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I saw myself running a parish as a junior seminarian for about a month Fr Theodore Ekwem

….a story of patience and resilience (contd. from last edition)

 By Mercy Hill

…  I had no problem doing them (i.e., doing the things outside the basic things expected from a junior seminarian on apostolic work). But when I was posted to work in Achalla, I came to realize that these issues (liturgical activities) were secondary to the life of a seminarian working there.

I saw myself being sent to work in the farm; I started learning how to ride on bicycle – as it was the basic means of movement. At Uga, it was Okada (Motorcyle); at Achalla, it was bicycle (what we call long John).

I worked under Fr. Chike Nwosu where we had fish farm and rice farm. I was going to Igbariam to ensure that the rice farm was on- going – what is called in Igbo as “ije chua nnunu na rice”. We were doing all these stuff. Eventually, about two months,

I seriously took ill that it was something I may call ‘a rite of passage into the real thing has come through, because I became so sick that I could not cope with the demand. At Uga too, feeding was wonderful; let me also mentioned this because, I am a philosopher by training. One of the medieval philosophers, Rene Descartes said that we live first, then we can philosophy.

At Uga, we had a wonderful cook, in fact, every afternoon we had new soup, chicken and what have you. There was no Father’s boy then, I was the only one there with the priests. The cook was so good to me. Sometimes, I will have almost a half of chicken to myself just to enjoy. At Achalla, it was entirely a different thing. So, feeding became difficult, eating was difficult, the rest is history.

The lessons

It taught me some realities about catholic priesthood. When you talk about mission and priest who are on mission, sometimes we see some clips on social media about priest who work in difficult places; people sometimes look at them and just breathe.

But, I can tell you, I have seen the ugly side and I have also seen the good side. It gave me a balanced vision about the catholic priesthood going forward, especially in the major seminaries. If you post me anywhere, I don’t care. As far as am alive now, I am ready to work anywhere; and I can tell you it will not touch even my deepest personality.

That’s the story of Achalla. These things happened to me, but one fundamental thing I also grew up to enjoy having worked at Achalla that helped me in my pastoral ministry was the Block Rosary visitation. Often, we reserve that for those in the six weeks apostolic work – that is, senior seminarians who come in August.

But, in Achalla it was part of my basic assignment. As a junior seminarian, I was visiting the Block Rosary centres, from one village to another, organizing them. It gave me the foundation to begin to love Block Rosary. I was a member of Block Rosary from Enugu down to Anambra, it worked fine.

Having left Achalla, I was then finally found worthy to be a seminarian for the Spiritual Year. I did that at Akwu-Ukwu combined with Onitsha Archdiocesan candidates then. We had that at St Pius X, Akwu-Ukwu, in the year 2000.

By October, 2000 I was admitted into philosophical studies at Pope John Paul II Major Seminary, Okpuno. That was where I had my philosophy from 2000-2004. After that, I had a very good experience (all those things, whether they were ugly before or not, I see them now as good experience).

Apostolic work after philosophy

My one-year apostolic work after philosophy was Nazareth Formation Centre, Isiagu. Isiagu now has a motorable road, then it was bad. That was 2004-2005 and I can tell you, my experience in Achalla was the basic foundation that helped me work at Isiagu.

If I had not repeated apostolic work at Achalla, if I had not had that Achalla experience, if I have been taken straight up from Uga, I may not have seen priesthood in all these of its shapes; and I can tell you, not every priest has been privileged of knowing that priesthood has different shapes.

Some people have always worked in a very good place since all through their formation; such may not be able tolerate or understand. But I can tell you, I have seen it all and I can say it with every sense of modesty that I have seen it all. At Isiagu, it was very difficult: you were always on your bike coming to Awka to pick something for the lunch and you have to go back again to Awka.

There was no electricity, so our refrigerator was at the Cathedral in Awka. When those at the Cathedral complained, we had to take it to the Retreat Centre, Okpuno. Then, the Rev. Sisters were in charge of the Retreat Centre. I was going to the Retreat Centre to pick something for the day, and then rode back to Isiagu.

At Isiagu, I took charge of the fish pond, felled firewood for which we cook, boiled the drinking waters, wash the clothes and then take time to cut the grasses around the main building. I was doing virtually everything you could not even imagine.

It was at Isiagu that I was forced to travel to Lagos from Anambra State on a night travel with a trailer that had the container for our tractor. Since then, I have never embarked on any other night travel. It was the first and the last. That was the time I was working with my oga, Very Rev. Fr Joseph Mary Nwosah. It was the driver, the conductor and myself who had to come back with the 20-feet container.

We took off around 6pm, we got to Berger and stopped. We waited there, and I was on Soutane as a senior seminarian. I was asked to be on soutane.. I had no option but to obey – when you are on soutane, you are restricted. You cannot even say let me stretched my leg.

Even when a call of nature calls, you cannot even attend to it. Even though we got home late, we actually succeeded in the journey. Isiagu was another lesson in disguise. My theology school was at Blessed Tansi Major Seminary, Onitsha.

At what point did you know you were going to become a priest?

As early as Primary 3 or 4.

How that early?

Something happened, at housing estate primary school. We were under a tree, what you call gmelina tree. The usual trend then was outdoor class. So the teacher, a lady then, whom I can’t even trace again, asked each of us what we would become in future.

Others were mentioning doctor, engineer and what have you. It got to my turn; I looked at her and, I said: ‘Rev. Father. She picked so much interest in that response, and she said, ‘good!’ and continued: “You want to be a priest,?” And I said yes! How that happened I didn’t even know.

From that moment, I started disturbing my parents about joining the altar servers. Our parish was St. Theresa’s Parish Abakpa-Nike.

My father went to make enquiry, and they told him I must receive first Holy Communion first and that I was not up-to the age. My actual drive was that, when I joined the mass server, it is from the mass servers that I will join the priests. I never knew there was something called seminary. When I began to disturb my father so much, he began to make enquiry.

He is not even aware, he hadn’t the knowledge then. He started making enquiry, that his son wanted to become a priest, what should he do? It was in his office that someone told him of Sacred Heart Seminary, Nsude. So, he left for Nsude and got the form. I was already in primary six then. He brought the form and said you have to fill this form for the seminary and I was so happy. But when I got in to the seminary, I became sad again because I wanted to go back to my house. Sometimes it’s funny.

That was the starting point, but it does not mean that I have always maintained these intentions. Often, from time to time, I had always wished to leave the seminary to drop.

At what point?

The first was at Achalla. In fact, when I was asked to repeat after Uga experience, I nearly left. At a point,   my sister was also on my neck to leave.