Rev. sister Josephine olagunju, SHCJ is a nun with a difference. Like Mother Anjelica of EWTN who had a vision of assuring the gospel is brought to every home via technology, she is very passionate about the media, in this interview, she takes us back to her humble beginning, her journey to the convent and living each day for Christ.
Some 63 years ago, I was born into the family of Prince Michael Bolarinwa Olagunju of Offa Kwara State and Princess Maria Arinola Olagunju (nee Oladejo of the royal families of Ire and Oyo). My early days were spent in Mushin, Lagos, until I left for Jos after my Ordinary National Diploma studies.
What was it like growing up?
Growing up in Mushin was an interesting experience that I recall with gratitude to God. I had a loving father who was always with us, regaling us with moonlight stories that usually make a child’s eyes open wide sometimes with wonder, other times with awe or fear. We lived on Aiyetoro Road, seven minutes walk from Igbobi area of Ikorodu Road, in a typical Yoruba compound with face-me-I-face-you buildings. Interestingly enough we were the only Christian and Catholic with six Muslim families. Those were the days when religion was sacred to the holder, with no discrimination whatsoever. I guess we shared a common destiny of limited resources and depended on one another for support – the solidarity of the poor!
Outstanding for me were the joys of going to school, playing table tennis with other kids (mainly boys, I guess because I have four brothers – my sister Christy was still small and my brother Peter was yet to be added to the number of siblings). I also remember vividly the neighbourhood search for scarce water where those with wells made pretty pennies from selling to those without. But of course I cannot forget my going to daily masses, the distance to which was the duration of five decades of the rosary. The Church in those days was the centre of our lives, more so for me as I joined the Legion of Mary, going for Legion duties such as Saturday polishing of holy vessels before graduating to house-to-house visitations. The rest of the time was occupied with evening lessons to learn typing and shorthand and/or to read books I procured from my school library (I enjoyed being the school librarian and winning Shakespeare’s Complete Works for my relatively good English!
Primary school days were spent at St. Michael’s, Mushin which I left after Pry 5 in my hurry to go to Secondary school at Pope Pius XII, Ilasamaja, also in Mushin though some 40 minutes walk from home. I went on to Yaba College of Technology for my Ordinary National Diploma in Secretarial Studies. The next stage was after I became a Reverend Sister. I was sent to the Pontifical Institute Regina Mundi – affiliated to the Gregorian University for philosophical and theological studies. I finished up in Nigeria at the University of Ilorin where I did a Ph.D. in Peace and Development Studies.
formative years as a catholic
I was born and grew up in a Catholic family. Baptized at age two weeks, first holy communion followed at about age seven and confirmation at about age 12. (You can see that dates were not as important as the memory of these joyful experiences!) Every sacrament was preceded by thorough preparations. The only missing preparation was to tell me I should show my confirmation name to the officiating Archbishop, not my baptismal name. The result was to be confirmed with Josephine instead of Cecilia! Important was going to Mass regularly, being among the Children of Mary and throwing shredded leaves before the blessed sacrament during processions, hanging above all around the Church. We just drank in the faith, albeit in Latin, the sense of mystery and holiness carrying us along on the wings of awe. I further had the opportunity to deepen my faith when I offered voluntary typing services to the St. Michael’s (now Regina Mundi) parish. So I not only typed the bulletins; I was blessed by having a priest who got me to write the reflection for some of the Sundays! That of course deepened my faith enormously as I got engaged earlier on to search for the deeper meaning behind the biblical words. I am grateful to the then Fr. Alapini for his faith in me. His and Msgr. Aniagwu’s ordinations strengthened my faith further. Of course, these ecclesial occasions were the cream over that sense of belonging with a godmother whose brother was late Msgr. Julius Oni! Of course my maternal grandparents (founding pillars of Christ the King Church, Odo-Ona, Ibadan) were exemplary models of Catholic faith; I drank deeply from my faith-rich parents and grandmother.
Reasons for becoming a Nun
Becoming a nun came upon me like a thief in the night because I was not prepared when I was first asked by Fr. Martin Costello, SMA what I really wanted to do with my life! The answer just popped out of my mouth like “Of course, a Sister!” it was only with hindsight that I recalled Sr. Miriam Patrick, IHM who was my class teacher for a year, (with Sr. Coronata Ilechukwu, IHM as principal). The seed was sown as love. At that time, Sr. Miriam Patrick used the library for office. As school librarian I regularly went in there. My discretion at not disturbing her did not stop her from sharing her meal with me. Though the Sisters left a year later because of the outbreak of the civil war, I believe her love and gentleness struck a deep cord that the Lord used to tie my heart to Himself. Even when there were family concerns nudging at me, the Lord still won. Of course He allowed me to fulfill what I had considered my obligation – to ensure my brothers whom I had hoped might make it to the priesthood were financially covered at the Minor Seminary, Oke-Are, Ibadan. Of course they had their own minds!
I was blessed with parents who gave no opposition whatever. In the words of my mother, “All of my (seven) children are free to become priests and sisters.” So it was support all the way. I am grateful to them even though it meant I was not there to assist them financially.
Initial Challenges at the Convent
I was first led to join an international congregation – the Daughters of St. Paul; unfortunately they had to leave Nigeria at a time when foreigners didn’t find it easy getting visas. Two and a half years later, I finally joined the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, another international congregation founded in England by an American, Venerable Cornelia Connelly. So the first challenge was to believe I had a vocation when the Pauline Sisters left Nigeria in 1973. As the youngest of the aspirants, I was shaken by the experience. However God stepped in at the appropriate time to confirm my vocation. My second challenge was adjusting to a multi-cultural living. From happily eating my food on my lap to sitting at table with others, to having to strain my ears to understand what the American and European Sisters were saying (I didn’t ask them if I made sense as I spoke English with my Yoruba accent!) I think my greatest challenge was to do with my free spirit – how be obedient and have to take permission for whatever I am doing or carry out the dictates of another! Of course, grace comes with doing. I was further helped by the Yoruba respect for the elders; it saved me in spite of myself!
Feelings on profession day
I don’t recall any particular feelings. I only knew the Lord wanted me to belong all to Him. Having been privileged to do a thirty-day retreat as a novice, I was just ready to “cast the net into the deep” (Lk. 5:4) with my providential God.
Profession and Postings
My apostolic experiences varied. After my First Profession in September 1977, I was posted to Bauchi and allowed by my superiors to work in the newly started Bauchi Broadcasting Station. Though I worked as secretary to the Controller, I also had the opportunities to pursue my first love – pastoral communication – by preparing and presenting radio and television programmes.
My next work was in Jos upon my return from studies in 1977 when I was sent to the Centre for Renewal where I had been a pioneer student of the pilot one-year formation programme. I worked there first as the Deputy Director under the Director Sr. Berne Okure, SHCJ. I was at the same time assistant Chaplain at the University of Jos, as well as working with the UNDA-OCIC Jos branch, especially for the production of the magazine The Communicator. I became the substantive Director of the Centre in 1987, a post I held for five years before I was sent on mission to N’Djamena, Chad. There I found myself running a radio and television production Centre for the Archdiocese of N’Djamena and then working as the National Coordinator of Pastoral Communication for the Episcopal Conference of Bishops in Chad. The next ministry there was the launch of a Media Education project, to provide a Catholic alternative to the violence in video club films.
