The 2014 SMA Regional Assembly (3 – 6 February) at the SMA House in Abuja, Nigeria was different for a number of reasons.
For the first time it was led by the first Regional Superior from the Bight of Benin District-in-Formation (BBDF), Fr Augustine Onwuzurike. Fr Augustine became the first African Regional Superior for Nigeria, having succeeded Fr Maurice Henry SMA as Regional Superior in 2013. Another noticeable feature of this Assembly, unlike many recent Assemblies – at General, Provincial or Unit levels – was the palpable sense of relief among the participants when they discovered on arrival that this would not be a ‘paperless’ Assembly.
When the Assembly opened on Monday evening with the Enthronement of the Bible in the Conference Hall, it became clear that it was going to be a ‘prayerful’ one as well.
It was also worthy of notice, in these modern times when our lives are saturated almost to breaking point with an avalanche of gadgets and gizmos of every description, that there wasn’t a Laptop, an Ipad or an Ipod to be seen within the precincts of the 3-year old SMA House throughout the 4 days of the Assembly. As the Assembly drew to a close it was even remarked by one of the participants that the nearest we had got to a ‘flash drive’ was a quick glimpse of Fr Billy Sheridan flashing out of the compound in his 4-wheel drive Toyota Hilux pickup on the Thursday morning, dutifully bound for his parish in the Vicariate of Kontagora!
The changing face of the SMA was very much in evidence throughout the Assembly and for the first time, in terms of membership (not attendance at the Assembly), the Regional League table showed the BBDF leading the way, closely followed in second place by the Irish Province. While the BBDF (20 members) holds the upper hand numerically it should come as no surprise that in terms of missionary experience the members of the Irish Province (18 members) tip the scales with a combined total of 832 years, far outweighing the BBDF which has a combined total of 199 years, followed by the Indian DF (7 members), Great Lakes DF (5), Gulf of Guinea DF (3), British Province (2) and the Dutch Province (1) drawing up the rear. Leaving aside the statistical evidence, of much greater significance, for those in attendance was the welcome evidence of a burgeoning self-confidence among the younger members who are not just willing but well able to express their opinions on a wide range of important issues.
What these statistics cannot begin to convey, however, is the ease with which members from the more established Units not just mingled socially but took delight in sharing views and opinions in the group discussions. As regards the age span the ‘doyen’ of the participants at the Assembly was Fr. Dick Wall from Uromi (whose classmate Fr. Derry O’Connell sent his apologies from Jos) of the Irish Province who was ordained on the 13 June, 1956, and the ‘cadet’ (the youngest in the SMA Family here in Nigeria) is Fr. Anthony Dampson, from the Gulf of Guinea DF, who was ordained on 13 August, 2013, and ministers at St. Peter’s parish, Sabon Tasha, Kaduna.
The proceedings got under way early on Tuesday morning with a presentation by Fr. Callistus Isara, MSP (a protégé of Fr. Dan Cashman, SMA) on Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ (The joy of the Gospel).
Read Fr Isara’s presentation here.
The Chief Celebrant for the Opening Mass was the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Augustine Kasujja, a native of Uganda, whose unaffected charm and sociable nature fitted in seamlessly with the tenor of the occasion. During the Mass the incoming Regional Superior and Deputy, Augustine Onwuzurike and Peter McCawille, in turn, made the Profession of Faith followed by the Oath of Fidelity, under the watchful eye of Fr Reginald Nwachukwu, the BBDF Superior.
In many ways the highlight of the Assembly took place on the final evening with Evening Mass celebrated at Holy Family parish, Life Camp (not far from SMA House), in response to a generous invitation from the Parish Priest, Fr Patrick Kwis SMA, and his assistant, Fr Sebastinraj Arokiaraj SMA. Following the Mass members of the parish worshipping community joined us for dinner at the delicately-decorated tables laid out in the open space beside the church (conceived and built by Fr Tom Walsh whose name continues to resonate with many people here). The parishioners excelled themselves with a wonderful display of largesse and conviviality. It was a more than fitting finale to the few enjoyable days we spent together at the SMA House in Abuja.
Fr Peter McCawille, SMA
With thanks to SMA Frs Edward Muge and Christopher Emokhare for some of the photos used in this article.