A Christmas Farewell, not goodbye
Over the past few months, since the chapter that gave birth to the new Provincial, very Rev. Fr. Richard Ogedengbe, OP, and my subsequent appointment as the Socius to the provincial, I have been reflecting on my tenure, celebrating my last events and looking with hopeful trust to the future.
The first of these last events in the parish was the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation; Which I pleasantly looked forward to as it may very well be my last and it came to pass. Next in line was my annual leave. For the first time since I assumed office as pastor of this great parish I went on leave for one full month short of three days. That was one of the best vacations in the past eight years. When the deanery Catholic Women Association (CWO) day arrived, I gladly attended the programmable, as it would be the last to be hosted as dean.
Christmas is here and as pastor, I am celebrating it as my last in the parish.
All these thoughts and more have evoked some sort of retrospection. Eight years earlier, I vividly recall how the then provincial, very Rev. Fr. Charles Ukwe, OP, called me through my phone line telling me that I have been appointed pastor of St. Dominic’s. I was at breakfast with the other priest brothers when the call came through. I stepped out to answer the call and he said, ‘Congratulations, you have been appointed the pastor of St. Dominic’s.’ I honestly was speechless and I became confused. It was simply a tale of the unexpected. As I got back to the breakfast table I could no longer participate in the conversation with concentration; my mind went wandering, my eyes gazed not seeing anything except the sheer magnitude of St. Dominic Catholic Church: ‘Sheep’ & structure! My heart started to beat fast and I became scared. I thought, ‘This message can come later but definitely not now. No. I am not ripe for St. Dominic’s now.’ I left the breakfast table and put a call back to the Provincial and asked him to please check the directory for a suitable candidate. I realized I was speaking to my superior to whom I owe my obedience. I sincerely did not think I was ready for the office of pastor of St. Dominic’s but I came.
As true sons and daughters of St. Dominic we remain faithful to the vow of obedience (and movement). And just as the centurion recognized, ‘when we are told to go, we go and when instructed to come we obey.’ So I shelved my scary disposition and set about preparing for what the future may hold.
Sincerely, it is hard to believe that I have been the pastor of the great St. Dominic’s for eight years, ‘how did that happen?’ With a parishioner base of about twenty-five thousand, never short of a flock for shepherding; A congregation of one love one faith one church. Whoever has tasted St. Dominic’s surely longs to come back again and again. Once a lady met me after evening Mass and said, ‘Father, I am not a parishioner of St. Dominic’s but anytime I need the solemn celebration of the Holy Mass, I come to St. Dominic’s.’ Another parishioner told the story of how he fell in love for St. Dominic’s and left his parish. He had searched almost all day without success for parish to partake of the sacrament of reconciliation but no parish around him was hearing confessions. Until someone directed him to St. Dominic’s and when he came he not only discovered that there was confession that day only, but every day and Saturdays inclusive. Another said he comes to St. Dominic’s because he is sure that the Mass starts and ends on time with a complete Liturgy. Except of course for the harvest overlaps. (Smile).
‘There is a priest available always at St. Dominic’s to speak to.’ Attests another. I must say that St. Dominic’s is ‘home for all.’ I am proud that it pleased Almighty God and St. Dominic (founder of the Dominican Order) that I should be pastor of this great parish not for one year but for eight years.
It has been quite a humbling experience, serving the people of God for this number of years and I am thankful for the overwhelming support of St. Dominic’s parishioners to me: spiritually and materially.
My most profound experience in St. Dominic’s came after the Emeritus Archbishop, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie celebrated the sacrament of confirmation in 2011. During the short reception, which he reluctantly attended, since it was the first time he was being hosted after such a ceremony, he said at the gathering that St. Dominic’s is not easy to administer and continued ‘I see you smiling but you will suffer in pastoring this church.’ Thus each time I was met with a tough and difficult situation, my mind would flash back to the Cardinal’s statement ‘You will suffer here.’ This is the life to which we have been called. The IHS inscribed on our chasubles sometimes mis-interpreted to mean: ‘I Have Suffered’.
Fund-raising i must admit is not one of my strong points as I was not assertive with regards to financial support of parishioners. I was always timid when it came to asking. My principle for years has always been that people should take the initiative in giving. But if given the opportunity to serve (this) parish again I would strive to conscientize the parishioners on giving to the parish as well as the priest(s) that serve the parish. The present generosity of parishioners at St. Dominic’s is not commensurate neither with the sheer size of the parish nor the priests that serve it.
Thankfully, I leave with a wealth of experience in administration, especially, Parish administration acquired over the years. Although, as the saying goes, ‘there is always room for improvement.’
During this tenure, I have been privileged to interact with a spectrum of people: the haves and the treasures of the Church as St. Lawrence put it; the young and the elderly, The simple and the complex, beautiful and the gorgeous, strong and weak, the loved and the unloved, with the wide array of temperaments. I have also, in the spirit of ecumenism, worked with non-Catholics; the traditional and the contemporary, the various echelons of the ecclesiastical domain as well as the larger society; I have met the ascetic and the acedia and in all these, I have met God.
The past eight years has not been about Fr. Felix Onemheghie alone. No. It has been the administration of the Dominican Fathers and Brothers served by him. I therefore sincerely thank my fellow Dominican brothers in the Province of Nigeria and Ghana who with great charity accompanied me all through these years. With their support and cooperation the heavy load was made very light and years were like one day. I thank all the parishioners for their support and cooperation. I also sincerely thank the emeritus archbishop of the archdiocese of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Olubunbmi Okogie and the current archbishop of the great archdiocese of Lagos Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins for his gentleness and fatherly love. I also salute all the priests, religious and lay people of Yaba deanery.
Special thanks to Our Lady, Mother Mary for her tireless intercession.
I wish you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
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