From Chad, I found myself elected to the Society Leadership Team of my congregation – the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. We were popularly known as Holy Child Sisters. I carried out this work for six years before returning to Nigeria after a sabbatical year, and to the Centre for Renewal as a team member for another four years before embarking on my doctoral programme in the Unversity of Ilorin.
I returned to Lagos (which I had left in 1973), to work on the Province Leadership Team of my congregation, and at the same time work at Lumen Christi Television Network.
In every ministry, I found that the saying of our foundress rang true, “God alone”.
A difficult question! I can only respond that each ministry I was involved in these past 40 years have had their joys and challenges. In every situation I come out with a sense of gratitude for God’s abiding presence. I can only remember each place and many people with fondness, joy and good memories of the support I enjoyed. Of course there were situations of power tussle where individuals might feel more capable than myself! There were occasions of unfairness towards me. Happily, I am blessed with the gift of seeing beyond the individual misdemeanors to the good they have shared with me. This awareness continues to dissipate the challenging moments which though not denied, I gladly accept as pathways to divine grace. God does know how to turn unpleasant experiences to His divine glory because I do hold on tightly to His grace.
Perhaps I can cite my times on the Society Leadership Team (1998-2004), and on the African Province Leadership Team (2014-2017) as special assignments as no one sets out to become a leader in her congregation. We were called upon by election and by appointment to be available for internal service. These were times we on the team were taken from among so many qualified others to serve the congregation in these leadership positions. They provided the opportunity to get to know my fellow Sisters in religion and to serve them in an administrative way. It was indeed a privilege and a joy for which I am grateful. As a body, we also can have other responsibilities such as being responsible to promote vocations to our congregation, or working as a formator preparing future members. I hadn’t these privileges except as a contact person for some young women in the eighties some of whom joined us in Jos and are Sisters today. For that occasion, I was glad I had some training in formation.
Love for the Media
The media have always been the love of my life, spurred on by my desire to proclaim Christ, especially through radio broadcasting. As I am first and foremost a religious, I cannot determine what I do at any time; my religious leaders mission me to wherever they think I can be of service. I hasten to say that I began with the parish bulletin. Then my sojourn with the Pauline Sisters exposed me further to the print medium. However, the major inspiration came after my religious formation as a Holy Child Sister: a thirty-day long retreat galvanised the desire to proclaim Christ, even if I did nothing else. My superiors saw this and fulfilled my desire first by sending me to England where I studied at the Catholic Media Centre, then to Rome to do philosophical and theological studies. However, changes in leadership as well as the need to have someone assisting at the Centre for Renewal, Jos led to a return there in 1986. Of course you can bet that I seized every opportunity to produce radio and television programmes for the local stations. It was also the time I introduced Communication Workshop at the Centre; it was meant for those still in religious formation both in the male and female religious orders. This workshop continues till today, as well as the training in Spiritual Direction and retreat giving that was launched in late 1987. These two workshops continue to this day, empowering people in the art of communication and of spiritual growth. Upon completion of my mission on the general leadership, I returned to the same Centre to continue in these and other ministries, always working with other Sisters as a team. I fear I cannot talk about one without talking about the other; both are the two prongs of my religious underpinning expressed in Mark 3:13-14: sitting at the feet of Jesus and being sent by Him.
…To Marks 5th Anniversary Devoid of Much Fun Fare
On Friday 4th August, 2017, the Archbishop of Lagos, His Grace Most Rev. Dr. Alfred Adewale Martins will mark the 5th anniversary of his installation as the Archbishop of Metropolitan See of Lagos.
As is tandem with the prelate’s nature, the event would be devoid of much fun-fare. There would be a 12 noon Thanksgiving Mass at the Holy Cross Cathedral Lagos, followed by a reception/media briefing at the hall.
Below is an exclusive Interview with the Archbishop in the wake of his Anniversary.
A Retrospective Look at the Past
Well, where has time gone? Five years have flown by so quickly. We have been working from day-to-day and the Lord has been guiding us for all of these days and the people of God have been doing their beat as well. So the question I ask myself is where has time gone? So much have kept us busy, so much have kept us going. Lots have happened in these past five years that you begin to wonder. But the grace of God has kept us going.
Vision for the Archdiocese
When I was appointed Archbishop of Lagos, I least expected it. But then, having been appointed, you have to begin to think what needed to be done. First of all, I had to recognise the fact that the Church is one. The Church has expectations of whoever is Bishop in whatever jurisdiction. Therefore, whatever the Bishop is going to do is what has been set as a goal by the Church. I came in with this mindset.
When I came in here, I had to take time to understand a little bit more about the circumstance of Lagos Archdiocese, having been out of it for a number of years. Therefore, I spent a good part of the first year trying to understand the circumstances, and the people and the issues in the Archdiocese. All that helped me to recognize the fact that first of all evangelisation is a major need in Lagos Archdiocese, as in other dioceses as well.
That was why on the day of my installation I was making it quite clear that to ensure that every single individual in Lagos Archdiocese feels path of the life of the Archdiocese and feels engaged with the Archdiocese would be the first priority in my mind so that everyone would feel a sense of belonging and participate as much as possible in the life of the Archdiocese with the hope that when that happens, evangelization as an activity would grow even much further. There are about three million Catholics in the Lagos state of about twenty million people. So that tells us that evangelization is a major task that we must embark upon. But then of course when the individuals are thoroughly evangelized they become instruments of doing that.
Education is also another area that I thought is necessary to look into, building upon the milestone that has already been reached. And so that was why we set up a department of education in the Archdiocese, with the hope that the department would grow into a facility that would be there to really go into the schools that we have and set the standards and ensure that the standards are kept going. So, these were two main areas that were very strong in my mind.
Creation of New Deaneries and Grass Root Evangelism
We had to create more deaneries in other that the mission can be expanded. Establishment and expansion of the kingdom of God is the major mission of the Church. The kingdom has already been established and needed to be expanded. And therefore, creating new deaneries was supposed to be a tool by which we can reach to the smallest details and get to all the nooks and crannies of the Archdiocese. It is a tool for evangelization because when you create smaller units, everyone focuses on that to make the work of evangelization spring up better.
Performances of the New Deaneries
It can always be better. But of course a lot has happened within this period of time in those areas. In the first instance, within the past five years we have been able to create about forty quasi parishes and parishes which show that indeed the creation of deaneries had helped in identifying places where we needed to do the expansion work of the kingdom. Within these deaneries as well, we have seen that new stations are springing up from within these parishes and quasi parishes that we have created. So, it certainly has been a fruitful venture.
The creation of deaneries is a function of needs. At this point in time, the needs have not yet been identified as it were. But of course there is an administrative process that you go through in creating deaneries. All of these are part of what will assist us when deaneries need to be created.
Considerations for Creating New Parishes
First of all, the parish is for the people, for their spiritual grow, for ease of worship, for easy access to places of worship. Therefore creating of parishes is based upon the fact that we have adequate number of people in a defined area that will have need for the parish. Also, we look at the ability of the people within that areas to fulfil the obligations of a parish in terms of taking care of the priest and making their own contributions; financial and in other areas into the life of the Archdiocese.
And priests, being people who have sacrificed themselves for the life of the people would not mind even a little inconvenience here and there so that the people would be sacrificed; n the same manner the missionaries came the other day and did the work even though there were no physical structures available as at the time that they came.
