Sunday, February 28, 2010

Africa: Arrival at the Diocese of Nnewi

After two days in the Capitol Abuja we moved on to Nnewi. It was Bishop Hilary Okeke of the Diocese of Nnewi who invited me to come to Africa and to experience the life of the Church in Nigeria. There had been State elections on the previous Sunday and he was not certain as to the outcome or the reaction in Anambra State. So that was the reason I stayed in Abuja until Tuesday. Apparently if a group is not satisfied with the outcome of an election they can be quite forceful in manifesting their displeasure. This was not the case with this election and all was calm in Nnewi when we arrived on Tuesday.

In fact we went very quickly to a soccer game which was being played between the priests of Nnewi diocese and a neighbouring diocese to recognize the Year for Priests in the Church. It was all very well arranged and here we are meeting the officials.

And the members of the opposing team. Saskatchewanians will note the green and white uniforms>

And in blue and white, the home teaml.

We're lined up for the official kick off. Bishop Hilary always wears his white cassock. I think that it was much more comfortable in the +35 Celsius temperature than my black clothes.

After the Bishop did the official kick off the game was played and the home team won one nothing. So our visit began on a good note.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Some Nice People

While we were in Abuja, the Vatican Embassy arranged for us to have a meeting with the Canadian High Commissioner for Nigeria in his offices at Abuja. The High Commissioner, Denis Kingsley gave us a warm welcome after we made it through the tight security guarding the High Commission and its staff here. We were kindly given information about travelling in Nigeria and they took information from us to make sure we were in contact if necessary.

After Mass on Sunday the priests of the parish took us out for dinner at a Chinese Restaurant in Abuja, here was one dish. As you can see when you order fish, you get the fish! It was a delicious meal with very good company.

And here is the good company Msgr. Jean-Sylvain from the Nunciature is on the left with Fr. Jorgi, the pastor and VG for the Archdiocese of Abuja next to him, then two of his Assistants and Fr. Callie.

When we returned to the Nunciature we met some of Fr. Callie's friends. All very nice people and very warm in their welcome to us.

Abuja, Nigeria's new Capital City

After we arrived in Lagos and experienced a little bit of that city which has a population of somewhere between 15,000,000 and 30,000,000 people, (Nigerian census information is rather fluid.), we went on to Abuja. The capital of Nigeria was moved from Lagos to Abuja between fifteen and twenty years ago. It was a small city at that time, so by making a new capital they built a brand new city.

After seeing all the small, outdoor shops that lined the roads and highways of Lagos, Fr. Callie took me to A MALL! I needed to pick up a blade razor since I had not brought the charger to my electric razor. So here it is.

Being a brand new city in many ways, it is more of a western than an "African city." Perhaps this is why I felt much more at home here than in Lagos. It was much more familiar and had landscaping and trees and wide boulevards. But people were saying to me that it was not really Africa, that when I got to Nnewi I would see a real African City.

So here are some views of Abuja, with painted buildings and enclosed businesses.

We saw this very impressive ecumenical centre with great spaces for ecumenical gatherings and liturgies

But, what for me was an image of Africa, there were still the typical groups of people gathered along the side of the road socializing or doing business or just relaxing together.

Coloured houses were much in evidence in Abuja, but still with a very traditional way of carrying stuff around

You name it and they carry it on their head. I wondered what long term effect this has on a person's neck and spine. Perhaps a typical western concern.

This is one of a multitude of three wheel taxis that are everywhere and usually crammed with people.

We paid a visit to the headquarters of the Pontifical Mission Society in Nigeria. As you can see, it is a beautiful and modern complex, typical of Abuja.

We visited and were warmly welcomed by Msgr Hypolite Adigwe, the National Director of the Pontifical Mission Society of Nigeria. The mission of the Pontifical Mission Society is to support the teaching of Jesus Christ and the work of charity and social improvement around the world. The societies promote awareness, prayer, sacrifice and fundraising to support world wide Catholic mission.

Near Abuja is the famed Aso rock. The word "Aso" means victory and the people who dwelt at the base of the rock for centuries were called "Asokoro" the "people of victory"

Fr. Callie also wanted his picture infront of Victory Rock.

