In 1830 the Blessed Mother appeared three times at the mother¬house of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul on the rue de Bac in Paris. She manifested Herself to the humble postulant Sister (now Saint) Catherine Labouré.
Here is how the Saint described the encounter when the Medal of the Immaculate Conception was revealed:
“Her feet rested on a white globe … I saw three rings on each of Her fingers, graduated in size, the largest one near the base of the finger, one of medium size in the middle, the smallest one at the tip set with gems of proportionate size, some larger and others smaller … the larger gems emitted greater rays and the smaller gems smaller rays that streamed upon the white globe at Her feet.
I could not express . . . what I saw, the beauty and the brilliance of the dazzling rays … An oval frame formed round the Blessed Virgin. Within it was written in letters of gold: ‘Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee’ …
At this instant the tableau seemed to turn, and I beheld the reverse of the Medal; a large M surmounted by a bar and a Cross; beneath the M were the hearts of Jesus and Mary, the one crowned with thorns, the other pierced by a sword. Twelve stars encircled the whole. Then a voice said to me; ‘Have a medal struck after this model. All those who wear it will receive great graces; they should wear it around the neck. Graces will abound for those who wear it with confidence.’”
The front of the Medal represents Mary Most Holy standing on the earth, Her foot crushing the head of the serpent, and Her hands outstretched in a gesture of motherly compassion to all who ask Her assistance. The prayer reflects Her title as the Immaculate Conception defined infallibly twenty-four years later on Dec. 8, 1854 by Venerable Pope Pius IX in his encyclical Ineffabilis Deus.
The rays of light from Her hands symbolize the graces She is eager to bestow on those who wear Her Medal and pray to Her.
Within two years, having been given the approval of the Archbishop of Paris, the first medals were made and distributed in France. Immediately blessings began to shower down on those who wore it and it quickly became known as the ‘Miraculous Medal’. In just a few years, millions were being distributed. No sacramental of the Church had made such an impact on the Church since the Rosary had routed the Albigensians and the Turks.
It works miracles literally and seems to specialize in the impossible, the conversion of the hardened sinner, and the care of the hopelessly ill. With the exception of the Holy Cross, no other Christian symbol was ever so widely multiplied, or was ever the instrument of so many marvelous results.
Graces given to those who ask for them. Our Lady said to St. Catherine, “Come to the foot of the altar … There graces will be shed upon all, great and little, who ask for them. Graces will be especially shed upon those who ask for them.”
Some of the graces that St. Catherine suggested that people should ask of God included: The grace of a cheerful disposition, the grace to recognize and accept the trials of everyday life as blessings from God; to be contented with one´s state in life; to understand and appreciate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and especially ‘to love God as much as Our Lady wants me to’.
St. Catherine Labouré, Intimate with the Mother of God
St. Catherine Labouré, who stated that she saw Mary “in flesh and bone” and had the privilege of kneeling at Her knee and resting her hands in Our Lady´s lap, a favor not granted to any other seer, was born during the ringing of the Angelus on May 2, 1806. Her earthly mother died when she was only nine years old. She was witnessed to have embraced a statue of the Mother of God and saying “Now you will be my Mother!” and fostered a lifelong desire to see Our Lady. It was the constant petition of her prayers and she was serenely confident it would be realized.
St. Vincent de Paul visited her in a dream when she was eighteen and she entered the order he had established on January 22, 1830 at the age of twenty-three. St. Catherine considered the apparitions in proper perspective, not as a personal favor to herself (though in a sense they were) but rather as a general boon to mankind. She only considered herself as “an instrument” and she made her confessor promise to keep her identity secret, a secret kept even from her fellow religious for forty years.
St. Catherine also had the gift of prophecy, and one of her prophecies yet to be realized concerns a great triumph of Our Lady: “Oh, how wonderful it will be to hear, ‘Mary is Queen of the Universe … ‘ It will be a time of peace, joy and good fortune that will last long; She will be carried as a banner and She will make a tour of the world.”
