How the Church goes to work in W. Nigeria
By Fr. James O'Connell
MUCH of our work in Ibadan, Western Nigeria, differs from what people in Europe imagine that missionaries do.
We don't. for example. travel very much through the bush and we have few stations in isolated villages. Unlike the areas in which most of the other missionaries work in in Nigeria. ours is largely one great town—and this fact colours all our work. We have to deal with many problems that are typical of the urban apostolate everywhere in the world.
Ibadan with its population of almost a million is African to the grass-roots -or if you wish. to the bottom of the red clay walls of its comigated-iron roofed houses.
By European standards one might be tempted to call Ibadan a shanty town. But in the tropical sun crude buildings serve better than more lavish ones do elsewhere. And even if most of our people are poor, their poverty is not the squalid misery of a European slum, nor is it the great hunger of India's thronging masses.
In the past 10 years the standard of living at Ibadan has been raised considerably and medical facilities have been improved beyond recognition.
Ibadan is changing together with the whole of Nigeria. A primitive economy is rapidly giving way before a more technical one. Real progress is being made, not least because Nigerians are not weighed down by history.
No silent Masses
rr NE priests and the other missionary helpers of the Prefecture work more as a unity than do their equivalents in a European diocese. But the basic working unit is still the parish. The life of a parish in turn revolves around Sunday Mass in the parish church and depends on the activities that take place in and emanate from the parish hall.
Mass attendance on a whole is good and it is alive. At the principal palish church, St. Mary's, Oke Padi (Hill of the Fathers). some 6,000 people come to Mass on a Sunday morning and a goodly number receive Communion.
Our people love to sing at Mass: they sing loudly and lustily in Latin, Yoruba (the local language) and English.
They respond especially to the Yoruba chants which were corn-posed years ago by the early French Fathers and one can see their bodies move vibratingly to the rhythm. A silent Mass has little meaning for Africans.
THE sermon at Mass is nor mally preached in English. This is a pity but it can't be avoided. After one or two years missionaries can converse with their people. But hardly anyone of foreign origin dare preach in this tonal language in which a slight difference in the tone of one syllable will turn orthodoxy into heresy or send the children in the front benches into giggling hysterics.
In practice this means that after every few sentences an interpreter who stands beside the priest renders them in Yoruba for those who don't understand English.
Nobody must think that an interpreter is an academic translator. In fact interpreters are the closest thing to lay preachers that we have in the modern Church. These men turn prosaic English into vivid and literary Yoruba, salted with traditional proverbs, and delivered often with a vehemence that would make an old-time Redemptorist missioner turn green with envy.
The priest who understands Yoruba can ensure a general fidelity to what he himself has said. However the system is cumbersome because of the doubling of statements and of the time it takes. But there can be no solution to this—as too, to many other problems—until such time as our people have priests of their own.
nNCE services are over and
sacraments administered. the work of missionaries here reduces to tasks that belong to the Church everywhere: visiting homes and institutions, helping the laity to organise and look after schools.
Visiting homes is as vital here as anywhere else. The people receive the Fathers with exquisite courtesy, greetings are exchanged, Christian preoccupations discussed and the Father's blessing sought.
A missionary quickly discovers in dealing with his people that he has to learn not only a new and difficult language but that he has to become part of an entire mental world. But in spite of the difference in race and colour it is wonderful
how our people accept us as men of God who transcend all harriers.
1 remember the pleasure I felt myself a few months ago on meeting a sign of such acceptance. 'I he children had gathered as 1 visited a house and one little fellow raised his voice, saying with relish: "Here is a European!" He used the common Yoruba word, rho. used to designate all white people. But another tiny tot. a son of the Catholic family, rebuked him and said. "He is not a European. tie is a Father!"
The Legion is best
THE Legion of Mary is our principal form of organised lay action. Its clear-cut organisation and formal system of meeting appeal to the social instinct of the people and to their highly developed sense of convention.
