Situated in the West of Africa, Nigeria is a vast land with a tropical climate. It is rich in natural resources like natural gas and oil. This has placed it among the six largest exporters in the world. It is also among the countries with the most inhabitants with some 170 million people, half of which are under the age of fifteen.
It contains an extraordinary variety of ethinic groups and cultures: 250 spoken languages. Its people are profound and joyful with the joy of life. Good listeners, they have a distinct interior life and a faith that is deep and alive. More than 60% of the population lives in poverty on less than a dollar a day. Unemployment is quite high. The average life expectancy, which is presently placed at 48 years, is expected to drop due to AIDS.
Widespread corruption has paralyzed development of the State and of the common good. The large variety of ethnic groups is a major challenge that is often considered a major threat. With the rapid growth of the population, the struggle for survival has become more and more acute. And yet these people are strikingly able to carry on, never giving up, accepting the pain without ever losing hope in a better future while seeking new and creative strategies in the present.
The natural religosity that characterizes the people of this continent is sometimes exploited for political or religious interests. Extremist thinking and terrorist groups that are moved by socio-economic, historical and political motivations convey a falsified image of conflicts between Christians and Muslims. In the North the population is 50%Muslim and 45% Christian.
Twenty five years ago, at the urging of Cardinall Arinze, the Focolare Movement arrived in Nigeria and began communities in several regions. Today it has 5, 490 members across a network of 28 local communities spread throughout the country. These communities distinguish themselves by their strong commitment to witnessing to ethical, spiritual and human values. In fact, taking advantage of the deep spiritual roots of the Nigerians, they stands by their sides so that the faith might everywhere come to be translated into real life: at school, at work, in the marketplace. Their commitment has a positive impact on the social development and health.
The social landscape of this land of many ethnic groups, social levels and different religions is that of universal brotherhood through the practice of dialogue, witnessing to the possibility of fraternal relationships, but especially encouraging and supporting this people as they become bridge builders. No few times have they discovered a variety of riches in their diversity, with positive implications for the public life, creating a civic conscience and public opinion.
In the centre of the country, for example, where there are particulary violent clashes between Muslims and Christians, it is quite striking to hear their stories of “being put on the spot” by universal brotherhood as they reach the point of risking their lives to save the lives of members of the other religion.
Desiring to form a culture of fraternity, a centre of formation and witness is being begun in the village of Igbariam. This has been joined by other social projects: a kindergarten, a primary school, a small clinic and workshops for teenagers. These are all carried out in collaboration with the local population in the village that is actively involved.