This is the state Legislature building, beautiful and very impressive.

And some of the modern and inovative architecture in this modern city. Typical African or not, we had a good visit here and met some very fine people and dedicated priests.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord"

During my stay in Abuja, I asked Msgr Jean-Sylavain at the Nunciature if it would be possible for me to celebrate Sunday Mass at a local parish. He very graciously arranged it at Holy Trinity Church with the Pastor Fr. Joji. It was a wonderful experience of prayer and celebration.

Here you see the fine servers and ministers for the Mass. Fr Joji, who is just to my right, picked out a very fancy chasuble for me to wear. The servers carried out their ministries with great reverence and competence, making the Celebration beautiful and inspiring.

During the Offertory, large baskets are placed in the aisles and everybody goes and places their own offering in the basket. Lots of singing and motion during this procession with people often dancing as they proceed down the aisle with great joy in giving God their gifts.

That morning there was a special event for the Catholic Women's group who you can see here seated together. As with our CWL in Canada, these women give great service and support to the work of the Church in Africa.

The people dress up for Mass on Sunday. For them it is a very special and important event. There are also lots of children around giving great hope for the future of the Church and of society there.

During the Mass there is great solemnity and reverence. When the servers use the symbols of prayer such as the incense here, there is not holding back on the gift to God.

Beside me here at the Altar is the pastor Fr. Innocent Joji who was very warm and welcoming to Fr. Callie and myself.

Fr. Callie also concelebrated the Mass with me as you can see here. The Mass was not quite two hours long, which could be considered a bit short by African standards. The people joyously celebrate their faith. At this Mass there was a second collection at the end, which involved another big procession with some very energetic music and much dancing as the gifts were given. No rush here to get out of Church. I found that very edifying. The Catholic people here love to celebrate the Eucharist and are both reverent and greatly respectful and also joyful and exuberant in their praise of God.
I received an email today from Bishop Okeke, my host for my trip, telling me about his Masses on Ash Wednesday: over 5,000 people for the first Mass in the morning and even more at the evening Mass!
With my first Celebration of the Eucharist in Africa, I was looking forward now to experiencing more of this vibrant faith.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Nice Place to Stay

After two days in Lagos we moved on to Abuja, the new Capital City of Nigeria. There were elections going on in Anambra State where the Diocese of Nnewi is situated and Bishop Okeke felt it would be better for me to wait until the elections were over before coming to Nnewi. As it turned out, the election was fairly well conducted with some glitches in getting ballots to everyone, but over all fair and honest. The Governor who was elected was well accepted so no one tried to overturn the election through riots or other violent protests. Which, I guess, was a possibility and that's why were in Abuja.

When the Apostolic Nunciature heard that we were coming to stay in the city for three nights, we were invited to stay there. As you can see, it is a very nice building. And we were warmly welcomed by Msgr. Jean-Sylvain Emien, the Deputy Head of Mission for the Holy See. Like ourselves, they too are awaiting the arrival of a new Nuncio.

In the middle of the building there is a very beautiful garden and court yard.

And in the centre is this very beautiful African Madonna and Child.

And of course flowers. I think that it is always great to see flowers like this blooming in February.

There is a community of Philipino Sisters who look after the Nunciature and I enjoyed very much meeting them. I told them of the Philipino Priests and Sisters that are here in our diocese and how pleased we are with them as well.

While Abuja is a much more modern city, having been chosen as the Capital only fifeen or so years ago and being almost built new from scratch, it is still has Nigerian traffic so having the diplomatic licence on the car was a help and a security.

The Nunciature has a very beautiful Chapel and there is Mass everyday and on Sunday which is well attended by members of the various diplomatic corps who are stationed in the Capital.

And there was some dramatic African art work displayed in the Chapel, such as this carving of the Apostles fishing.

And this portrayal of Peter's Denial of Jesus after His arrest.

You can see here the various carvings around the walls of the Chapel.

The Stations of the Cross were quite unique and I liked them very much. Here Simon of Cyrene is being conscripted to carry the cross of Jesus. You can sense the powerful force being exercised by the soldier on the left while Jesus takes all of this in.