The simple and powerful heaven-sent prayer of the Miraculous Medal is usually said three times together: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee.”
Just a couple of months ago, people have been testifying to the favours received through the blessed mother. One lady (name withheld) was suffering from partial paralysis.
She had taken so many medications but to no avail. She was to pay hundreds of Thousands of Naira to undergo an operation at LUTH (Lagos University Teaching Hospital) but when I came in contact with her, I prayed for her and gave her the medal. It was a miracle!
Gradually she started recovering till got well completely without paying a dime. Another man committed an offence that warranted his expulsion from work but when he cried for God’s intervention, I gave him the medal and the prayer, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”.
After facing the panel, he was given just a month suspension instead. He was so grateful to our blessed Mother for her help. There are lots of favours like healing of fibroids and other sicknesses through the power of the medal.
It is not a magic wand but a simple gift from God through our blessed Mother. It must be received with faith. I, therefore, encourage all including non-Christians to embrace this gift from God. Give to the elderly, the sick, the unloved and the dying.
For Peter Ifechukwude Egbumokei, events of Sunday November 14, 2004 will permanently remain indelible in his mind. His day began with ease and quiet. Like every typical Sunday, ha had gone to mass early and shortly afterwards taken a 45-minut flight to Warri in Delta State, to catch up with the Adult Harvest activities at Holy Family Catholic Church, Edjeba.
Incidentally, it was his Mum’s birthday too, but he had chosen to be at the Harvest rather than celebrate with his family in Lagos. He had planned to call her up later.
All was well until he was barely 100 meters away to his home along Aka Avenue. The time was about 6:00pm. Peter was driving home when suddenly he was blocked off by two bikes, his four assailants got off the bikes and immediately opened fire on him in a commando style of operation. With the impact of the multiple shots, he lost control of his car and crashed into a wall. That move did not deter them as ther offloaded their lethal weapon on him.
Convinced he was dead, they sped off on their bikes, takingnothing. Was it an assassination attempt? Was it a case of mistaken identity? Why? Who sent them? All these questions linger till this day.
Covered in a piece of his own blood and pieces of body parts, Peter managed to crawl out of the car and onto the road in full glare of onlookers. No one was willing to help. They stood by, staring, making comments, hissing and drawing theories as to what was in play. Yet, the seemingly dying man, laid there helpless and nearly lifeless.
Peter recounted that, “After the dust had settled, vehicles were driving past and people would peer into my car, shake their head and drive away. I was still in shock so adrenal had kicked and I wasn’t feeling the pain yet. It all seemed like a joke to me, then I realized I couldn’t feel my legs or my arms, fear set in and I started to pray for strength for minimal damage, I thought they had shot me in the back.
There was smoke filling the car and I thought the car was on fire. Doing a quick mental analysis I felt it was better to get shot more times than to get burnt alive, so I started to struggle and eventually one of my arms swung around, then two fingers moved. It was my right thumb and index finger that got me out of the car.
As I stumbled out all bloodied and still bleeding expecting to be shot at that people now realized I was still alive. I collapsed to the floor (I had asked God to keep me conscious until I got to safety) and then people gathered around me. In the usual Nigerian confusion nobody knew what to do.
I kept struggling to give instructions to the chaotic sympathizers, but by this time I was frequently spitting out blood and saliva so that it didn’t choke me (some of my training kicked in) not knowing I was spitting out blood, pieces of my teeth and body tissue that the bullets had damaged in my mouth.”
Narrating further, Peter recalls, “Fortunately as I managed to crawl out of my car, my neighbour’s security man, a Housa man with whom I had a good raport sighted me and called called out in his usual manner, “Oga Yellow”. He was my saving grace. While others stood by, he sprang into action, literally bearing me in his arm like a child. Getting on a bike, they rushed me to the nearest hospital. By the time we reached the hospital, all three of us were drenched in my blood that the nurses felt we were all involved in a motor accident.”
