Oka Obulu Uzo: leading by example

Oka Obulu Uzo: leading by example

Madonna Brosnan

Fr Raphael Madukwe made his debut in the October 2012 issue of AD2000. At the time Fr Raphael was completing his sixth year at St Charles Borromeo Parish in Lilu, Nigeria.

Priest placement in Nnewi Diocese is announced in October each year and the maximum period of stay in a parish is six years.

To the dismay and regret of his Lilu parishioners, November saw Fr Raphael packing his belongings and bidding a fond farewell to take up his new placement at Christ the King Parish in Umuezeawala, Ihiala region.

Umuezeawala is a subsistence farming area where the families grow food crops such as yams, corn, and cassava. Regular attending parishioners number around 3,000, and last month Fr Raphael conducted a funeral mass for his eldest parishioner aged 127 years.

Christ the King parish was established in 1994 with its first, very modest church, completed on the site the same year. Fr Raphael is the fifth parish priest appointed to the parish, and no doubt like his predecessors felt more than slight trepidation at being sent to one of the poorest and most isolated rural parishes in the diocese.

Trepidation was warranted, as on entering the presbytery Fr Raphael was faced with a derelict, rat infested building.

The first few weeks of occupancy were spent clearing out rubbish and cleaning the rooms to make the presbytery functional, habitable and pest free.

Within a few weeks of taking over administration, Fr Raphael began construction of a security hut and compound fence to surround the parish and presbytery.

In Nigeria it is essential for security reasons, to have a gated and fenced compound. Fortuitously for Fr Raphael, donations arrived from a Catholic priest in Sydney and a number of other Australian donors, funding the compound fence and a new roof on the presbytery to make the building waterproof.

On witnessing these immediate improvements the parishioners named Fr Raphael "Oka Obulu Uzo" which semi-literally means "calls for work and first to start" and in the proverbial sense means "leads by example".

Within the first few months of his appointment he had clearly demonstrated to his parishioners that he was cut from different cloth to his predecessor.

A new larger church had been built to replace the first church, but was still a work in progress when Fr Raphael became administrator.

The church still required flooring and ceiling along with other structural elements. Fr Raphael had a tile floor laid in 2013, replaced the leaking roof in 2014, leaving the ceiling as a future project.

All parishes in Nnewi Diocese have at a minimum separate organisations for Catholic men, women, boys and girls.

One annual event hosted by these groups towards the end of each year is a parish bazaar (men and women) and a youth bazaar (girls and boys). Parishioners donate items ranging from live chickens, plantains, plastic buckets to motor bikes, all for auction at the bazaar.

Catholic organisations

Fr Raphael quickly reinstated the inactive organisations for boys and girls at Christ the King with a week-long youth conference to encourage the groups to make a vibrant contribution to parish life.

The girls organisation requested permission to learn traditional dance so that they could perform at parish functions and on feast day celebrations.

Fr Raphael contracted a teacher from Calabar to teach the girls for one week. The last month has seen the group in daily practice at the church compound in preparation for their first public exhibition.

Mid-year 2013, after consultation with his parish council, Fr Raphael began work on renovating the old parish church into a nursery school for children aged from 18 months to five years.

With paint, partitions and elbow grease the building became a three classroom Christ the King Nursery School, opening its doors in September 2013 with an enrolment of 45 pupils.

Fr Raphael designed the uniform himself and had a local seamstress sew the everyday and games uniforms. Toilets for the school were included in the construction of the security hut begun early in 2013.

After some delay due to lack of funds, the security building is soon to have an official opening and blessing. Fr Raphael will employ an armed officer to maintain security at the gate.

Incidences of kidnap of young children from schools for ransom and rituals have increased in the region, so it is essential for Fr Raphael to provide a safe environment for his school and parishioners.

Some years ago a group of village elders started to build a community hall, but ran out of steam or probably money. Fr Raphael sought permission from the last surviving elder to complete the building project as Christ the King Primary School.

The partially built block walls are within the church compound and the floor space of the building should allow for six classrooms. Fr Raphael is hoping to have it completed by September 2014 and ready to take in pupils.

Among Fr Raphael's many skills is that of farming, learnt as a child in his family compound, where each family member had a hoe and scythe and worked on the cultivated plot.

In order to provide food for his parish household, Father has planted crops of cocoyams, yams, corn and cassava. At harvest time the men belonging to the men's organisation help Father with the harvest and their payment is to take home some yams.

For further food supply Fr Raphael has built a large fish pond to grow his own catfish and a poultry coop for chickens and turkeys.

After 18 months at Christ the King Parish there is no question of why the parishioners chose the name "Oka Obulu Uzo" for their new parish priest.

To see photos of Christ the King Parish visit the parish website: www.christthekingihiala.wordpress.com managed by the author.

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