My bosom friend and classmate, Fr Richard Awange, CSSp, celebrated his 10th anniversary of serving God and humanity in the Catholic priesthood. He had asked me to be the guest speaker at the occasion in which he organized to raise funds and contribute towards the building of a new church at St. Paul’s Parish, Kontien, Gboko in Benue State.
In the course of my speech, I emphasized some good qualities of my friend under the sub-headings: Richard the Reconciler, Richard the Spiritual Guru, Richard the Sportsman, Richard the Preacher, Richard the Benefactor, Richard the Musician, Richard the Motivator, Richard the Mobiliser etc. I drew lessons from the good qualities of Fr Richard for both the laity in political and civil life as well as the men and women of God.
“As a minister of God, Fr Richard has given his life completely to God for the good of humanity. We have just celebrated 10 years of un-interrupted democracy in Nigeria. But then, as politicians or civil servants working for the good of the community, what contribution can we say we have made to the development of our country, Nigeria? Do we see our exalted positions as avenues for self-enrichment or as opportunities to better the lot of humanity as my brother has tried to do in the past 10 years of his priestly life?
What can we say is our relationship with people we interact with? Is it a relationship that we acknowledge their unique gifts and then see the good in them that could be used for the development of our society, or a relationship that sees only the bad things about them?
“For those of us in the Lord’s ministry, what can we learn from the life of this young man who has given all his life to God for the building of his kingdom on earth? He has given his all for the service of God. I know Fr Richard has no house at the moment he can call his, he has no super market to serve as his economic base, neither has he commercial car or okada in town to augment his pocket money. He could have done all these things if he wanted… Fr Richard has never used opportunities that come his way for his self-enrichment. A typical example is the very act of celebrating his 10th anniversary of priestly ministry at St Paul’s Parish, Kontien, Gboko, to contribute his quota to the construction of the new church. I know many of us could have used the opportunity to increase our investments in material assets… I believe that all of us here should be inspired by this act of generosity to help him achieve this purpose of building a church for God by contributing generously to the course.”
In a similar way, the Auxiliary bishop of Makurdi Diocese, Most Rev. William Avenya, urged Catholics to stop tempting their priests to celebrate ordination anniversaries each passing year. He said years worthy of celebrating are 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th and 100th. He condemned the practice in which priests spend less time teaching the faithful about their faith and put more time in running after politicians and businessmen to come and attend anniversaries of their ordinations.
In the view of the bishop, a priest is a poor person who is supposed to spend his energy for the growth of the society and a priest who starts thinking of planning fund raising activities under the auspices of anniversaries to line money in his pocket has derailed and has nothing to offer the people of God. Giving reference to the life of Jesus, he said Jesus was a very poor person, a commoner who had no street named after him but because he did the work God sent him to do, his name is proclaimed today throughout the world.
The bishop said he honoured the invitation of the celebrant to preside at the celebration because what he (the celebrant) had told him he was going to do with the proceeds of the anniversary was the right thing. He frowned at the way some priests own houses and operate various businesses. He called on such priests to desist from such practices and they should go about doing the work God has called them to do because such property create problems for their immediate families after their death.
At the end of the Mass, Fr Richard handed over the whole amount realized to the parish council for the continuation of work on the church. This act of generosity is a great step taken by a young minister of God in the right direction and has a lot of lessons for the ministers of God in our society who are motivated to go into the ministry with the intention of enriching themselves.
Fr Richard was born in 1969 and has studied in Nigeria, Ghana, and Ireland. At the moment, he is the novice master of the Spiritan Novitiate, Okura, in Kogi State. He is a retreater director sought after in and outside the country.
Fr Indyer, CSSp, is the principal of Holy Ghost College, Sankera, Benue State (email@example.com)