The next few months were a very harrowing experience. “It took me from one hospital bed to another. One theatre to another, I had surgery to save my life, then surgeries to repair tha damage as I had been hit in the head, face, chest and arm. Fifty percent of my thigh tissues were my sacrifice. Closely following were my trips to the dental surgeons, first to uproot all the remaining pieces of broken teeth, and then to clean up my dentition. Finally, to fill up the void created by my jaw. The final phase of treatment saw me, flown abroad in an attempt to salvage my eyes.”
For Peter, he is grateful to his company, colleagues, friends, hospital staff family and especially to the two courageous men by whose hands God had given had given him a second chance. “Apart from the nightmares and the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I had to evolve, adapt and survive. My body was damaged but my mind was not. I have continued to grow in my career, challenge and be challenged with new and greater responsibilities. I have started doing things I didn’t know I could when I was not like this.
As a matter of fact, if you do not see me without my clothes off you wouldn’t even suspect anything. I drive in the crazy Lagos traffic, I ride a power bike, you name it. Of course I have also had to change my activity preferences but such is life. Today I manage huge projects on my personal pursuits and for my company. The event has more than anything given me new life. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t without its setbacks, even now, but that is life. I have bullets and shrapnel in different parts of my body, I have a bionic body, and I have God to thank for that.”
Peter also explained how this incident has influenced his faith and what he is doing today. “Don’t get me wrong, I still once in a blue moon wonder why God let it happen. In coming out of that episode I have made a few other costly mistakes and I keep waiting for the perfect moment to start doing something. People keep telling me that God kept me alive for a reason; and I am still asking God to let me in on that reason.
One very powerful thing I took from that evening in November 2004 is this; when the first few shots exploded in my face, I thought to myself “wow! So Mr invincible like me can get caught….. so this is how it ends….?” In that split second it could all end and everything I didn’t do, I’d never be able to do.
I don’t care what anybody thinks, God got me to that point and He got me through it that day. I have no life without Him. I must make this life count for something to glorify Him and to say thank you for giving me back to my family that fateful day. I don’t like ordinary and God is no ordinary God so from now on, I will give Him extraordinary.
A long time ago, I asked God to make me one of His special children, I guess that day was a special invitation. Hopefully future ones will not be that kind of explosive. Speaking less philosophically, what happened to me is a symptom of the cancer eating our society and in my own way, I want to help address the issue of poverty.
This is a journey of salvation, it’s my journey.”
Reverend Fr. Anthony Mario Ozele is generally seen and known as a charismatic renewal priest among many Catholic faithful within and outside the country.
Ironically, he told Nigerian Catholic Reporter that he has never been a card carrying member of the renewal.
In fact, he said he doesn’t even have a Catholic background but became one during his days in an Anglican boarding school. How did this happen? The amiable priest narrated the story of his tortuous journey to the priesthood in this interview.
Everywhere you go people talk about Fr. Ozele. Who is actually Fr. Ozele?
Thank you very much. I appreciate this privilege. I call it a privilege because the opportunity to share with every child of God is a privilege. Every child of God is gifted to serve the other. Your gifts and your talents will serve me while mine will also serve you. Thank you for this opportunity and this privilege.
I am a priest of Warri Diocese ordained in 1992. I have served 21 years plus as a priest. It has been 21 challenging but very exciting years. I am presently the parish priest of St Williams Catholic Church Irerupe, very close to Warri. I served for ten years in Nigeria before going abroad to study. I studied in the United States. During the period of my studies I was working as an associate priest in a parish.
After my studies, I taught in St Francis University for three years and returned to Nigeria towards the end of 2012 to resume ministry back home. I have always believed that my calling is for my people in Nigeria despite the opportunity that I had to continue to minister outside the country.
The western church has advanced to an extent that we also need all the priests and religious that we have to come home and build our own church together to the point where the western church is today. We would get there some day, that is my hope and belief.
