NIGERIA, Ameh Francis Imaben /Maria Fischer •
“How are things going in Nigeria now?” A few weeks before the General Chapter of the Schoenstatt Fathers that turned him into their new Superior General, Fr. Juan Pablo Catoggio had given an interesting report on the Schoenstatt Fathers in Nigeria to schoenstatt.org. “I sort of did not realize it would be translated into English,” he tells me with good-hearted laugh. “Then one day one of our seminarians in Nigeria told me: ‘I liked what you wrote about our life and our culture here!’ Seems our seminarians follow Schoenstatt.org!” They definitely do. “So how are things going in Nigeria now?”
A few days after the end of the Chapter and the important meeting with Pope Francis, Fr. Juan Pablo Catoggio set out to Nigeria, where he had worked over the last few years as delegate of the superior of the Father Region, of which Nigeria is part. The primary reason: the beginning of the novitiate of six candidates to the community of the Schoenstatt Fathers.
A historical moment
Ameh Francis Imaben shares: “On 15 September 2015, the Schoenstatt Fathers Community once again welcomed six new “odysseys” as they embark on a voyage of self-discovery and discernment through two years of novitiate. It is not by chance but out of God’s Divine Providence that this happened just at the end of the 5th General Chapter, and the time the Sion Community celebrated its Golden Jubilee.
The Novice Master welcomes the novices
Already in his welcoming address, Fr. Kingsley Okereke, novice master, introduced himself in the words of St. Therese of the Child Jesus as a “senior novice.” He sees himself not just as a master, but also as an elder brother who is there to help and guide his younger charges. He then remarked that the novitiate is a journey, an adventure of discovering or rediscovering Sion, the Father and Founder, oneself and the confrères in the Course. It is a special time of grace, a period of discernment. It is, in his words, a period of closing and opening such that there is a closure to the outside or external world and an opening up to the internal world — the world of the novitiate, which entails opening up oneself to the world of the Father and to fellow confrères.
Officially the novitiate kicked-off with the arrival of the novices on 15 September, the anniversary of the death of our Father. However we had the opening mass on 20 September with the newly elected Paterfamilias, Fr. Juan Pablo Catoggio. Marvelously, the presence of the Paterfamilias makes this novitiate one of a kind, for it is the first time the Schoenstatt Fathers’ community in Nigeria had its novitiate begun by the General Superior himself.
The most decisive moment in our lives
During his homily, Fr. Juan Pablo pinpointed the novitiate as the most decisive moment in our lives. While he expressed his gratitude to God for the gift of our lives at the same time, he echoed his admiration for the novitiate and asserted that its Latin etymology, Novum, meaning new, makes the novitiate important for him as it is a period when one begins anew to discern that which is God’s plans for him and for the Course, and it is also a time of deep encounter with God. Drawing from the life of the Apostles and Christ, he counsels that humility should be the bedrock of our daily activities.
Following the Holy Father, our Paterfamilias gave us four essential marks of the Novitiate: a school of the charism of our Father and Founder, which he said, is our originality. Through the tool of silence, we are launched into a deeper encounter with God. He further avows that the novitiate is a time of inspiration as it entails a great deal of openness to God and to one another. The third, he acknowledged as the school of service, which he had already mentioned as demanding a great deal of humility so as to be in the service of one another and also to have a welcoming heart to all. The last is the community of the brothers’ school that is the cornerstone of discipleship, for as he explains, true discipleship requires brotherly communion.
Left to right: Stanley Ukasoanya, Emmanuel Okeke, John Obute, Cyprian Avong, Henry Anumudu, Francis Ameh
The Father symbol for a new Course
In this history-making Mass, our Paterfamilias gave us the Father Symbol, a symbol that is very important for him and has accompanied him for many years. As he was about to leave Nigeria he bequeathed this treasure to our course. This is indeed a wonderful thing and surprise to us!
In the Mass, we also brought along to the Victory Shrine, our big MTA picture that is permanently in our Chapel (House Shrine) in the Novitiate. From the Victory Shrine, our Mother made a pilgrimage through the Novices’ rooms in the novitiate visiting and conquering the room and heart of each one of us including that of the Novice Master. Each of us had the special privilege of welcoming our Mother into his room and staying with her for a day, after which we accompanied her with singing and dancing. After visiting each of us, our Mother was ceremoniously enthroned in our Chapel here in the Novitiate.
In a nutshell, in the spirit of fraternal charity, we were all entrusted to the caring hands of Mary, our Mother and Educator. The euphoria of the celebration continued throughout the whole day with great emblematic flamboyance. Please pray for us novices, as we begin our great voyage towards the fulfilling of our vocation.”
And how can we be part of the Schoenstatt Fathers’ mission in Nigeria?
Back to Mount Sion and the conversation with Fr. Juan Pablo Catoggio. Back to how he will support “his” Nigeria in the future and how we as Schoenstatt Family can be part of the mission.
He will visit Nigeria once or twice a year, he said. And before I could ask, he added: “Of course, I will write a report.” Knowing his commitment to communication, I expected this, but still it is a joy to get the promise first-hand. Referring to what he shared in the previous report, he confirmed the difficulties of the country’s political situation, the need for a growth of the Movement, the large number of Schoenstatt Fathers’ candidates, the process of discernment, and the good experiences that some of the Nigerian Schoenstatt Fathers had in Argentina.
The financial need is a bitter reality too. Donations are coming in, but not in the amount that will be needed. He and I remember, at the same moment, an initiative from schoenstatt.org years ago, when the Schoenstatt Fathers in Argentina went through financial challenges – Mass Stipendiums. It did not solve the entire problem, but it made a difference.
The Schoenstatt Fathers in Nigeria would accept Mass Intentions and say a Holy Mass specifically for people, their needs or those of their loved ones? And of course, it would be with great commitment.
For Mass Stipendiums for Nigeria:
Reference: Nigeria OR Nigeria Mass Stipendium (note names or intention)
Or communicate the Mass Intention to [email protected], mentioning it is for Nigeria.
Edit: Melissa Peña-Janknegt, Elgin, TX USA
With material from schoenstatt-fathers.org.
Photos (except of the novices) from Oct 18,2014.