Planting of Churches Along Street Corners
As I said, it is not a matter of street or are, but the people of God. When you have people within a given area that are big enough to be a unit, then we try to plant a station in that area. Well, of course it is a good thing if we are able to have a Church in every street. But we, within our own structure, have to a look at some of these other variables in other to decide
Impact of Too Many Churches in the Society
In some sense you find out that some of these church structures are built not necessarily for the spiritual growth of the people but for other purposes. Some are built essentially to make people part with their hard earned money for the benefit of whosoever is in charge. Obviously that has affected the spirituality and the spiritual life of the people who go into those places to support the pastor so that the pastor would support them. However, if people are not leaving according to the demands and the dictates of Christ, it is because, in my own estimation, the people themselves need to imbibe more the teachings of Christ because the teachings are available; they are there; they are perennial.
We teach it, we preach it all the time. But people also allow other factors such as the situation in the society, such as their own peculiar shortfalls to stop them from meeting and living according to the demands of Christ. I am not sure it would be right to say the message of Christ has not been effective. Rather, it is the people themselves that will need to key more into what Christ teaches.
Spiritual Growth in the Archdiocese
In the first instance, spirituality is a function of the relationship between God and the person concerned. Therefore, it is something that is so personal and private that it would be difficult for anyone out there to weigh it either positively or negatively.
However, there are some indices with which we can make some judgement as to whether the spiritual life is growing or not: In the first instance, the participation of the people in the life of the church; the associations that are doing great works within the Church; the people who are supporting one another within their different parishes. These are indices that the church is growing spiritually. And the fact that we have many more parishes being created is also an index that the spiritual lives of the parishes are growing. People are participating more in the sacraments than ever before. In the past five years, for instance I have celebrated the sacrament of confirmation for multiples of thousands of people in the Archdiocese.
That for me is also an indication of the fact that people’s spiritual life is improving. People are constantly receiving the sacrament. And I think we can also judge from the fact that as it were, there is more engagement of people with their different parishes using the finance councils, the parish councils, the laity council, the human resources management; all of these give us the indication that the spiritual lives of the people are getting better.
However, there are still rooms for improvement because really if we still have so much corruption in our time, we still have so much in-fighting for positions, for power; these show that there are still some more steps that we need to take in our spiritual growth. So one can only encourage our people to ensure that they recognise, or that we all recognise that what we believe is not just of our mind, but should be in our hearts and influence our way of living.
Pass Mark for CMO, CWO and CYON
Well, the CMO has improved in its ability to rally round the men within the Archdiocese. Quite a number of steps have been taken by the executives of the CMO over the years in other to improve on the participation of the CMO as an association within the Church. One would say that certainly they were not the same that they were five years ago. The same thing applies with the CWO. There is a lot more effort to ensure that there are processes established for doing things such as elections; such as financial reporting; such as being accountable. We are seeing more and more of these. So, for me, there are visible signs of growth in these organizations. The CYON, in my own estimation is also growing; they are getting better. Just as other pious associations like the sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Legion of Mary and Charismatics; we can see lots of growth. But of course there are always rooms for improvement because within the associations you still find people who act in ways that are difficult to understand – people who are constantly fighting one another for reasons that are less than noble. So there are rooms for improvement. In all, I give them a pass mark.
Ensuring Harmony Between Church Organizations and Societies
I have always believed, and indeed it is the position of the Church in Nigeria that the CWO and CMO are umbrella organizations. I think we need to get to a point at which the CWO would operate not as a society but as a council in such a way that it is able to manage each individual organization of women within the archdiocese and bring her under her wings. There has to be a process of management, a structure that, in my own estimation is more robust than it is at present. The present system is capable of giving rise to unhealthy rivalry. I hope that with the years, with time and understanding and discussions, that the structure that is necessary to ensure that there is no rivalry can truly be established. I know that there are some problems with regards to relationships but I also know that they are being managed, at least in our archdiocese. My position is that it can be better if the structures are re-aligned.
On Activities of Illegal Private Prayer Ministries
The ministry under the storm is led by one Anozie who had to be sanctioned. The fact is that when the ministry was brought to my notice, I invited him to have a discussion so that I can understand what exactly he is doing. He came, but he didn’t come alone; he came with a set of people. And that discussion showed me clearly that the man was not in total control of operations in the ministry. There were these other men whom I may call stakeholders. I believe they have distorted the use of the gift that the man had. I gave him time to see whether he would get things right in line with the way the church operates. Rather than doing that, the influences were such that he was going further and further away and laying claim that he is still a Catholic and that the bishop is in agreement with his actions. It was necessary to help him realize that he hadn’t fulfilled what we asked of him. He was supposed to come back and let us have a discussion as to what he was doing. But that didn’t happen. Every time we were supposed to meet he would be far away somewhere and couldn’t come.
This was getting too much out of hand and so it was necessary to act. But the Church is a mother. It doesn’t cast away a child. It does everything possible to put the child back on the right path. And so that was why we gave him a period of six months to see whether there would be a change in attitude. But since that was not forthcoming we had to impose a sanction on him in order that he may come back. Now let me say we didn’t just impose a sanction for sake of stopping the ministry.
It is so that we can express our displeasure at the way that ministry and similar ministries out there are operating. You will know a ministry that is genuine by the fact that it submits itself to the authority of the church. You know it by the fact of the humility of the person that are concerned; you know it by the obedience of the persons that are concerned. But if the persons that are concerned are giving signs that are contrary to these values, then you have a feeling that something is going wrong somewhere.
Then apart from that, if you also see some practices that go on in the ministry, then you know that something is wrong. I had video clip of some of the things that are happening there and it wasn’t Catholic – in the treatment of the Blessed Sacrament for instance.
The Mother Church Harmonizes all Spiritual Gifts
I think whatever anyone is looking for is right here in our church. You have the different associations and structures within the church that takes care of the different sensibilities. If you are an exuberant worshipper, if you are a worshipper full of passion and zeal and you want to demonstrate, the charismatic is there for you; if you are a worshipper that is more restraint, you have associations like the Legion of Mary where you can get the spiritual benefits that you want. And therefore, private ministries such as that often time have other purposes apart from spiritually leading the people.
That is why we cannot accept that anybody can create a private ministry. Either a priest or a lay person, how can you call it a private ministry? It is the ministry of Christ in the church of Christ. It is a misnomer for anybody to even say he is creating a private ministry, particularly if the persons are acting outside of the purview of the Church either in terms of their worship practices or in terms of their relationship not being in obedient to the church. Many of these private ministries are operating in a surreptitious manner, in a clandestine way not known to any authority.
Let them come out and tell us what they are doing and we can guide them accordingly. We accept that there are gifts. God gives people gifts. But these gifts are meant to be used suggest to the direction of the apostles who have responsibility to lead and guide the flock. So I would say all those like Bro Anozie who has the inclination, let them come so that we can give them proper guidance.
On Proliferation of Ultra-Modern Structures in the Archdiocese
Thanks be to God that our people are working well with their priests in order to put up those structures. These structures are not cheap, they do not come easy. It is out of generosity and the feeling of the need to give God the best in terms of the place of worship that these things are going on. I must congratulate our people because in these past five years we have dome about eighteen dedications of churches and it is amazing the type of sacrifices our people make to ensure that the presence of the church is visible in some of these places.
Guidelines for Erection of Church Structures in the Archdiocese
There are some obvious guidelines that determine the erection of structures in the Archdiocese. Firstly, the parish priest, the parish finance council and the parish pastoral council have to discuss the necessity of the project at their own local level. When they have been able to come to an agreement that this is necessary and they have found out how they are going to get it done, they will inform the Archbishop of their desire and he will discuss it with members of his land and building commission who are experts in various areas of building.