What drove you into the priesthood?
I grew up under a father who was a teacher. At some point in time, my father was both a parent and my headmaster. That is one of the worst things that I consider to happen to a child. If you have a father who is equally your head master, you can get disciplined on both levels. I think that created an atmosphere of real discipline in my family especially for me being the eldest son of my parents. That level of discipline was there. The expectation was high. A lot was demanded of you academically.
We were taught to read at a very young age. We were not just taught to read school text books, we were taught to read newspapers and magazines. That instilled in me the desire and the quest to know more. It was such that classroom knowledge was not enough for me. I always had to read extra probably because my retentive abilities were not that great, I had to read twice as hard as other people to be able to remember what I must have read. That made me to become more of a library person.
One interesting aspect of my life was that growing up, my parents introduced us to the Anglican faith. I didn’t grow up as a Catholic, I didn’t grow up in a Catholic home, I was not Catholic until about my second year in the secondary school. I became a Catholic in an Anglican boarding school. I think it was just God leading me at that time. Probably he saw my heart that I was always looking for more. At that early age, I can tell you that I was already asking a lot of religious questions.
At that age in the secondary school, I had already started looking into Jehovah’s Witness. My father had a background in Jehovah’s witness. My father had literature related to the Rosicrucian Order. Reading their magazines, I realized that they had a lot of regard for the mystic saints. That led me into reading the mystics, into reading people like Theresa of Avila, John of the cross, Anthony of Egypt etc. At that age, I was already having a good knowledge of the Catholic saints even though I wasn’t a Catholic.
Each time I went to school and interacted with my Catholic friends, I was always the one telling them the story of the Catholic saints, so they kept encouraging me saying ‘ why don’t you come and worship with us. I decided to go and worship with them and I fell in love with the liturgy. The liturgy caught me because it reminded me of the way my father disciplined me.
The liturgy is my first love. It made a lot of meaning to me being a teacher’s son. The Lord speaks to me a lot during the moment of consecration. I get a lot of divine revelation, divine inspiration during consecration. But the liturgy for me is the pinnacle of everything.
What happened after you became a Catholic ?
I and my elder sister became the first Catholics in our family. I joined the Legion of Mary, visiting the poor people, hospital, caring for the sick probably because of that background from the secondary school; I became one of the leaders of the Legion of Mary in my parish. That in a way prepared me.
Every year, we went for our Legion congress and I had the opportunity of watching some of the priests who were the spiritual directors and their life styles impacted on me very strongly.
I imagined that people could just abandon everything in life and just be of service. Being drawn into the priesthood was around the concept of service. I saw the priesthood as an elevated platform for service and that was the lure. That was the hole that it had on my heart and I still see it that way; it is a call to service. It does not make me any better than anybody who is sitting on the pew.
It just gives me a higher platform to offer myself in service to the Lord who has loved me so dearly and saved me.
As a precocious child, your parents would probably be looking forward to the day you would get married. What was their reaction when you went the other way?
I am the eldest from my both parents together. My father had a daughter prior to the time he got married to my mother, so I have a half-sister who is my elder sister. She is one of the most loving ladies I have ever known. I have an elder brother from my mother. But from both of them, I am the first.
Yes you are right. Their expectations were great considering the fact that I was privileged to have attended one of the best schools around at that time. It was a school that had the background of excellent professionals. You grew up in an environment that when they came for the founder’s day celebration, you met core professionals, people who really were inspirational. So we were all aspiring to great things in life but at some point in life, God just got hold of me and as at the time I went to the seminary, I had admissions waiting in the university.
I was admitted to study Mass Communication in Porthacourt. I had the opportunity of going to study accounting in Kaduna Poly but I was eagerly and prayerfully waiting for an admission at Ife to study Law. That was my dream at that time. It was more or less my grandfather ‘s dream that I had bought into. He wanted me to be a lawyer when he saw the injustices of the oil corporations that were ravaging our lands.
