in Nigeria really needs any economist to know that thousands of people are now having to beg just to feed themselves and their dependents in Nigeria today.
If indeed, Valentine is a time for sharing love and care, then all people of goodwill must feel compelled to extend valentine 2022 sentiments beyond mere physical, amorous attraction. The sick, the poor, the marginalized, the captives, the bereaved, the persecuted and the refugees all around us need a chunk of the tremendous quantum of love energy available all around at Valentine.
We just must admit that far too many people need love in our country today and so make our valentine goodies a surprise package for someone needing help out there. The well-known pop song “Lean on me” by good old Bill Withers rings so true at this time. Same does a popular church hymn ring so relevant: “Want demands a hearing in far too many ways, the sick go unattended, death deals a heavy hand. There’s hunger in the city and famine on the plains…”.
Of course, it is, yes, so, so legitimate to love and seek to be loved at valentine. But there must be something greater and more rewarding than all that. I fancy the American educator and orator, Booker T. Washington who said: “If you want to lift yourself up, lift someone else”. Really, however, the gold standard for that was set long ago by Jesus of Nazareth when he said: “In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Matt. 25: 40). There is no doubt that love strewn further afield will always return with even more abundant reward for the lover. No one on earth can tie the valentine celebration to a more noble purpose than this. So, happy Valentine celebration to the sick and needy and that might just mean….all of us.