Fides Inspirational Page Anchor, Mercy Hill, during the interview.
By Mercy Hill
Continued from last week’s edition
The Catholics were divided over issues of whether Christians could lawfully perform this marriage ritual. Also, there was ‘Ozo’ title saga. Catholics were also divided on whether they could take Ozo titles with all the pagan rituals attached to it.
Rev. Fr. Tim Anunobi had been transferred because of his stiff opposition to both challenges. I came to Awka in May 1977 and was trying to deal with the problem. On November 10, 1977, Awka was declared a diocese carved out of Onitsha and inaugurated 1978.
Being the priest on ground, the first challenge we encountered then was organizing the ordination and instalment of Bishop A.K Obiefuna; with the help of Onitsha Archdiocese, this was successfully carried out. We succeeded forming a committee with Onitsha Archdiocese which took care of different aspects of ordination and installation including a new 505 car for the bishop.
Another problem was that of accommodation. Only one Father’s house with three rooms was available then. We got one room ready for the bishop and fitted the toilet for the room. Msgr Chinyelu Philip and I took the other two rooms. We prepared a room downstairs to serve as the Bishop’s office and managed the then Rectory after which we constructed the new bishop’s house and Refectory. All of us were packed in that small house, and when the bishop came, it was evident that we needed a building and but there was no money. He somehow galvanized people by reaching out to wealthy Awka people who were outside the states and within. And that was how we were able to build a Refectory. there were also other pastoral bothering on culture and traditions problems, for examples “Okuko onye uwa” and Ozo title taking. we worked with the Bishop to see that the issues were settled and we had a new lease of life.
Knowing that Awka was under Onitsha and you were a priest of Onitsha Archiocese, what made you remain, instead of going back to Onitsha like others.
The Cardinal, who was the then archbishop of Onitsha Diocese, said we could remain where we were, but if we wanted to change, we could take a note and write. I remembered that some people wrote and went back, but for me, I knew I had already started ministry in Awka Diocese from Adazi, and then to Enugwu- Ukwu, I chose to remain. Even though life was better under Onitsha Diocese then because they were more established. I knew it was providential for me to be in Awka at that point.
Culture, traditions in the church with the bishop as the head, the pastoral problem of ”okuku onye uwa” and Ozo title taking, were settled and we had a new lease of life.
What were the experiences and encounter of the first months in priesthood that have remained with you?
The beat from the Nigerian soldiers I received at Ekwulobia after going to help Fr. Ezeadaka from Enugu when he wanted to drop me at Awka to get a bus going back to Enugu. Another was that my Motorcycle usually broke down on my way to Mbaukwu for Sunday masses.
My advice to priests on celibacy
Every profession in life has its dos and don’ts. The code of conduct for medical doctors, lawyers, lecturers, traditional medicine men has its accompanied joys and sorrows. Celibacy is not an imposition; you willingly chose to be a celibate by choosing to be a Catholic priest. No one forced it on you because you would have chosen other professions if you wanted.
My advice then is always praying for God’s grace to be chaste and keep your promise and vow of celibacy, you will be given the grace. Avoid occasions that endanger your celibacy, convince yourself that it is possible to live a celibate life.
Always keep yourself busy as a priest; reading the bible and other spiritual books, read up the lives of saints, study your theology and take joy in it. Be busy with your priestly work or assignment, for example hearing confessions, teaching catechism, visiting pious associations and encouraging them. House visitation to the sick and other Christians. Be faithful to your priestly daily exercises.
Looking back at these 50 years of your priestly life and 78 years of age, what would you describe as your failures and greatest lessons learnt?
My failures were that I have not been able to inspire more people like I want to. Another is that I have not been holy like I want to, even though I am trying my best, I still wish I was holier than this.
Another failure was loss of friends: I lost most of my friends abroad because I couldn’t manage or coordinate my tight schedule and that prevented me from keeping my friends. When I returned from Europe, I was invited every year to come for holidays by my German friends, but I could not go. They offered to pay for my flight, but it was not possible to get out to visit them, so I lost them. Even here in Nigeria, I never had time for my friends because I was so committed and engrossed with my work.
I had no time also for my family, that is my parents and siblings.
My Greatest Achievement and successes were:
I was relevant in the society by being able to help form young minds in the university environment from 1980 to present day because I am still teaching in Chukwuemeka Odumegu Ojukwu University. When I retired in 2007 at age 65, I was given a contractual appointment with Nnamdi Azikiwe University which ended in 2012.Same year, Chukwuemeka Odumegu Ojukwu University gave me an appointment and I am working there till now, informing young minds and inspiring many.
For me, this is a great achievement having had the opportunity to touch many lives both in the classroom and outside the classroom.
Greatest lessons learnt
In every situation give thanks to God and surrender to him, His will. Keep on doing good to people. Hardwork does not kill anyone, just be closer to God in all you do. Be aware that not everyone would like you, but God will always make a way for you.
Always speak the truth and live your real life. Don’t pretend in order to please anyone.
What is your message to those who may read about you now?
Be focused in life, whatever good thing you desire, go ahead and work towards it. More so, mind your moral conduct. Don’t get distracted over things that won’t last. Money and other things will come later but for now work hard.
What are your words for young priests and young people in general?
For young priests, know that you are a priest of God and work hard to live up to your calling. It is a special love of God that has selected you for this work. Do not look at anyone but always look up to Jesus who has called you. Whatever is hidden will be made open or manifest. Be holy and transparent in your behaviour. Do not work to please man but to please Jesus the lord.
To young people, know that your God has created you for a purpose. So, work hard in whatever vocation you find yourself and you will succeed. Be serious with your Christian faith. Respect those ahead of you and mind your morals. Uphold humility and avoid ruining your life by joining notorious groups.
Can you remember what your prayers and thoughts were during the litany of saints at your ordination years ago?
I do not remember exactly what my prayers were (laughs). Okay, I recall that it was a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the end of the Nigerian/Biafran war. Also, for giving me the vocation of priesthood. Because, from the seminary, I had desired to be a priest. I also remembered praying for the grace to be a good priest.
What are your plans after retirement?
I plan to rest, pray and have time for myself and for holy hour. Because all through my life, I had no rest at all. From parishes to the university and so on.
What is your advice to those who lecture in the university and fail to perform their duties of coming to class to lecture?
My advice is that when you have taken up a job to do something, carry out your duty. It is improper to fail in your duty. Go and carry out your researches and teach! It is failure on your end when you refuse to carry out your own part of a bargain.
One cannot talk of the foundation of Awka Diocese without mentioning you. So, where do you see Awka Diocese in the next ten years?
I envision more evangelization and expansion, where we divide and get more Dioceses, groom more