They give their opinion and suggestions over it which helps the Archbishop to decide if the project is worthwhile where it is requested for. He might request for some slight modifications. And even when the building starts, there are stages that must be certified by the land and building commission as well as the local building committee such that there is a process that ensures that buildings don’t just spring up but are built according to standards. `
On Church Lands Currently Under Dispute
That there are disputes with regards to lands owed by the church is not peculiar to us. There are land disputes everywhere. Where I came from before here`, there were land disputes arising from different kinds of reasons. What is important is to be able to ensure that in the purchase of a land you follow the due process and ensure that you do due diligence. If these are done, even if people come and try to snatch the land from you, you have all the necessary documents to retain and establish ownership. We have a good stock list of the properties of the Archdiocese.
First Monday of every month, the land and building commission meets; and we meet for sometime up to four hours in order to look at all the lands and buildings and all those things that have to do with physical properties of the Archdiocese. That has kept on even with the change of leadership. I think it is also good to say thank you to the Governor of the State and to his officials for their disposition towards the Archdiocese of Lagos. Obviously Government and the Church are partners in taking care of the welfare of our people. This kind of relationship is a vital one and we are glad that we can keep such relationship going.
Quest for a Pastoral Centre in the Archdiocese
Let me say that the property that we have at Victoria Island, that is the Lagos Resource centre, is in many ways a pastoral centre also by the fact that is where people go to and are given guidance with regards to knowledge about the faith. There is also a bit of a place for accommodation there. That is a pastoral centre too in its own way even though it does not have that name. But it is fulfilling that role. But of course we can get a bigger one that is located in a more central place. The laity council of the Archdiocese have been given the responsibility of building for the church in Lagos a pastoral centre which will serve the church as well as serve the laity council.
There is a piece of land we gave for that purpose around Ketu axis, although work has not started yet. We hope that this will develop and provide the type of facility that we will need for a bigger number of persons as well as more office spaces, conference centre and all of that. So we hope that will take off soon to fulfil that need. However, we would not just build a centre because it is the fad. We have to first identify the need and the usefulness of it.
Effort to Build a Retirement Home for Aged Priests
Indeed we already have a name for the place. It is going to be called St John Mary Vianney Home in honour of this priest who is a model for all priests. It is going to be a place where elderly òr sick priests can find comfort and good care. It is also going to be a place where priests can go for private recollections or retreats. We also plan that it will be a place that will be so well spread out that the elderly ones can have opportunity to walk around and get good atmosphere.
We hope that there will be a Sisters Convent where female religious who would take care of the elderly priests would be built and may be a parish would develop around there. The plan is still ongoing and it would be located on the road to Augustine University, Epe. In fact the architectural design has been made. The project is on-going. We have this men and women who are very zealous for the church behind it. I am hoping that we can get started soon. It is better to plan well and begin properly. We hope that the process of construction will begin before the end of this year.
On the Monastery at Lekki
The purpose of a monastery is for nuns to have their lives as nuns lived out. There are other facilities within it such as a place for retreat. More and more people are discovering that place and are using it. There is a bookshop there where people can go and buy books that are good for spiritual development. And indeed I can tell you that there is an agricultural project `that the monastery is starting to support themselves and providing a place for education, empowering people in the area of agriculture. So, the monastery is fulfilling its purpose.
Operations of St Raphael the Divine Mercy Specialist Hospital, Ijede
At the time that the hospital started, there were some issues on ground regarding some structures that needed to be reconfigured to be available and useful for the hospital. That created a bit of a problem in the beginning. Indeed there were lots of snags which we have identified and would be gradually taken care of. So the physical structures were not put into hundred per cent use because of those structural problems. At that point in time too there were issues regarding it operating as a hospital. It was conceived to be a specialist hospital. But it was discovered that you grow into being a specialist hospital; you just don’t begin as one. So when that was discovered, we had to begin from the basis by providing regular medical services, regular gynaecological services, laboratory services, optical services, etc.
I constituted a board to run the hospital and this board under the leadership of Dr. Henrietta Williams have been doing a wonderful work there really, teaming up with the management. And when we began initially, they couldn’t pay salaries from the monies that they were earning. We had to support them with payment of salaries. Today, with the board and management and staff working together very well they can now pay their salaries without asking from anybody. What they need now is money for growth and development. Now, they ask for loans for development projects and pay back as at when due. So they are a credible institution as it were now.
In fact we did have to get the services of a consultant group to help us identify our strength and weaknesses in other that the hospital can fulfil its purpose and I think that is beginning to yield fruit. Bus as to it eventually becoming a cancer research centre and treatment, that is on-going too because there are groups that we have entered into discussion with in order to collaborate. The initial collaboration with St Raphael Hospital, Italy did not work out well. There is a group in America, there is another one in India and we are working out how to collaborate. I hope that we can be able to reach there by the grace of God. Our eventual aim is that it would become a teaching hospital for our Augustine University in future.
On Augustine University
Augustine University is a project that we are all very proud of as an Archdiocese. It was a project that was conceived by my predecessor. Every one accepted the idea and put all effort into it such that it is now functional. The other side of it is that it has taken so much of our resources in other that it may continue to function. In fact I can tell you that it is taking so much that it is stopping us from doing many other things that we wish to do in the Archdiocese. Nevertheless, we are happy with the University because of the value that is on it. Augustine university has a board of trustee; it has a governing council as well as the management committee or the senate of the university. All of these are internal structures that are meant to ensure that the university is run on a sound footing and in all areas of what a university should be.
Apart from these, we still have the fund raising committee that still has the responsibility of generating funds. They have taken up the challenge and are doing as much as is necessary. One can only use this medium again to reach out to the faithful and indeed people of goodwill to extend their hands of generosity and assist the university financially.
On the Ahiara Crisis
The Holy Father has been given the responsibility by God for the administration and enforcement of discipline in the Church. And he has spoken. If he has spoken, it is the Vicar of Christ that has spoken. And therefore everyone must listen to Christ who is speaking through his vicar. We hope that the priests in Ahiara diocese will listen to the voice of the Holy Father and follow through on what he expects of them. He has said that the sanction is not the purpose of his statement. It is only for those who not submit themselves to the direction that are subject to such sanctions.
So, we plead with the priests of Ahiara to lead the people in the direction of Christ, in the direction of the church, in the direction that leads to salvation. We were hearing recently that many have written to the Holy Father, but some are still going underground to incite the lay faithful. Obviously this is not acceptable; it is wrong; it is undermining the power and authority of the Holy Father and no priest should be found in that strain of thought; in that way of behaviour. So we plead to them, for the sake of everything that is bigger than ourselves as human beings and as priests to do the right thing.
Plans for Lagos Archdiocese
The Archdiocese of Lagos is a gift of God to us who have a part in it as in living in it and working in it. Therefore, we have to look at how to ensure that the Archdiocese continues to grow. As it were, we have a structure now by which Episcopal vicars and Deans have been given authority and power to perform certain administrative functions in the Archdiocese. And that is going on as well as it can. And as the days go by we also need to consider how to manage ourselves much better. There have been several suggestions on what to do. Some say create a new diocese, some say get auxiliaries and all of that. Those thoughts are on-going. And after five years, obviously we want to work more on that direction, to see what the Holy Father will do for us in that direction.”