I liked this one particularly in which Jesus comforts the women of Jerusalem. Both women are mothers and their babies are being carried in a fold of their clothing on their backs. This was a sight I saw continually during my visit. There are many children in Nigeria and are in view everywhere. They are beautiful and energetic like children everywhere and like the little one on the right - taking everything in.

This Station, where Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross, portrays the tenderness and gentle care shown Jesus. The Church in Nigeria is growing quickly and the faith of the people is full of reverence and devotion while being also exuberant and joyous. As the woman cradles Jesus' head, I see that tender devotion expressed that is seen so often in the people praying at Mass and in the Churches.

And this is Msgr. Jean-Sylvain who was a very generous and gracious host to Fr. Callistus and myself during our stay with him.

During our stay in Ajuba, I was offered to celebrate Mass on Sunday at the Nunciature, but I felt that I would like to experience a parish Mass. So Msgr. Jean-Sylvain arranged that. And that will be the next topic.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

"Out of Africa:" Lagos

Last Fall, Bishop Hilary Okeke of the Diocese of Nnewi in Nigeria paid a visit to one of his priests who is working here in the Archdiocese of Regina, Fr. Callistus Ibe. At that time he said to me: "Why don't you come to Nigeria and see what the Church is like there." As it happens I had been thinking about that. We have a number of African priests working in our diocese and I thought that it might be helpful to me in better understanding not only their culture, but also their Church. I knew that the Catholic Church in Africa is a strong and vibrant church and is growing rapidly. To make a long story short, I accepted his invitation and this past week I set out for Africa with Fr. Callie travelling with me.

We were warmly greeted on our arrival in Lagos after about 25 hours of travelling from Regina to Toronto to London, England and finally to Lagos on the coast of southern Nigeria. We were met at the airport and brought to a hostel for priests who are passing through Lagos run by the Sisters of the Apostles. I was glad to get to my bed which was quite comfortable and there was an air conditioner in the room which was great since the temperature was around 30 degrees and quite humid.

The grounds were a quiet haven from a world outside their gates which was noisy with the din of what seemed to be thousands of cars and people who were going about their business with great gusto.

Part of the group who welcomed us were Fr. Callie's sister Mary and her husband Gilbert who are on either side of Fr. Callie who is in the middle with a very appropriate shirt on.

The difference in culture and way of doing things was quite astounding. Lagos is a city of close to fifteen million people,one half the pooulation of Canada. I think that they all own cars and all those cars were on the roads driving all around us. The highway going through the city would have three lanes marked and at least four lanes of traffic using it, all with their horns blowing. To add to the excitement, motor bikes were winding their way through the traffic, also with their horns blowing. When the traffic slowed a bit street vendors made their appearance, walking in between the lanes of moving traffic with large boxes of potato chips, bottles of water and juice and whatever else they felt they could sell, some of which they carried on large trays balanced on their heads. As if this is not enough excitement, there are lines of people standing on both sides of the highway darting across throught the traffic which was again rocketing along at high speed. Not for the faint of heart, driving in Lagos, Nigeria.

Just on the side of the highway would be business, such as the United Benger Motor Dealers shown here.

And this car dealership shown here with the office under the deck roof. Very little overhead cost here!

Here is what I thought could be comparable to a strip mall in Regina, with several small business in a row.

And this, Fr. Callie informed me, was a bus terminal. On our hour journey through the city traffic, we saw not just a few of these small businesses, but hundreds of them with thousands of people using them to buy the goods they needed. I found it all simply amazing.

The hostel for priests, as we found out, turns its power off at around midnight or so and leaves it off all night. Which is a great energy saver, however as a result the fans and air-conditioner also stop. So we moved to another place in a newer residential part of Lagos. You can see some of the houses and also a mosque with its minarets in the centre background.

There too, people set up a spot to do business wherever there is a spot, even in the middle of a new road that is being built there.

As you can see, traffic is snug. Close enough to read the stickers on this public transport van: just at the bottom of the rear window is the name "JESUS." I had noted many religious words, prayers etc on the cars and vanss driving the streets.

And here's one of the young sales ladies I had mentioned earlier, who travelled in between the lanes of traffic selling a variety of wares. So our first day or so in Africa.