(2015) In the Diocese of Buffalo, we celebrated, the ordination of our first African Seminarian studying for ministry in our Diocese that ROTA had assisted. On June 6th, 2015, Rev. Mr. Daniel Ogbeifun was ordained by Bishop Richard Malone for ministry here. In attendance at the celebration was Fr. Daniel’s mom, sister, brother, and other family members. Unfortunately Fr. Daniel’s father passed two years prior at home in Nigeria. Also present was Fr. Daniel’s former spiritual director Bishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu, Apostolic Nuncio of Nicaragua, and the current Bishop of his home Diocese of Uromi, Most Rev. Dr. Donatus Ogun. ROTA had the opportunity to assist Daniel throughout his four year seminary program in the Diocese of Buffalo. We were able to assist with book fees, and technology needs. We were also able to assist he and his family to provide for the massive celebration that would take place at his first Mass back in his ancestral home in the Uromi Diocese.
Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015 found Fr. Daniel and I traveling to his homeland to continue the celebration. This was my first time to travel to Western Africa and Nigeria in particular. Immediately upon our arrival and transport to a place where we could catch up on some rest from our travels, the roads we traveled were amazingly familiar; resembling other parts on the continent. We were met by a lady who was a friend of the family; one who attended the ordination in Buffalo. She gave Fr. Daniel her car for his use all the while that he was back home. This was of tremendous benefit.
When American Seminarians get ordained we usually have printed a “Holy Card” to memorialize the celebration that is freely distributed to guests so that they remember you in prayer and celebration. It wasn’t long and we had to retrieve and pack into the vehicle’s trunk all the printed materials that were prepared ahead of time for the upcoming days of celebration. They included the “Holy Card” remembrance but also large poster size year long calendars, note pads with the same image cover, children’s materials again covered in like fashion all to remember and celebrate the event. Every where we went, everyone we met always respectfully requested Fr. Daniel’s blessing after which Fr. Daniel shared one or more gift memorial items with them.
On Sunday, June 28th, 2015 Fr. Daniel and I traveled by car to the Church where his “First Mass” would be celebrated. It was to take place at the family’s home church of St. Matthias in Ewohimi at 9:00AM “Prompt.” I learned that if something was advertised as “Prompt” it would begin fairly on time. Along the way we were met by multiple rain showers that caused Fr. Daniel to pause in his excitement. He shared with me about how the First Mass will also be accompanied by an outdoor celebration. The family rented tents for shade but the inclement weather would really impede the joy of the day. I told Fr. Daniel: “You are a priest of Jesus Christ. Raise you hands during Mass and the clouds will clear. As we arrived at the church immediately our car was met by many seminarians and friends of Fr. Daniel who carried all our vestments and other items into the church sacristy for us. The church was filled to overflowing with Fr. Daniel’s family sitting in the front rows on one side and many tribal and government leaders on the other. The Mass began. There were no books in the pews and although a souvenir color program booklet was secured by all the participants they didn’t need them to sing with all their skill. Fr. Daniel raised his hands in prayer and the rain outdoors stopped and the sun began to shine. It didn’t take too long before the congregation broke out into dance as they approached the altar with their own gifts and offerings for the Church. This was followed by many young dancers who lifted high gift items for the celebration and members of Fr. Daniel’s family who danced up the gifts of bread and wine.
Especially moving was Fr. Daniel’s First Blessing upon his Mom and other family members. Emerging from Mass the outdoor celebration began with food prepared and provided by Fr. Daniel and his family to the crowd.
It didn’t take long before Fr. Daniel was whisked away from his family to join the throng in a dance celebration. Moments later I too was summoned and began steppin along with them. The beat of the music just invited one’s feet to begin to move. Afterward many guests came forward for a blessing prayer and to receive many token gifts that Fr. Daniel was able to provide for the feast.
Present at the first Mass at St. Matthias was His Royal Majesty Lord Peter Ogiensfoh Osifoh II, the Omonojie of Ewohimi Kingdom. He and his guests occupied the first three rows in the Church opposite to Fr. Daniel’s family. Lord Peter actually lived in Canada with his family but relocated back home when his father, the former Chief, died. He is dedicated to continue his father’s legacy.
The following day His Majesty sent word to Fr. Daniel and his family that he would like to welcome, Fr. Daniel, his family and his guest from USA to the Palace Compound. Preparations were quickly made and we moved within a few vehicles as a group to the Compound. We were greeted by members of the royal family and attendants who showed us where to sit as we awaited our host. When Lord Peter appeared in casual attire, we all stood in respect. He motioned to us to be seated . The attendant motioned for me to greet His Majesty and so I stood up to address His Royal Majesty. When I stood, he too stood. Then he motioned for me to be seated which I did. Again the attendant invited me to speak and again I stood up out of respect and His Majesty again stood up as well. Finally he spoke to me. Rev. Father, he said, please let us speak while seated for when you stand, I out of respect for your being part of the clergy, must also stand. We all enjoyed some laughter at what was happening. While seated I began to greet him on behalf of the Church of the Diocese of Buffalo including our lord Bishop Richard J. Malone, the parish communities of St. Martin de Porres, St. Lawrence, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the friends and supporters of ROTA: Reaching Out 2 Africa. I thanked him for allowing Fr. Daniel, his tribal son, to study in America and to be ordained to serve our community in the Diocese of Buffalo. Fr. Daniel followed my greeting with his own as well as members of his family. The visit was very cordial and then His Royal Majesty requested both Fr. Daniel and my blessing which we were just to happy to oblige.
The day after the First Mass at St. Matthias, Fr. Daniel celebrated a Mass for his deceased father at their family home. Again rented tents filled the lot across a dirt roadway opposite which stood Fr. Daniel’s home with his family and the Altar erected for the occasion. The Mass included a blessing of all in attendance with Holy Water as well as prayers of Commendation of the Dead after Communion. A small procession formed that proceeded into the house and into Fr. Daniel’s parent’s bedroom. There he, as well as all of us gathered, knelt on the floor. Fr. Daniel was overcome with emotion and as I looked I could see the indentation in the floor under his parent’s bed. It was there that his father was laid to rest. Eternal rest grant unto him Oh Lord.
The week seemed to fly past as we prepared to make a short journey to where we and the family would celebrate Fr. Daniel’s second “First Mass” celebration at St. Joseph the Worker Parish where Fr. Daniel worked as a layperson. Again his family filled the front benches of the Church as the congregation gathered. Young male and then female dancers were part of the celebration within the offertory procession. The remaining few days of my stay were punctuated by travel back and forth across Nigeria. One of our stops was to Abuja, the Capital City of Nigeria and a visit with John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Cardinal, Archbishop of Abuja. He welcomed us for daily Mass, lunch, a visit, over night accommodations and even his car and driver while we were in the city.
One last destination was to visit a holy monk, Fr. Cyprian Doghudje, a Cistercian of Our Lady of Mt. Calvary Monastery in Enugu State. Fr. Cyprian, my friend, attended my ordination to the priesthood back in 1996. Many thanks to our good friend Fr. Cajetan Ani who picked us up from the airport and drove us to the monastery for our visit. Blessings to all…...