Monsignori here present;
Priests and religious;
Distinguished members of the Knights and Ladies of Mulumba;
Representatives of Church Organizations and Societies ;
Distinguished Gentlemen of the Press;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with immense gratitude to God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth that I welcome you all to this Media briefing/reception marking my 58th birthday anniversary. I thank you all for finding time to celebrate with me on this auspicious occasion, even though it falls on a week-day when you could have been going about other businesses. In particular, I wish to express my appreciation of generosity and sacrifices being made by the Knights and Ladies of St. Mulumba who since the past five years have taken it upon themselves to organize this reception in my honour. My prayer is that the good Lord will reward you all abundantly.
Thanks to God
On a day like this, I cannot but thank the Almighty Father, the giver of life for granting me the grace and privilege to serve in his vineyard. The Bible in Psalm 90: 12 admonishes us to …’learn how to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.’ Indeed every day of our lives is important and should be lived to the glory of God by impacting positively on as many lives as possible. Though times are hard and some days may be frustrating, we must always learn to live with faith, placing all our burdens and hopes on our Lord Jesus Christ, counting our blessings, naming them one-by-one. These, I have committed myself to doing, such that whatever may come my way, each day, I know that my life is secured in His hands.
Year of Fatima
This year is very remarkable for us Catholics as it marks the Centenary celebration of the apparition at Fatima. May 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin appeared to three peasant children, given them message of hope for humanity, the need for increased praying of the rosary, for penance and making personal sacrifices for the salvation of soul and conversion of Russia. A hundred years later, the Holy Father Pope Francis visited Fatima and canonized Francisco and his sister Jacinta Marto, two of the three children. Few days ago, Saturday 27, 2017, the Archdiocese of Lagos joined the rest of the world to officially inaugurate the Marian Year Centenary Celebration with a long procession from the National Stadium, Lagos to the Marian Shrine located inside St. Agnes Catholic Church, Maryland. During the Mass, we also dedicated the Archdiocese and our families to the Immaculate Heart of Mary as requested by Mary at Fatima. This we did because we believe strongly in the ability of our Blessed Mother to intercede for us before his son Jesus Christ to grant us our hearts’ desires. Just like Mary instructed the marriage celebrants at Canaan to ‘Do Whatsoever, he tells you,’ she equally points us daily to the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who is more than able to wipe away our tears and restore our hopes for a bright future. My hope and prayer is that more Nigerians will daily come under the saving grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
State of the Nation
Exactly one year ago, I had the privilege of exchanging ideas with the different media organizations present in this very place on the state of affairs in our country, Nigeria. Since then, a lot has happened and one would be tempted to wonder if most of the issues that were examined then have been addressed amicably. The answer obviously is no. From economic recession, growing unemployment, corruption, poverty, erratic power and poor social infrastructures; we are still battling with same old problems because our political class have refused to do the needful. Rather, they have been applying the same old and ineffective drugs for cancerous growths that require surgery. Is it therefore not a surprise that in recent times there have been increase in the reported cases of people now resorting to suicide as a means of escaping from their economic problem? Thus it not bother us each day when we read of families being torn apart as a result of avoidable domestic violence that have at times lead to the loss of lives? Are our consciences not pricked when we read about women selling their new born babies, claiming poverty as an alibi?
Let me state again that suicide is not only condemnable, but alien to our culture. It is a selfish act that throws others into confusion and an affront against God who gave us life which otherwise we could not have had and which in fact, belongs to Him.
As individuals and as a people we should not fold our hands and watch otherwise healthy people lose their minds and waste their lives largely due to their inability to meet up with their economic-related needs. We all have a responsibility at this time of our national lives to show more concern for the welfare of our neighbours by sharing hope through little acts of charity. Hope lost is like cancer that eats the heart away. When hope is lost then there is no more meaning to life. Similarly, government has a responsibility also, as a matter of urgency, to address some of the issues that have led us to this state of dog eats dog, when the absurd seem to have become the convention. They must begin to make our people have faith and hope in this country once again, believing that tomorrow would be better, starting from today.
No Sentimental Attachment
Before I go further with this address, permit me to state here that the observations and comments I wish to make are purely born out of my objective assessment and the desire to nudge our leadership out of their comfort zone and make them work harder than they have been doing before so as to make this country a better place. They are not made to cast aspersions on anyone or group or praise anyone to high heavens. At this period in our national life, we must learn to tell ourselves the gospel truth and learn from each other if we must get things working. As citizens, we all have a responsibility to make meaningful inputs and proffer solutions on how things can be better. It does not matter what political party, tribe or religion one is sympathetic to, at the end of it all, what counts is the survival, growth and development of this our great nation.
Two Years Score-Card
Some may want to say it is still quite early to access this present administration. However, I believe that twenty four months is good enough time for a government with a four-year tenure to unveil a clear-cut road map of its activities. I sympathise with this government in respect of the enormous expectations required of it from Nigerians. But then, one would be readily reminded that they offered themselves to serve and correct the rots in the system hence they were voted in. Few days ago, May 29, we celebrated another democracy day. In his address to the nation, the Acting President, Mr.YomiOsinbajo rolled out the score-cards of this administration, saying they have done well in several areas. This may be true in some respect, but you will agree with me that we not yet at Uhuru. The truth is that mere rhetoric do not pay bills. With two years more to go, Nigerians would wish to see some of the results of government efforts these past twenty four months
The Economy Is Key
The economy is key to the survival of any nation, Nigeria inclusive. For too long we have tallied at the threshold of recession and must move on. The economy must be given prime attention. In the course of my work each day, it is worrisome to note that most of those who approach me lament about the burden they are bearing, brought about by the economic recession. They are worried about how to pay their bills and provide for their families. Most times they come to seek the help of the Church in taking care of those needs. We do the best that we can but the needs are overwhelming compared to the resource available. Government has in recent times stated in several forums that the economy is gradually moving out of recession. While this is gladsome to hear, the reality is that the impacts are yet to be felt at the grass root. Cost of living is still very expensive; workers are being retrenched daily and the power sector is at a comatose. The effects of all these on the poor masses of this country can better be imagined. Yes we know effort is being done to address all these, but Nigerians are tired of promises; they want to see results. In time past there have been promises of palliatives being put in place to bring immediate relief to the masses; but we are yet to feel the impact. Or is this another case of policy summersault?
During the recent Democracy Day address to the nation, the Acting President YomiOsinbajo did give a vivid account of government’s effort to move the nation forward. In particular, he pinpointed security as one of the key areas that the present administration has performed credibly well. Wee, let me use this opportunity to congratulate them for the victories recorded against the Boko Haram and for securing the release of about 125 of the kidnapped Chibok girls. We urge them not to rest on their oars until the remaining girls are brought home safely. However, I wish to remind this administration that there are still cases of insecurity that needs urgent attention such as the incessant armed herdsmen attacks across villages in the country which has led to the loss of several lives and properties worth millions of naira destroyed. We have said it severally that the marauding herdsmen are as dangerous, if not worse off than the Boko Haram. The excuses being bandied that they are not Nigerians is not acceptable. All efforts must be made to stem the tide of their activities and bring them to book. The issue of incessant attacks against residence of Southern Kaduna should also receive the topmost attention of the government of Kaduna State in particular so that it does not take a dimension of religion and ethnic bias. Every Nigerian deserves to live in peace in their ancestral lands and wherever they choose to live in the country.
