Rev. Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai

The Catholic Church has an incredibly rich and illustrious history that spans antiquity, modernity, and the present. The Church is regarded as a global emblem of salvation, justice, harmony, truth, and peace. The Roman pontiff oversees the Catholic Church throughout the world. Every parish, station, or branch of the Catholic Church is connected to the larger body; none of them can exist alone.

This background is necessary to set our minds straight about the avalanche of ministries popping up by the day, especially within the Catholic Church in Nigeria. The Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has strongly expressed measures to curtail the excesses of these ministries, yet their efforts seem helpless as Christ’s faithful continue to crave otherwise.

In the past few years, a popular man of God, called Evangelist Ebuka Obi, founder of the Zion Prayer Movement Outreach, Ago Okota Lagos, has been trending in the Nigerian religious or Catholic space, especially with his charismatic gifts of deliverance, prophecy, prayers, and others. It is believed that he was anointed by a well-known Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Callistus Ejike Mbaka. However, like other men of God in Nigeria, Ebuka Obi is free to establish his ministry, but his confession of the Catholic faith, the use of Catholic devotionals, and the ministerial presence of Catholic priests and religious sisters beg the question.

Many people are confused at this point, especially with his claims in the recent interview on Vanguard News on January 9, 2024. “Who is Evang Ebuka Obi?” “Is the Zion Prayer Movement Outreach a Catholic commission?” “Are Catholics, Zionites?” “Are Zionites Catholics?” “Is this movement an extension of Catholic adoration centers?” These and many others are the matters arising. By way of scope and limitation, it is important to state that this article is not an attempt to establish the authenticity of the prophet or evangelist but seeks to differentiate his movement from Catholicism.

It is as clear as day that he is not a priest, and by implication, he cannot celebrate the Holy Mass, nor can he perform any of the sacraments. However, one other factor that has attracted many Catholics to this center is his deployment of priests and religious. This tactic further builds credibility with the Catholic identity, but evidence has shown that some of these priests who are paraded in this arena for various reasons are not in good standing with the authority of the Church. They are priests and sisters with despicable character or from questionable congregations.

Evangelist Ebuka Obi is also regarded as a prophet because of his prophecies. Many Catholics and solution seekers flock his programs largely because of his prophecies. It is believed that these prophecies are either based on apparent success or on fear and control. Thus, they are centered on one’s death, accident, affliction, sorrow, generational curse, maternal and perternal crises, business failures, successes, and favors.

In Catholic theology, a prophet is a person who speaks God’s truth. A prophet is a truthsayer, not a soothsayer. A truthsayer bears witness to the truth, come what may; he or she speaks the truth about salvation, and that truth is repentance. Thus, the hallmark of prophecy is not material prosperity but repentance and salvation.

On the other hand, a soothsayer is a person who predicts the future or practices divination. Soothsayers, like diviners and sorcerers, were considered to be pagans, and they were not to be consulted in Israel. Many people today rush to ministry grounds for the same reasons. The church is not a place to seek divination. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly addresses divination. In paragraph 2116, it states: “All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead, or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomenon of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.” Hence, the Church encourages believers to rely on prayer, trust in God’s providence, and seek guidance through legitimate means such as Scripture, sacred tradition, and the teachings of the Church.

The Catholic Church also rejects believing in superstition. Superstition is the belief that supernatural powers exist in objects. This minister, like others, uses superstition as an instrument of control. Little wonder; he sells handkerchiefs, wristbands, necklaces, oils, and the like as powerful and miraculous articles. While the Catholic Church acknowledges the use of sacramentals (medals, holy water etc) as aids to devotion, it emphasizes that their efficacy comes from the prayers of the Church and the faith of individuals, not from any magical power inherent in these objects themselves. The Catholic Church cautions against superstition and encourages a deep, authentic, and informed practice of the faith. Believers are called to place their trust in God alone and avoid practices that deviate from true spiritual understanding and devotion.

Another factor that clearly distinguishes this movement from the Catholic Church is his practice of exorcism. Exorcism is the rite of expelling evil spirits from a person, place, or object through prayers and rituals performed by a duly authorized priest. The Catholic Church has specific guidelines and procedures for conducting exorcisms. Paramount among them are authorized priests (Cf.Acts 19:13–17, Can. 1172), spiritual and sacramental preparations, and ongoing pastoral care. In addition, exorcisms are typically conducted privately and with great discretion. The identity of the person seeking the exorcism and the details of the process are kept confidential to protect their privacy. Hence, the Church discourages sensationalism and the use of exorcisms for entertainment purposes. Anything outside of these stipulations is a caricature and a mockery.

At this point, it is equally important to mention that every baptized Catholic is under a vow to preserve his or her Catholic faith. At baptism, we are asked, “Do you believe in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the Dead, and life everlasting?” To be baptized, we have to consent to this vow. If so, it follows that practicing the contrary is a violation of this vow (Cf.Eccl 5:5-7).

With the above understanding, Zion Prayer Movement Outreach cannot be said to be a Catholic commission. By implication, other commissions, ministries, and groups that have these similar features, whether they are being managed by Catholic priests or not, are intrinsically uncatholic.

Perhaps for this reason, the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, in her Monthly Bulletin/Circular August 2017/No. 059, issued a disclaimer that the Zion prayer movement is not a Catholic body. The circular also stated that “anyone who participates in the activities of this movement does so at a risk to the authenticity of his or her Catholic faith and practice.” However, this sanction proved abortive, as many Catholics within the archdiocese and across Nigeria continued to flock this ministry. Therefore, it behoves the Catholic Bishop Conference of Nigeria to issue a disclaimer to all centers, ministries, and outreach that contravene her Catholic character and identity yet gain relevance through association.

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