On fire for Schoenstatt’s mission in Nigeria, and Nigeria’s in Schoenstatt
On August 31st, seven Nigerian seminarians of the Schoenstatt Fathers will be ordained as deacons in the Adoration Church in Schoenstatt
SCHOENSTATT, mkf. They have added Africa to the Schoenstatt experience of many, since they arrived earlier in summer to spend their Sion Time – a time of reinforcement in the history and mission of the Schoenstatt Fathers’ community - in Schoenstatt: African songs and music, dance and joy at the Covenant Celebrations, or Holy Masses like the one of the English Family Week. On August 31s, they will be ordained deacons in the Adoration Church at Schoenstatt, and they know why they wanted to.
Reginald Amanze, Magnus Ifedikwa, Paul Nwachukwu, Justin Obuka, Donatus Odibo, Valentine Okafar, and Claudius Uwaoma belong to the second (of so far four) courses of the Schoenstatt Fathers in Nigeria; they wanted to be ordained deacon in Schoenstatt, in order to express their attachment to this place – to the place where Schoenstatt was founded, where Fr. Kentenich lived and died. One afternoon this August – "too hot to drink coffee" – the three of them sat around the table in the Schoenstatt Press Office, and shared their Schoenstatt experiences and visions.
I want to work each day of my life to become an organic personality
Paul Nwachukwu, from a distant part of Nigeria, got to know Schoenstatt in 1997 through some Schoenstatt seminarians, who were sent to his town for apostolic work. "Thanks to all that they shared about Schoenstatt, I decided to join the Schoenstatt Fathers." He had wanted to be a priest since his childhood, and here found the mission of his life. "Each day I remember my Covenant of Love with Mary and am filled with excitement, happiness, and joy." His longing was to get to know Father Kentenich, the founder, in an even deeper way. "I actually got to know him through the Fathers, and through the books available in English," he says. "And the more I read and knew, the more I appreciated the person of Father Kentenich." "This," he says, opened him more and more for the Schoenstatt spirituality. "It is fascinating for me to study what Fr. Kentenich says about mechanistic and organic thinking," he adds. "I want to work each day of my life to become an organic personality, a holy person!"
"Schoenstatt in Nigeria is growing," he says, there are some youth groups in the region around the Shrine. But Schoenstatt is not yet rooted in Iboland, the Eastern part of the country, where many of the seminarians come from. "But we hope to extend Schoenstatt there, too," he adds. The Schoenstatt Pilgrim Mother apostolate, however, is what especially promotes growth for Schoenstatt in Nigeria. The first Nigerian to work with the Pilgrim Mother, is Claudius Uwaoma.
I remember my Covenant of Love as my second baptism
Claudius Uwaoma smiles whenever someone mentions the Pilgrim Mother, remembering the beginnings with the first Pilgrim MTAs sent from Argentina, "loaded" in the Capital of Grace.
He got to know Schoenstatt through a friend, who himself did not know much… "I came to Schoenstatt without knowing Schoenstatt, but it was a good decision," he says. In the course of the time, he fell in love with the apostolate, the spirituality. "I remember my Covenant of Love in 1999 as my second baptism," he says. What fascinates him most with Schoenstatt is the "childlikeness before God," and of course: the Pilgrim Mother.
The Pilgrim Mother apostolate, he says, started in an insignificant way, with just two pictures, in 1999. "Now we have about 100 pictures," he shares. In May at the annual congress of the coordinators for the Pilgrim Mother, some eighty people participated. "That is not big compared to other countries, but we are glad and encouraged. The coordinators kept telling testimonies of what the Pilgrim Mother has done in the lives of families…"
Valentine Okafar points at the fact that theirs is the first group from Nigeria to have an ordination in Schoenstatt, "and this is not just coincidence. Here is where Father Kentenich started the Movement, it is the birthplace, the source. To identify with this source on the physical and spiritual level, we wanted to have the ordination in Scoenstatt. The initial idea was to have it right in front of the Sion Shrine, but as hardly any of us had been here before, and the one who was did not remember, we only realized here that there was just not enough place!" So the next option was the Adoration Church on Mount Schoenstatt. There was real joy when they realized that this would mean to have their deacons’ ordination at the place where Fr. Kentenich celebrated his last Holy Mass, almost forty years ago, and so close to the place where he died and is buried.