I wish to commend the law enforcements agencies for their efforts at combating crimes across the country particularly kidnapping and armed robbery. It is unfortunate that some youths are using the economy hardship as excuses to go into crimes. I appeal to them to please have a re-think because crime never pays on the long run. I also want to appeal to government to please provide an enabling environment for our young and restless youths to be meaningfully engaged so that they can contribute their boisterous energy and ideas for the growth of our country.
The Biafran Agitation
Not long ago, a book titled, ‘All of us are Biafrans’ written by a Nigerian was brought to my attention. In that book the author tried to explain the rationale for the Biafrian agitation. But what strikes me most was the title which pre-supposes that Biafra has come to symbolize the agitation by all citizens for a better country. This makes some sense in a way. In this instance, the agitation by the people of the South east, I believe, should not be viewed some something negative, but a wake-up call for our government to look into the cause of their agitations and make amends where necessary. For instance, it is no secret that some sections of the country has been crying of marginalization in federal appointments and provision of infrastructures. As the saying goes, there is no smoke without fire. We commend the judiciary for the eventful release of NnamdiKanu the leader of the indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB. I urge government not to foreclose dialoguing with them and see how some of their genuine grievances can be addressed amicably. We have since appreciated the fact that a big and united Nigeria will do us a world of good than one torn into bits by violence and acrimony. While we are talking about the release of Kanu, we must also ask the Federal Government to respect court orders concerning the release of others whom the court have granted bail but are still being held in detention, eg El ZakyZaky. This is about the sanctity of court judgements and independence of the judiciary than the individual’s concerned.
Why Restructuring is Still Necessary
This time last year, I did join my voice to those calling for the restructuring of this country. Judging from the fact that restructuring was one of the major promises made by the AOC government during its campaign, one wonders why nothing concrete has been done in this direction. Let me re-iterate here that I still believe that a major restructuring of this country to ensure true federalism as both the name and constitution of our country connote, is the right way to go. No meaningful progress can be expected as long as the current structure in which the constituent parts of the federation still subsist as if they were appendages of the federal government. Most of the states in the present configuration of the nation were a creation of military fiat and depend on Abuja for monthly allocations. Notwithstanding the huge financial support they receive from the federal government, many of them have not paid workers’ for months. How much longer will we continue to force this unwilling donkey to drink water from the river? In addition, we have said it times without number that our current democratic experience is very expensive and somewhat lopsided. I want to urge the Federal Government to therefore do the needful before the expiration of its present tenure. They should look beyond political expediency and the interest of few individuals who would prefer that things remain the way it is. Posterity beckons.
Good wishes for Mr President
We want to use this medium to pray God to perfect the healing of our President, MuhammoduBuhari who is still away for medical attention in London. We have no doubt that he means well for this country. Our pray is that he would return home in the soonest possible time to complete the work he has started in repositioning the country. Meanwhile, we appreciate the good effort of the Acting President, Prof. YomiOsinbajo, who is presently steering the ship of nation. Our prayer is that the good Lord will continue to grant him the requisite wisdom, knowledge and understanding to move the country away from the present recession and on to the part of progress
For my fellow Nigerians, I appeal to you not to despair. We have come a long way these past few years and I believe that we are nearer the end of the tunnel. Let us however not fail to hold our leaders accountable for every of their actions and policies so that they can always be on their toes to do the right thing. We all have a great stake in the future of this country and must play our part in our respectable endeavors. We must say no for military intervention. This democracy must work. Yes, the challenges facing Nigeria are enormous. However, we believe that with purposeful leadership, fear of God coupled with the right political will, most of these challenges can be overcome in the shortest possible time. God bless our country, Nigeria. Thank you all for listening.
+Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins
1st June, 2017
For nine years, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Ogbodo, C.S.Sp worked as parish priest of St. Francis, Oregun, a former out-station of St. Leo’s Ikeja. In this chat with Tony Agbugba, he speaks about his priestly calling, the joy and challenges of building a befitting place of worship for the Most High. Excerpts
In the Beginning
I was born on September 11, 1970 at Enugu to late Moses and Philomena Ogbodo. I have six other siblings of which I am the fourth child and second son. I attended St. John primary school, Attakwu, Enugu and from there to Sacred Heart Juniour Seminary, Nsude, also in Enugu.
Motivation for priesthood
I was inspired by the life styles of the priests who worked at our place such as FrOdoh, and many others whose name I have forgotten. They were all spiritans and were based in Attakwu. I made up my mind to join them in 1992. I had my postulate at Holy Ghost Postulate, Akabo, Owerri for one year; Novitiate at Awommama, Owerri and from there to Spiritan School of Philosophy, Isienu, Nsukka for four years and then moved on study Theology for another four years. The school is affiliated to a university in U.S.A. I bagged B.A Religion and Masters in Theology. To be a spiritan priest, you must spend a minimum of eleven years.
Coming to St Francis, Oregun
When I arrived at St. Francis Oregun in 2009, we were then under St. Leo’s, Ikeja. At that time, there was just a temporal worship centre referred to as goat shed. There was no fence and part of the land was swampy. The little church we were using then was not secured and it was very easy for people to encroach into the land. So, the first thing I thought of was how to secure the land by fencing it. When you come to a place, you need to study the place and ensure proper security.
A New Church Building Is Conceived
The need for a new church became inevitable as time went on. People were also no longer comfortable worshipping in the make-shift structure. The first challenge we encountered was getting the building approval from the Ministry in Alausa. There were so many discrepancies. At a time, the man who was helping us get the necessary approval urged us to go ahead with the building only for another team to come and demand that we pay penalties. It was quite frustrating but we thanked God that we came out tops.
Foundation Laying Ceremony
The foundation laying ceremony for the new church was done by Anthony Cardinal Okogie in March 2010. Raising funds for the project was not very easy, especially as my parishioners are mostly workers and the middle class. Ordinarily, looking at the situation on ground, one could easily have chickened out. But God was by our side. I had to reach out to lots of people, friends and associates outside the church. Many at times we were disappointed but we did not give up. Since we lacked much land, we wanted a church that would contain a large place of worship, a hall and offices and that is what we have been able to achieve. The building is sitting on large pillars. We wanted a building that will not be over-loaded and one that can stand the aesthetics of the time. The Church was eventually completed in February 2017 and was dedicated by Archbishop Martins on 19th February, 2017.
Cost of Construction
Without sounding immodest, I can confidently say that over N300 million was expended on the building. We wanted something that will stand the test of time. We used non-load bearing clay blocks for most times. One goes for a sum of N500. However, the owner of the company that supplied the clays, being a Catholic, also donated part of the bricks to the Church. Since the bricks are not plastered, it makes the building lighter. The giant Aluminium/window glasses that adorned the church cost about N25million. However, it was donated to us by a friend, Mr. Paul Erinne who is an Anglican for free. So many non Catholics also assisted in one way or the other. I also want to appreciate the support of my associate priest, Rev. Fr. Lambert Nlemadim. In all, it is a thing of joy to see that the parish now has a befitting place of worship. May God be praised for ever more.
As A Provincial Superior
While I was the Parish Priest of St. Francis, I was also serving as the Provincial Superiour of the Spiritans. The Superior is like the Bishop of the Congregation. The only thing is that the Superior cannot ordain. In my own case, I was in charge of the South West which comprised of Delta, Benin and South West states. We have about eight members of our congregation currently serving in Lagos Archdiocese. Many at times, I was on the road travelling for one meeting or the other. These had its toe on me. But I thank God that I was able to effectively handle the assignment.
