As students of Blessed Iwene Tansi Major Seminary Onitsha, we were used to strolling in groups after meals, especially lunch and dinner. We often referred to this habit in the parlance of our clique as ‘garri walk.’ Meanwhile, physicians and health experts highly recommend the practice of strolling after a meal.
According to research, as little as five to ten minutes of strolling aids in digestion and indirectly ensures improved fitness of the heart and lungs. If you can, and whenever you can, please do the stroll.
So, it happened on this peculiar day during our ‘garri walk,’ that one of us pointing at Archbishop A.K. Obiefuna, who coincidentally was strolling at the other end, said: ‘This man deserves not to die. So that whoever at a point lost sense of direction could come and gaze at him for redirection’. Such was his glowing presence within the seminary walls where he was enjoying his retirement. Such, too, was his presence in the classroom as our church history lecturer during those periods.
Archbishop A.K. Obiefuna was ordained a bishop in 1977 for the then newly created Awka diocese. He received a transfer to head the metropolitan see of Onitsha as her archbishop in 1995. He retired in 2003 and returned to his creator on 11th May 2011.
May he rest in peace. Amen! The testimonies of A.K. Obiefuna’s episcopacy in the Awka diocese are like the globally glowing testaments of Pope John Paul II, whose pontificate spanned from 1978 to 2005. Succinctly, + A.K. Obiefuna episcopacy by popular opinion was grand in human capital development, grandiose in infrastructural development and grandiloquent in the pastoral care of his flock within the local church.
As a visionary leader, Archbishop Obiefuna introduced a one-year program on spiritual and human formation for seminarians in 1989. For over three decades, this exercise has birthed spiritual year centers across many dioceses in South-East Nigeria today. The spiritual year is an intermediary between the end of secondary school and the beginning of studies in philosophy.
A valuable year has also extended the cumulative years of seminary formation before ordination to seventeen years. While it takes a lad in Nigeria after primary education, about eleven years to become a lawyer and about twelve years to become a medical doctor or pharmacist, it will take such a lad seventeen years to become a Catholic Priest.
It is a worthy ‘long journey’ since the priest takes care of the most delicate part of the human person, the Soul. So, it is seventeen years for those who had no ‘gallop’ on their way. Otherwise, the fiat of the ecclesiastical human agents in understanding with the Holy Spirit may extend it to 18, 19 or 20 years. Mine was a total of eighteen years.
In October 1999, I was admitted into St. Pius X spiritual year centre Akwa Ukwu in Onitsha archdiocese after my secondary school education and two years of apostolic work. It was a year dedicated to the intense spiritual and human formation and indirectly for discernment and self-awareness.
Like every other catholic seminary, each day begins with a Holy Mass. At Mass, we take turns in doing the readings and singing the response to the responsorial psalm. On a fateful day, this particular seminarian took the readings, and he read very well.
However, when he sang the response to the responsorial psalm, expecting the congregation to sing along, no one uttered a word. Quite an unusual scenario, and with no iota of shame, he sang again and was greeted this time with murmurings and slight laughter. Then, the chief celebrant intervened with a loud shout:
‘Recite it! Please recite it!!’
This student has just discovered he was so lacking in singing beyond the “help of his brothers.” He has always presumed he can sing and failed to take his practice seriously. That student was and is Theodore Chukwuedozie Ekwem.
During the spiritual year, I discovered many other defects, such as how aggressive my temperament was and the need for anger management, and how poor I am in singing. Thanks to A.K. Obiefuna, this spiritual year discovery was fascinating. Like we all dance well while sitting, I have always sung so well while all alone.
I have, since this discovery, with little effort, moved some inches better. I sang the preface at my first celebrated Holy Mass, and have since, sang numerous prefaces. I have, at some point, acted as chaplain of the great Unizik Choir Awka. In 2016 after a Mass at St Anthony of Padua Parish, East North Port, LI, New York, a woman walked up to me and said: I enjoyed the Mass, especially the singing. I sang the doxology at that very Mass.
What an encouraging comment! Regardless of the little improvement, I doubt if I will ever make a career in music. However, I have decided to deal with music and singing the same way I deal with mathematics. Mathematics was not appealing to me back in those days.
However, for the past ten years, whenever an award is given to the best student in mathematics in one of my alma mater: St JohnBosco Seminary Isuaniocha, I would often say,
‘O mathematics, where is thy sting!’
I love music and singing and would always contribute to development in that area anywhere, everywhere, if opportune. If you cannot go to mission by going, go to mission by giving. That is a classical mission mantra.
On Sunday 4th July 2021, Sir Willie Nwokoye Music and Art Centre was commissioned in Bubendorff Memorial Grammar School Adazi-Nnukwu, where I currently serve. The centre will encourage and groom talents in music and creative writing for better lyrics.
During the commissioning, we took turns taking pictures at the studio within the centre. One of the pictures I took became the most viral picture on my recent birthday, 8th July 2021. After viewing the picture, many who called me on the phone have asked when I will release the album. I would not conclude that you are waiting in vain because anything is possible. But I can assure you that it is going to be a long wait.
Thanks for admiring and sharing the picture, but when you look at it again, know that one of the first laws of philosophy is that appearance is deceptive. Therefore, be careful of social media images. Some do not tell the entire story. Relying on unreal yet glittering pictures, too, is a caution against hero-worshipping.
This concept is what Rev. Fr. Chinedu Okany would call “life in a movie,” where actors and actresses make fiction appear natural. Therefore, always ask questions and interrogate critically before concluding about images and messages on social media.
After viewing the picture, someone could be somewhere arguing that Fr. Theodore is a musician or just released an Album. Argue no more. It is just one of my positive ways of dealing with defects I would have rather wished I did not have. Like Archbishop Fulton Sheen would admit in his Treasure in Clay, I will say: I never sounded good even under the shower. However, thanks for admiring the picture. Thanks to those who used it as a status picture. Let it remain a symbol of the friendship we share.
For my “stranger friends,” now you have known the background to the viral images you recently viewed. You have also learned that Bubendorff Adazi has a music studio. Like myself, you may not possess a gift for music, but you generally love music and singing. What then becomes the desired response? Most of our parents who missed the opportunity of having a formal education have responded positively by insisting that their children must go to school.
If you missed out on any desired field or profession either by ‘omission or commission,’ do not antagonize the trailblazers but instead encourage them. Possibly, you can train someone in that field. Aiding indigent people who strive to attain a height you couldn’t is fulfilling and exciting.
The roles we have played in establishing a music centre in BMGS is a positive response so that whenever talented music students of Bubendorff Adazi release their album the in nearest future, I would gladly echo with Sir Willie Nwokoye:
“O singing, where is thy sting!”
Are you still waiting for the album? It will be a very long wait, I promise.
Fr. Theodore Ekwem is the Manager/Principal of Bubendorff Memorial Grammar School,Adazi -Nnukwu.