They were forcefully taking people’s lands and destroying their crops. My grandfather always dreamt of somebody who would stand up for the poor people in the community and he kept sharing that vision with me and I bought into it.
My determination was to be a lawyer who would fight the course of the poor and those who were oppressed. Then the Lord stepped in and turned me the other way to be more of a spiritual advocate than a legal advocate.
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A Catholic Priest serving in Assumption Parish, Oke Owa in Ijebu Ode Diocese was shortly after his ordination and subsequent posting to the parish given a ‘baptism of fire’ by gun men.
He was abducted in his parish shortly after he returned from an outstation where he went to celebrate evening prayer and adoration.
The Jenfa, ordained and assistant cleric, was a Vincentian until on Reverend parish the his priest 30th abduction, Fr. priest, July Dayo in his was 2010 the place of posting. Coincidentally, the day of his abduction was his 30th day in the parish.
Recounting his ordeal, the ﬁre brand priest recalled that after his abductors took him away, they bluntly told him that they were asked to kill him by one of his church members.
The alleged church member according to his abductors claimed that the priest offended him and needed to be taught a bitter lesson. From the church premises, he said that the assailants, ﬁve in number, drove him in his personal car towards the Redemption Camp on Lagos – Ibadan expressway where they said they were instructed to kill him.
He narrated that while he was waiting for them to lead him to his ‘ Golgotha ’ they naively gave him ﬁve minutes opportunity to say his last prayer. Few minutes after saying the prayer, he said the whole drama took a different dimension.
He narrated his experience thus: “It happened when I was coming back from one of the Mass centres in Ikoto after the catechetical week programme. I was just arriving at my parish whenﬁve men swooped on me with guns and told me to drop whatever I was carrying and forced me into my car, a black Sienna marked EQ149APP.
While they drove me away two of them sat with me in the middle seat and held their guns very close to my head. Along the line, I asked them what their mission was and they responded that they were asked to come and kill me.
They said somebody in the church told them that I was ﬁghting him and as a result sent them to come and kill me. I told them that I am not a ﬁghter but a preacher but that did not make any meaning to them. They insisted that they had been paid to kill me. I was given ﬁve minutes to pray and after that I told them that I was ready.
They drove on and said that the person who sent them instructed them not kill me in Ijebu Ode but should take me to Lagos express road and kill me there. with this at the back of their minds, they drove towards the Lagos Expressway and as we were about reaching the Redemption Camp, they started quarreling among themselves, two said they must not kill me, three said they must kill me.
It was such a serious argument that the driver, Nigerian Catholic Reporter had to park. After so much argument, they concluded that I should pay some money. I replied that as a priest, I didn’t have any money on me. They insisted that I must give them some money. I then told them that if I had any money at all, it was in my house. I told them that I should have between N45, 000 and N90, 000. They accepted and drove back to Ijebu Ode from the express road to the parish. When we got there they packed all that I had in the house.
As a newly ordained priest, I received so many wonderful gifts from people that came for my ordination both within and outside the country. They took all these gifts and all the money they found in the house and said they were not done with me yet. At that very moment, I resigned to fate. I had the Mass box in the car and pleaded with them to drop it but they would not listen. One of them eventually went and brought it. I was glad that they released it because they didn’t know what was there but I knew.”
“After all that I thought that they would leave me but they did not. They pushed me back into the car and said they were driving off. As they were driving on, I asked them what else they wanted since I had given them my ATM card, international passport, laptop, passbook, car and every valuable in the house except from my books and I. They said Father, we would leave you now but the man would know that we did not kill you and would come after you later. If you report us to the police, we shall come back for you. It was at this point that they left me somewhere in Ijebu Ode. It was few minutes to 11pm then. They took me around 6: 40 pm. I immediately, I trekked to a police station and reported the incidence.”