Secret of Success
The first secret is God. When you depend on God, you will not be disappointed. The second is commitment. This comes with much perseverance such that no matter the challenges you may encounter, you will not give up. The third is accountability. When you are honest and accountable for the little you receive, more will be given unto you. As a matter of policy, I try not to carry trouble into my room. I allow God to take full charge, knowing that with Him all shall be well. I also do lots of sports. I like to take long walks round the neighbourhood so as to be in good shape.
I should be leaving St. Francis by the end of March for two years study leave. Another priest from my congregation, Fr. Austin Nwodo is expected to take over from me.http://catholicherald.com.ng
Msgr. Anthony Erinle, Parish Priest of St. Charles Catholic Church, Olodi and Dean, Apapa region, has every reason to celebrate his 30th priestly ordination. Aside enjoying a fulfilling priesthood, the amiable Chaplain of the Men of Order and Discipline, recently had a successful major surgery. He recently spoke to the Editor, Tony Agbugba about his journey thus far. Excerpts.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Msgr Anthony Erinle. I am a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. I hail from Mogoda in Epe Local Government Area of Lagos State. My parents are both late. My father is George AdelajaErinle while my mum is Christiana Erinle. We are seven siblings. The first is Thomas Erinle, a businessman; a sister, Margaret who is a retired civil servant; myself; Femi Erinle, a technician; GbengaErinle, a civil servant and Ayo.
How was your early childhood like?
Well, my father was a business man and he travelled a lot. In fact, I was born in Calabar and grew up there. We moved back to Lagos around 1970. We were a united family; not really affluent in the sense of the world. I would say we were a close-knit family. While in Lagos, I was exposed to things of God. My senior brother used to say at the mission house at Ibowon being run by Irish priests and I used to visit him often. I became an altar server at the age of ten while I was just in primary 4. I used to admire Fr. Olufemi Burke who was then at Shomolu. He used to take us to Badagry beach. I was also very close to Msgr. Omisesan of blessed memory. I recall that I was also very close to Msgrs Bello, Ogunshakin and the late Fr. Vincent Pratt all of who served at SS. Peter and Paul Somolu at one time or the other.
What influenced your decision to become a priest?
Well, like I said, I grew up under the influence of several priests who I use to admire. It happened that I attended SS. Peter and Paul Primary School Somolu which was located within the church compound. I used to visit the mission house often with Fr. Anthony Fadairo. I believe all these influenced my decision to opt for the priesthood. But, specifically, it is MsgrOmisesan who had the most compelling influence on my becoming a priest.
Life at the minor seminary
I attended St. Theresa’s Minor Seminary Oke-Are around 1974. In the beginning, everything seemed strange and a bit difficult. But, I quickly adjusted myself to my new environment. I was also privileged to be surrounded by great contemporaries who helped to make my stay quite rewarding. Some of them included Bishop Felix Ajakaiye of Ekiti diocese, Fr. Christopher Agboola, late Fr. Patrick Adegbite, Fr. Francis Adegun, Fr. Sylvester Onosanya and Msgr Christopher Ajala, including Archbishop Martins.
Did you experience any set-back while at the Minor Seminary?
Yes, I experienced a little set-back. It happened that after our final exams, my results were not released, even though I was desirous of proceeding to the Major Seminary. However, MsgrOmisesan came to my rescue by calling on John Cardinal Onaiyekan who was the Rector at the Major Seminary. He appealed to him to allow me enter the Major Seminary while my results were still pending. The proviso was that I must produce the result within a period of six months to one year. That God it was released within six months.
Share with us your experience at the Major Seminary
It was very interesting. Many of my friends at St Theresa also proceeded to the Major at Bodijo, thus making my stay there quite eventful an rewarding. At the seminary, you are required to just be yourself, no pretence. I was good at the game of table tennis. In fact I represented my school at the All Seminary Games and won a trophy. I tried as much as possible to conform to the rules. And the fact that many of us were saddled with positions of responsibility, made it imperative that we were always in the seminary environment as at when due.
How stressful was your studies?
Well, I was able to pass all my courses with above average mark. As a student of philosophy, for instance, you are required to read very wide, especially as there was nothing like lap top. You may find yourself reading over 2000 books to enable you have a full grasp of your study. Remember that you are not just reading to pass exams, but to have the requisite knowledge that would aid you excel in your vocations as a priest. I bagged a Diploma in Religious Studies and a Bachelor in Theology from Urban University, Rome.
You were ordained in 1986
Yes. I and Fr. Joseph Nwanua were ordained at Marian shrine, Maryland on November 29, 1986.
You have served in many parishes and stations. Kindly take us through some of them?
After my ordination, I was posted to St. Paul’s Catholic Church, EbuteMetta; SS Mulumba and David, Lawanson; SS Peter and Paul, Abeokuta; St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Gbaja. After here, I gained admission to Catholic Institute of West Africa, CIWA, Rivers State, where I studied Pastoral Theology between 1989 to 1991. On completion of my studies, I was posted to St. Michael’s Ajilete, Abeokuta were I spent three years. I went back to SS. Peter and Paul, Itesi to serve as Parish Priest. From there I was moved to St. Brigid’s, IjeshaTedo; back to SS Mulumba& David and finally to St. Charles, Olodi in 2005.
Of all the places you’ve worked in, which would you say has been most eventful?
I would say SS. Mulumba and David, Lawanson. I was privileged to kick-start the construction of the new church. It was not easy raising the required funds and so we have to carry out the demolition and construction works stage-by-stage. But, in all, it was a rewarding experience, just like other places I have worked in.
Thirty years as a priest, how has the journey been so far?
I will say it has been very interesting. I give all the glory to God. It is not by power or might. There have been times of abundance and also challenging periods. But in all of these, God has been faithful.
Can you be specific on some of the challenges?
When you relate with humans on a large scale, there are bound to be issues. There are people that always want to have their ways; they always want their will to be done and when you object, they may not take it kindly. For instance, when a person wants to be the one in charge of executing a project, and you say no, he is bound to feel bad. There was a time I was on leave and some of my parishioners went to Archbishop Okogie and said, ‘Your Grace, Fr. Erinle is away and there are so many matters awaiting his attention in the parish.’ The Archbishop said to them, ‘I am aware your parish priest is on holiday. You go back and wait for him until he returns.’
My philosophy has always been that anywhere and anytime, the work of God must go on. Anywhere I am posted to work in, I tell myself I am best suited for that posting hence I must put in my best. I also always remind myself that some of the people we meet in the course of our work are necessary evil; they help the work to go on.
You have been at St. Charles, Olodi since 2005. What are some of the major things you have done?
I have been able to build the spirituality of the people and making them realize they are part and parcel of the Archdiocese. Before I came here, the parish was under Irish priests. I took over from the late Rev Fr. John Burke as Dean. The people were used to receiving and not giving. But now, that mentality has changed. We are constructing a befitting social centre which is in near stage of completion. The various parishes have been able to come together as one. We now hold what is known as Apapa Day Deanery celebration on yearly basis which is party a spiritual and social event. The lay faithful are very united. The priests, who are mostly from religious congregations, are also very hardworking and cooperative. We have a very functional vocational centre here in the parish since the past 35 years. We hope to move the operational base to a permanent site at the social centre once it is completed.
You are a monsignor. What are some of the things being associated with that title?
