Vocations to the missionary priesthood may have declined in Ireland but this is not so in Africa. This is the time of the year when in SMA seminaries across Africa, Diaconate ordinations, the final step before priesthood, are taking place.
Bishop Matthew Kukah of Sokoto diocese, Nigeria and Fr Edward Muge SMA, Superior of the SMA House of Studies in Ibadan.
Training to be an SMA priest takes many years, up to ten in some cases. Every year in Nigeria we receive more than 500 applications from young men between the ages of 18 and 25 who want to join us. Some have third-level qualifications when they make the initial contact. From these about ten are selected to do a six months Initiation Course in the SMA House in Kaduna State. At the end of this period a decision is made by both the SMA and the young man concerned about whether he will begin our formal seminary training programme.
Those who are accepted by the formation team move to the SMA House of Studies in Ibadan to study Philosophy. This takes four years and at the end the seminarian will have achieved a University Degree. Our formation is not solely academic and, after Philosophy, the seminarian goes to the International Spiritual Year course in the Brésillac Centre at Calavi, Benin Republic. This is a 10 month intensive spirituality course where the focus is not on studies but on themselves and their relationship with God, His mission for their lives and the work of the SMA. This course is bilingual so each seminarian has to become fluent in both ‘official’ SMA languages – English and French. Towards the end of this course the seminarian formally requests admission as a member of the Society. Those who are accepted make a formal Oath of membership for one year. They will renew their temporary oath of membership for several years before taking a permanent oath just before their ordination as Deacons. After Calavi the new SMA member is sent for a Pastoral (Stage) Year, outside their own country, with an SMA priest which gives them a lived experience of missionary work. Then it is back to a three to four year theology course, which may take place in any one of our three Theology Houses – Ebimpe (Ivory Coast), Ibadan or Nairobi (Kenya). At the end of the penultimate year of theology those found suitable are invited to become permanent members of the SMA and are ordained as deacons.
We also have seminaries in Mangadu (India), near Warsaw (Poland) and New Manila (Philippines).
In 2014 we will ordain 24 Deacons who are studying in Ebimpe (4), Ibadan (6), Mangadu (5) and Nairobi (9).
The author of this article, Fr Tim Cullinane SMA, stands with Fr Edward Muge SMA, Superior of the SMA House of Studies and the five newly-ordained Deacons after the ceremony. Fr Cullinane will celebrate the Golden Jubilee of his Priestly ordination later this year. Ad Multos Annos to our new deacons and Fr Tim!
The ordinations in Ibadan took place on Saturday, 17 May, at the SMA Formation House, and the ordaining bishop was Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto diocese. On the day the sun shone brightly on Ibadan and the rains held off as family, friends and SMA supporters gathered from many parts of Nigeria and other countries for the ordination. Those ordained were: Brice Afferi from Ivory Coast, Emmanuel Imoniunu and Christopher Oshalaiye from Nigeria, Desire Tinvi from the Benin Republic and Moise Sabaga from Togo.
During the ceremony Bishop Kukah said that he himself was a product of SMA. He grew up in an area evangelized by Irish SMAs, in what he called “a remote part of a remote part of Kaduna State.” As he grew up the only white people he saw were priests, so he grew up believing that all white people were priests. When he wanted to become a priest after secondary school and told his grandmother she said that it was impossible as he was black. For a long time his mother was also reluctant to allow him to go to the seminary until one day she asked him, “If you become a priest will you be driving a pick-up like the white priest?” When he said “yes” her objections vanished and she allowed him to go to the seminary.
In his homily Bishop Kukah focused on the theme of leadership. He began by saying how Nigeria’s leaders had disappointed the country and failed, in the richest economy in Africa, to bring about a good life for their people, being more concerned with accumulating wealth for themselves, moving around in flashy cars accompanied by police escorts with blaring sirens rather than serving the people. Unfortunately many Church leaders had fallen into the same trap, preaching a prosperity gospel and making unreasonable financial demands on their congregations who succumb to the hope of getting healing and riches for themselves while the so called men of God themselves live in luxury, immune to the cries of the poor.
From left, Revv Christopher Ayodeji Oshalaiye (from Nigeria), Moise Sabaga (Togo), Désiré Foly Tinvi (Benin Republic), Brice Ulrich Afferi (Ivory Coast) and Emmanuel Imoniunu (Nigeria).
He called the newly ordained deacons to a leadership not of power but of service like Christ who washed the feet of his disciples and said, “I came not to be served but to serve.” Pope Francis, he said, has brought a breath of fresh air to the Church by modelling this type of leadership. Leadership, he said should be a power for people and not a power over people.
He called the deacons to model this type of leadership, first of all, by the authentic witness of their own lives, quoting Paul Claudel who said: “Speak about Christ only when asked but live so that people ask you about Christ.”
At the end of the ceremony it was a time for what Nigerians call the “liturgy of the stomach” followed by a day of celebration, of dancing and drumming, well into the night for the new deacons, their family and friends and the SMA community.