Continuing he said, “When I got back to the parish, the Bishop and other people were around looking out for me. There were two women that were around when it happened. They were the ones that went to inform the parishioners that I had been kidnapped. The Bishop was grateful to God that I was not killed. He encour- aged me to keep on doing my job and be thankful to the Lord who spared my life. “I was ordained on the 30th of July 2010 in Anambra State for the Vincentians in Nigeria . Practically, the Vincentian is an order of St Vincent De Paul.
I was posted to Ijebu Ode because I am a Yoruba person. The Bishop demanded for somebody who speaks the language in other to be able to communicate with the people and also help in grass root evangelism.”
Despite the attack on his person, Fr. Jenfa said he was never tempted to leave the environment. He explained that it was the police that advised him to leave when it seemed his assailants were still on his trail.
“I did leave the town after the attack. I was to have baptism the following day so I couldn’t have left my job and run away. Besides, I had other commitments with members of my parish which I could not abandon because of the attack. I eventually left the town on police advice. They resorted to that when I went to report to them that a man I didn’t know his identity was trailing me. After the gunmen went with my car, I went and borrowed one from a parishioner in order to meet up with my commitments. At a certain round about where I was trying to turn, one man from an Inﬁnity Jeep was behind me and started raining abuses on me.
When I drove past the place I thought he would follow me but he didn’t. The following day, I was on that same road again and saw the man coming behind me again. My altar boy noticed him and said, “Father was that not the man of yesterday?” Unfortunately, my wheel cover fell and I asked my altar boy to bring it.
As he was trying to go down, the man double crossed us, I quickly called the boy to enter immediately. I speedily used reverse to zoom off the place and went straight to police station to report. They advised me to leave the town because from their own calculation, my life is no longer safe. They said if I survived the ﬁrst and the second that I may not survive the third. I have not heard anything from them since then. I am not sure that they have been able to come up with anything.”
Asked if there was any rancour between him and any member of his congregation before the incident and if he suspected anybody as the brain behind it, he replied.
“I am being mindful of what they claimed but I suspect that it was my preaching on the Sunday preced- ing the incident that probably led to that. The preaching was centred on condemning the worship of false gods and occultism by those who claim to be Christians. My homily centred extensively on that and urged the people of God to have a change of heart.
“It is very dif ﬁcult to suspect anybody because I was still very new in the parish. The very day the incident happened was my 30th day in the place. It was dif ﬁcult to start pointing ﬁngers at the people since I was too new to know them. I have not heard from the police since the incident.
“The environment where the parish is located is more of a suburb to Ijebu Ode. The people are indigents. The only thing I was made to understand was that most of the bad boys thrown out of Lagos had gone down to Ijebu Ode to settle down and continued to perpetrate their evil acts.”
Rather than dampen his morale he said that the incident has “strengthened me the more.”
“It has prepared me for harder challenges that would come because we are now in a world where we cannot afford to joke with the message of the gospel. The gospel must be proclaimed and we must always exhort our people for them to be genuinely converted. I think this is one thing that will give joy to any priest and I am very happy I am into it. I am not in any way discouraged. I hope to continue to do more and make our people to know that darkness and light have nothing in common.
“My family was very grateful to God for sparing my life as a young priest. They have been very supportive and encouraging me not to lose focus. Humanly speaking some of them have been discouraged and have told me that the place was not safe for me and that I should tell my people to post me elsewhere. But I have tried to let them know that as a priest you have given up all to God. Wherever the authority decides that I should go I would go. I have made that very clear to them. Since the Lord has called us, he gives us the grace to forge ahead.
To his abductors he said: “My only message is for them to turn their lives to God the merciful father who cares for all. They have the opportunity now to amend their ways and come back to Jesus before it was too late. What was going on in my mind when I was in their hands? I was very calm as much as I know. I was thanking God for sharing in the life of the gospel. I looked at myself and said waoh! I would be the ﬁrst Vincentian martyr in Nigeria.”