Can a group of Catholic women save 186 million Nigerians from the horrors of Planned Parenthood’s abortion mills and the heartache caused by same-sex marriage – especially when it’s not their primary mission?
According to Nwanneka Cecelia Okolo, National President of Catholic Women Organisation Nigeria (British spelling!), CWON recently managed to do just that!
“Last Monday, Feb. 19, there was supposed to be a hearing in the Nigerian Senate on the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill,” Okolo said during a recent visit to EWTN to film an episode of “The Church Universal” with two of her colleagues. “The bill was all about Planned Parenthood trying to see if they could push abortion and same-sex marriage. They tried before and failed, but they keep trying.”
As CWON’s National President, Okolo had the ability to ask the Presidents of the 54 dioceses and one vicariate that make up CWON to submit petitions, position papers, and memorandums to the Senate. The women were also asked to flood the Senate, inside and out, on the day of the hearing.
“On Friday, Feb. 16, the message came to us that the Senate had postponed the hearing indefinitely!” Okolo said. “Why? About 95 percent of the position papers were against the bill! The Senate also said they didn’t want women filling the whole place – and not just Catholic women! We get others to move with us!”
Okolo is proud of this accomplishment. But unlike a secular group that might form a lobby to protect its interests, Okolo says that CWON’s successes – which include economic empowerment of women and children – are an outgrowth of one thing: its members’ religious formation in the Catholic Church.
“We encourage Catholic mothers to embrace the life of Christ; to bring their children up in the true Christian manner, knowing what is right and wrong, and with the doctrines of Christ and the sacraments.”
Okolo says this spiritual formation takes place in monthly meetings in a parish or diocese, each of which is served by a chaplain adviser and a sister adviser. Meetings begin at 4 p.m. with the rosary. This is followed by the Gospel of the day and commentary on that Gospel. Someone then delivers a talk on an assigned topic, which might involve the Church’s social doctrines, encyclicals, or an apostolate. This is followed by a discussion of one of the sacraments, where reference is always made to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Leaders also recommend good books and encyclicals for members to read on their own.
CWON is a member of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations, an international group that encompasses affiliates in almost 100 countries. Their mission: “To evangelize and transform society” by following in the footsteps of Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Good Counsel. The 54 dioceses and one vicariate in Nigeria that make up CWON are organized into nine ecclesial provinces. There is a hierarchy that is part of each province. But what is most striking about it is that each province has a vicar in charge of evangelization; that is, a priest who actually teaches the women how to evangelize!
“When we want to train evangelizers for each diocese, we call the vicar,” Okolo said. “He talks about when you evangelize, and how you address people. Before you even start talking, your life needs to reflect what you’re trying to say! Pope Paul VI says that modern man prefers witnesses to teachers. The vicar hammers on the fact that you are supposed to live what you preach and then [takes you through the evangelization process] step by step.
“Pray first, share the word, don’t joke around. He advises us not to focus on ourselves. It’s good if you give examples of others more than yourself. Ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Christ. We are encouraged to read the Bible. The vicar teaches us how to defend the faith.”
To empower women and children, CWON provides opportunities for them to learn a simple trade such as sewing, dressmaking, knitting, housekeeping, and computer. “We even have one lady mechanic,’ Okolo said proudly. Okolo herself asks the women she advises to think beyond cultural stereotypes. For instance, when making up their wills, Okolo suggests women consider including their daughters as well as their sons.
While CWON is obviously interested in serving its members holistically, Okolo says, at the end of the day, spiritual formation is what makes everything else possible. “You can’t give what you don’t have. We train our members to be true Christians. If you have a spiritual person, everything else is easier.”
Amen, dear sister in Christ!
Note: If you would like to help CWON in its mission, which includes distribution of free bibles to its members, please go to www.cwonigeria.org. “The Church Universal” episode with CWON will air in the Fall of 2018 on EWTN. Find us at www.ewtn.com/everywhere.