A time of pilgrimages
They wanted their ordination in Schoenstatt, and they want to spend their time in Schoenstatt with pilgrimages, on group or individual level. "We go on pilgrimages to the Original Shrine and the Sion Shrine. We are occupied with pilgrimages to prepare for the ordination!" They long to have a direct link to Sion, to the Founder, and of course, and especially to the Original Shrine. "My love for the Shrine grows the more I come to the Shrine," Valentine Okafar says.
The entire Schoenstatt Family, friends, and everybody is invited to come to Schoenstatt on this day and to join them in the celebration! Of course they will sing… "And we invited Nigerian sisters to sing when we cannot due to the rites!"
Vitality and Vibrancy
Nigeria is a young Schoenstatt foundation, and Schoenstatt is only recently becoming an international Movement with also African features. What will Nigeria’s contribution to Schoenstatt be? "Nigeria has a mission for Schoenstatt" – this is no question for Paul Nwachukwu. And he explains: "We have it as a habit to inflame the others where ever we are. We talk of African socialism – we see ourselves always as part of a group, a family, and try to be and work together. We can put smiles in the face of people; to show them this kind of hospitality that is the home mark of an African person; which is enshrined in the African mentality, to see each one in a friendly, kindly manner. We want to bring the gift of joy, the gift to reach out to people, to embrace them in brotherly love. We want to bring life to Schoenstatt, starting with the Schoenstatt Fathers, our community; we want to bring vibrancy, vitality!"
This is the keyword for Claudius Uwaoma, who gently interrupts his course brother to explain that vitality and vibrancy come with the Pilgrim Mother apostolate: "You see people singing, while carrying the picture to the next family! It is part of us. Nigeria is a Marian country, it is part of us to make devotions to Mary."
Valentine Okafa explains: "Vibrancy is a manifestation of what happens interiorly. Our devotion to Mother Mary finds an expression in our body, therefore we sing and dance and clap hands!"
Claudius Uwaoma comes back to the idea of "taking everybody along; so in the Pilgrim Mother apostolate we do not only approach the parents in a family, but also children and youth. Schoenstatt is for the whole family. We Africans embrace faith as a family, and want to bring our family together – be it our natural or spiritual family, our clan, our village, our country, Africa, the world! African Socialism is a kind of communalism, and Schoenstatt has this communalism inherent: it is not for individuals, but for the family, it tends to build family."
At the Covenant celebrations in Nigera, children and youth, therefore, play an important role, participating actively with singing, dances or the presentation of drama. When the youth is left out, Schoenstatt has no future. So, Nigeria, next to vitality and vibrancy, wants to give to Schoenstatt the gift of being family…
And Schoenstatt’s mission for Nigeria? "Leader personalities," is the prompt and unanimous answer. Paul: "We are confident that Schoenstatt is there to salvage the entire nation; we work tirelessly to form leader personalities from the Shrine. Some Brothers, who have discovered their vocation outside the priesthood develop the mission in the lay areas, to work for a new Africa from the Shrine."
They ask the Schoenstatt family for prayers on their way to the deacons’ ordination and then the priesthood.
Paul Nwachukwu. "Our course has a mission for the Schoenstatt Fathers and the Schoenstatt Movement and Church, it is about unity… A mission we cannot do all alone." Schoenstatt should become the heart and mould in Nigeria, so that from the Shrine in Ijokodo, strong convinced leader personalities emerge to influence the life of the Schoenstatt groups, spread Schoenstatt over all Nigeria, and "that Schoenstatt changes the destiny of Nigeria."
Welcome to one and all to join in praying for these young men! The ordination is on August 31st, in the Adoration Church, Schoenstatt.