As a monsignor, you are a senior priest. A monsignor is the papal chamberlain, or one who works in the Pope’s room. It is a mark of honour and goes with some privileges. The bishop summits the names of those he finds suitable for that position, but the decision to approve or decline is with the pope. The dressing of a monsignor is quite distinctive, almost like that of the bishop. He dresses in violet cassock with sache and a cap to match. Now, I learnt that the new pope has mandated that only priests that have served for 40 years or above can be eligible for that position.
Let us come down to some issues affecting the country. Do you subscribe to the idea of the church regulating churches?
I will not say yes or no. The reason why Pentecostal churches were included in the suspended FRC code was because of the way they conducted themselves. As you know, the Catholic Church is not registered with the CAC. Now, when someone goes to the CAC and registers a church, like businesses are registered, they are thus allowing themselves to be subjected to the laws of the state like paying taxes. Many of them have become business-oriented. It is unfortunate.
How about the state of the economy
No one is happy with what is happening now in the country. It is obvious that we do not have a clear direction as to where the country is going to or how this recession will be addressed. I will only call on every to pray so that God will intervene and enable our leaders to understand the plights of the people and the wisdom to tackle the prevailing situation.
Tell us the shape your 30th ordination celebration will take
On Thursday 26th January, there shall be a reception for priests and religious while that of the lay faithful will come up on Saturday 28th January. There will also be a fund raising to aid the completion of the social centre in the parish. But above this, I want to specially thank God for successfully undergoing cervical spine surgery.
TheCatholic Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, His Grace, and Most Reverend Adewale Martins has charged the Buhari/Osibanjo-led government to make good its promise to adequately rehabilitate the 21 secured Chibok school girls.
He spoke recently at the Holy Family Catholic Church where he declared open, the 38th National Convention of the Ladies of Saint Mulumba (LSM). Daily Sun cornered him to let out his feelings on some current happenings in the country.
Was the Catholic Church looking in the direction of the pockets of violence now consuming the globe in declaring 2016 as a Year of Mercy?
Well, in the first instance, it is an initiative of the Holy Father that we should spend this whole year reflecting on the theme of mercy. First of all, to appropriate the mercy of God that is available to us. To arouse in us, the desire not only to receive the mercy, but, also to be dispensers of mercy to other people, such that the world is so much in need of forgiveness of one another, of tolerating one another. So that this year, there will be an opportunity for us to put into practice and to reflect on the theme of mercy.
Speaking in terms of tolerance and with regards to the level of violence that has characterized the world lately, what’s your advice on how to achieve global peace?
Well, part of the matter is that God is one. God loves all people because we’re all made in His image and likeness. And because we’re made in His image and likeness, we all derive from Him, our being and all that we are. Of course, unfortunately, I don’t know if to say unfortunately, people stand and worship God in different ways. But, nevertheless, this ought not to create any trouble, such that we begin to kill ourselves and begin to create undue tension all over the world.
God that we worship knows how to relate with us as in the different versions as we find ourselves. Therefore, there is no need for us to fight in the name of God.
God is able to take care of His own honour and integrity. Let nobody claim to be protecting the integrity of God. And therefore, use that as an excuse for killing other people, for causing stress and distress to other people. God simply does not need any human being to defend Him.
Twenty-one Chibok girls have been released, many more are still in Sambisa and other forest, and how soon are you expecting the rest of the girls. And do you have a word on government’s pledge to rehabilitate the freed girls?
In the first instance, it is even completely inhuman to hold any person against his or her will. Apart from being inhuman, it is even against the international Law, or even the Laws of different nations to hold anybody against his or her will.
To now hold them in the name of religion as a bargaining plea, as a bargaining chip, or to hold them in custody for any kind of cause at all is certainly against the Will of God. It’s against natural right, it’s against human right. And so, one can only appeal that those who are holding those girls should recognize the fact that they are committing not only sin against God, but also, crime against humanity.
And they need to let the rest of the girls go without any sort of conditions attached to it. Because they have been plucked out from their school at such a tender age and put through that kind of a trauma for nearly two years now, if not more. And certainly, it’s almost destroying their future. But, of course, our government has been making effort over the years and thank God the efforts are beginning to bear fruit now –first of all, in the sense that the territorial activities that Boko Haram was pursuing are mostly contained now. One can only ask that the government should continue to use stick and carrot approach in order to get the other girls released.
And of course, the ones that have been released, we need to ensure that we take good care of them. I heard the Vice President making a pledge on behalf of government that they will ensure that they’re taken care of, in terms of psychological rehabilitation and in terms of preparing them for the future. I hope that that promise will not evaporate with the present euphoria that is surrounding this release. I hope that government will actually put in place, procedure by which those girls can be followed up and something can truly be done for them in order to rehabilitate them and help them to overcome the trauma that they have gone through at this moment.
And talking in terms of mercy, government has shown mercy to most disgruntled people who are agitating for one thing or the other in the various regions by granting amnesty. What’s your advice to this category of persons against criminality?
To talk about mercy and amnesty is good. But, we know that justice and mercy, they’re two attributes of God that go together. So, government should look at the aspect of justice also as well as aspect of mercy in dealing with matter. Of course, giving amnesty is a good thing. It has its own values. But, at the same time, it should be done in such a way that it doesn’t create a sense of license for others who want to get into this kind of business of creating problems for the whole nation.
And so, between mercies, there should be consideration of justice and truth. And truth also being part of the considerations in this whole matter. However, this is not to condemn the process of amnesty. It has its values. But, conditions and factors need to be put in place.
A look at the swing of the corruption pendulum to judges, what will be the attendant perception on Nigeria’s already battered image in the international eye?
The church does not condemn anybody; the role of the church is to identify problems that are there in the country. And there is no doubt that corruption is one of the problems of the country. It doesn’t engage in the whole process of accusation, rather addresses issues as we see it arise in the country. And of course, in the process of addressing issue, any one that is involved is also included.
So, whether it is within the church, it is within the military or the judges or anybody, everyone is supposed to look beyond material gain and do that which is right.
And of course, we know that corruption is not only about material gains alone. But also, attitudes –attitude to your work, attitude to that which is right. If one does not do his work, but rather prefers to spend the time doing other things, that’s an aspect of corruption. So, we can only tell ourselves as a nation, telling one another that anything that does not do the country proud, anything that does not bear testimony to the faith that we profess, all of these are obviously, not acceptable to God and certainly not good for the good of mankind.
What insights do you wish to give to government on addressing challenges in some areas that catch your attention, which affect Nigerians negatively?
When I read the gospel of Luke 12: 54-59, my mind went to the fact that in many parts of the world today, when people notice that it is going to rain, their hearts jump into their mouths. Their hearts jump into their mouths for various kinds of reasons. Because of the kinds of difficulties that come as a result of rain.
In Lagos here, many houses get flooded with water whenever it rains. I don’t know whether it happens in any other part of the country. And thanks to God it is ordinary flood sometimes that does not take lives.
In some places, when the rain is coming, they’re afraid because it becomes hurricane Andrew and hurricane Matthew and hurricane -all kinds of name. That is the kind of trouble, the kind of things that happen when we hear about rain, or the wether says about this, that or the next one.
In the places where people are wise, they take time not only to watch the signs and to watch the weather forecast, they also ensure that they build drainage, so that when the water comes, it will not flood their houses. The places where people are wise, they ensure that they do not block the drains with all the refuse from their houses, with all the pure water sachets and all the pure water bottles.
By Jet Stanley Madu, Daily Sun