Legionaries trek from door to door. They advertise the Church. They do quite well in persuading, lapsed Catholics to take up again the practice of the Faith. I licy help a goodly number of Catholics to get de facto marriages blessed in the Church. They get children baptised and stand as sponsors for them—willing to accept all the traditional obligations of godparents.
They persuade parents, mans; of the latter not Catholics at all, to send their children to Catholic schools. A book barrow has been started and already plans are under way to extend the venture.
But of all the jobs that the Legion does. its principal one in Ibadan has been to recruit catechumens for "catechism elasses". It is through these classes that the expansion of the Church among adults i5 normally carried on. A catechumenate of two years and witness of upright life is demanded before people are admitted into the Church.
Thanks to a zealous English organiser. Bill Murray, we have thc Young Christian Worker. The latter organisation has concentrated especially on helping working-class lads to understand and live better their working lives.
The "see, judge, act" method has provided useful information in spheres where sketchy guess-work is all we might otherwise have. But up to the present the turn-over in leaders has been too fast to allow the organisation to become stable and to expand safely.
No account of lay action in a West African territory would be complete without mentioning the most valuable auxiliaries of
all: the teachers, These men and women have usually trained in our colleges and they seldom teach in any schools except our own. The latter situation has to be the normal one because teachers are acutely short in an expanding educational system. Indeed the scramble for teachers at the beginning of the school year can cause quite a lot of ill-feeling among competing parish priests!
Most of the children of Catholic families receive their formal instruction in the Faith from the teachers. The latter live up to the
exacting moral standards that we demand of those who teach our children.
lime and again they make considerable personal and financial sacrifices for the sake of the Church. And whenever a harassed parish priest wants to form a cornmince or send representatives somewhere. he turns to his teachers.
In a sense the teachers are the successors of the catechists of the earlier missionary days in Africa. The Church owes much to them.
In general, relations between the clergy and the laity in Nigeria are
good. 1 he charge wouldn't he made here—as it has with some justice been made in other countries—that priests have no time for the laity.
Priests are few in our area-30 priests for a million or so nonCatholics and 25,000 Catholics. This fact alone helps us to realise that our efforts can become manifold only when our people work side by side with us as apostles and co-operators.
Ibadan, key territory
jil may be hest to finish by ' explaining why we here think that what happens in Ibadan has meaning far outside the area itself.
Firstly, it is a great urban agglomeration. Now the encounter of modern Christianity with great cities has resulted almost everywhere in defeat in greater or lesser degree for the Church.
We're determined that that will not happen here and we're doing our best to evolve techniques of apostolate that will help people to live their faith under our urban conditions. If we succeed. Ibadan will be a symbol for all Africa.
Ibadan is also a centre where the Church and Islam are meeting in a gigantic contest for men's allegiance. In Africa in general Islam is advancing more rapidly than Christianity. But in Ibadan not only are we losing no ground that we have gained but we are making converts from among the Muslims. in that way we are dissipating the myth of Muslim inconvertibility. The religious future of Africa depends on struggles like the one that we are carrying on.
ismost optimistic of our missionaries would have to admit that we arc having to battle up-hill all the way in lbadan. We need more priests in our parishes and seminaries. more teachers in our sch oci Is.
We're short of money. books and general equipment: we desperately need a central hall for meetings and as a large community centre. We have no newspaper except one tiny parochial one. We are aware. too. that we have not always succeeded in christianising the innermost recesses of our people's hearts. But against all that we can put things of real value.
Our priests put on their mettle by our situation do more than their normal quota of work: we make many of our resources go much further than they were ever meant to: we have seminarists who make sacrifices almost unthinkable in European countries in .order to study for the priesthood; in our work we meet individuals and families who would have done credit to the Church in any age or place.
The really heartening factor is that ours is a iChurch that is forward-facing, hopeful and vigorous. Not for a moment would our people accept a religious status quo nor would they take refuge in a state of siege mentality.
They are acutely conscious of the way in which they are distinct from pagans or from those who profess an inadequate form of Christianity. In these characteristics they resemble the Church of the Fathers.