Nigerian Christianity… reviewed

Nigerian Christianity and the Society of African Missions – History, strategies and Challenges was written by Fr Francis Rozario SMA. This review, written by Fr Tim Cullinane SMA, will whet the appetite of anyone interested in the development of the Church in Nigeria.

BookBefore reading Fr Tim’s review you can get a brief overview of the book here.

2012 is a special year for the Church in Nigeria as it celebrates the 150th anniversary of the first Mass celebrated in the country in modern times. The Mass was celebrated by Fr Francesco Borghero SMA in the house of an Italian merchant, Mr Carena, in Lagos. The year is also special for the SMA who have been very much part of the story of the beginning and growth of the Church in Nigeria. As part of the celebration Fr Francis Rozario, an Indian SMA, was asked by the SMA Nigerian Regional Assembly to write a book to mark the occasion.

The book he has produced gives an overview of the growth of Christianity in Nigeria from the initial attempts by the Portuguese in the middle of the 15th century right up to the present day. Fr Rozario took his assignment very seriously. Part of his research involved trekking through the heat and traffic of Lagos, interviewing different people in an effort to pinpoint exactly where in Lagos the first Mass was actually celebrated. I always thought that it was Fr Borghero who had that historic meeting with the catechist “Padre Antonio” until I read Fr Rozario’s book. If you were under the same illusion, read the book to find out who in fact met with “Padre Antonio.”

There is a programme on Irish Television called “The Meaning of Life” hosted by Gay Byrne in which he interviews various prominent personalities asking them such questions as ‘what is the meaning of life?’, ‘where did we come from?’, ‘where are we going to?’

2013 will be a year of SMA Assemblies both local and General. This book comes at a very opportune time, a time when we should be asking such questions as “what is the meaning of mission today?”  “Where are we going as a Society at this time?” To really know where we are going we must know where we have come from and get in touch with and drink from our own springs. Fr Rozario’s book helps us to do this. His book is not just a journey through history, as he devotes a good part of the book to examining the strategies used by the missionaries both in the early days and in modern times, sharing with us his own experience of being a missionary in Kontagora. In doing so he encourages us, as a Society, to generate our own vision and a strategy for the future.

We also get snapshots of some of the great men who have gone before us and whose footsteps we try to follow: Bishop de Marion Brésillac, our Founder, Frs Borghero, Zappa, Waller, Chausse, Holley, Slattery, Carroll and a host of others. In the letter to the Hebrews we are told, “remember your leaders, who preached the word of God to you and as you reflect on the outcome of their lives, take their faith as your model.” One cannot but be inspired and enriched by the faith, vision and commitment of those who have gone before us.

In the final section of the book Fr Rozario looks at some of the key challenges of the Nigerian Church today and sees these as:

-the proliferation of Christian Churches and how the Catholic Church should relate with them

– Education and its importance for the country and for the Church. He also addresses the very real issues involved in the Church running its own schools or in taking back schools which had been taken over by the Government.

-The reality of diabolical activity and how the Church should deal with it. Fr Rozario treats this topic at great length and has important and challenging proposals. In the context of the book as a whole, this section is very long, and hopefully Fr Rozario will publish this material in a pamphlet by itself.

– Challenges facing the Nigerian clergy

For all of these issues Fr Rozario not only discusses but makes very concrete proposals. This may well be the most controversial part of the book and you may not agree with everything he says but he will certainly stimulate your thinking on these important issues.

To the issues he has dealt with I would add:

– the relationship of the Church to Islam in the light of the recent terrorist attacks by Boko Haram, clericalism

– challenges facing missionary societies like the SMA in the Nigeria of today and their future role.

In 2006, to mark the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the SMA, Fr Eddie Hartnett led a group of SMA priests, students and OLA Sisters on a tour of Topo Island which played such an important part in the early days of the SMA in Lagos. The tour ended with a visit to the cemetery where many SMA’s and OLA’s are buried, most of them dying in their early twenties and thirties. The Sister who read out the names and the ages ended by saying, “these people had a dream and a vision and were prepared to pay the price to make these a reality.”

What is our vision and dream for today and are we prepared to pay the price to make it a reality? A book like “Nigerian Christianity and the Society of African Missions” by Francis Rozario encourages us to ask these important questions for ourselves.

The book is not just of interest to SMA’s (especially those with any connection with Nigeria). More importantly it should be of interest to friends and supporters of the SMA everywhere who want to know more about the SMA and their work in Nigeria.

If you want to get a copy of this book you may do so:

1) from SMA priests in Nigeria at a cost of 500 Naira.

2) Purchase paper edition or Kindle through Amazon.