This article points to the far-reaching effects of the Church’s manifold mission endeavors.
This weekend, Oct. 20-21, World Mission Sunday will be celebrated in churches throughout the world, with special prayers for all missionaries and a renewed commitment for every Catholic to proclaim the Gospel in the mission field of everyday life.
A second collection will also be taken up to benefit the work of the Pontifical Mission Societies throughout the world. Please give generously.
Bishop Anthony Adaji of Idah, Nigeria, loves hearing about priests from his diocese leading people to Christ in such faraway places as Shelbina and Columbia, Missouri.
He is proud to call them missionaries of the Church in their homeland.
“You are going as an ambassador of our diocese,” he tells them as they leave to serve overseas. “You will take the good name of the diocese with you. Make sure you do the best you can to be a priest and servant that the people of God will appreciate.”
Bishop Adaji called on Bishop W. Shawn McKnight in the Alphonse J. Schwartze Memorial Catholic Center during an Oct. 11 visit to Jefferson City.
He then headed to Fulton for a gathering of priests from the Idah diocese who are serving in the United States.
Among them are Father Joseph Abah, pastor of St. Peter parish in Fulton and St. Jude Thaddeus parish in Mokane, and Father Patrick Adejoh, chief of Chaplain Services at Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia.
Father Simeon Etonu, a priest of the Jefferson City diocese who is pastor of St. Mary parish in Shelbina and St. Patrick parish in Clarence, grew up in Bishop Adaji’s diocese.
Bishop Adaji, 54, has been bishop of Idah (pronounced “EE-dah”) since 2009, having served previously as a priest and auxiliary bishop there.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI appointed him to succeed the late Bishop Ephraim Silas Obot, who had ordained him to the Priesthood, on June 1, 2009.
The diocese includes about 2.5 million people living in a 5,000-square-mile territory in Kogi State in south-central Nigeria.
About 15 percent of the people there are Catholic.
There are also adherents to several other Christian congregations, to Islam and to traditional African religions.
It’s not unusual for families to be just as religiously diverse. Most of Bishop Adaji’s family is Catholic, although his older brother is Muslim.
Their father, who grew up practicing a traditional African religion, came to recognize the value of a Catholic education. He insisted that young Anthony attend the Mission School founded by the missionaries in Idah.
“From the Mission School, we received catechism and religious instruction on a regular basis,” Bishop Adaji recalled. “That was a motivating factor for many people my age to get into the Catholic faith.”
And as was the case with the bishop’s family, it drew their parents in as well.
A mission to educate
Bishop Adaji believes Catholic education is not only growing and energizing the Church, it’s also saving his country.
“In every parish, we try to maintain the tradition of Catholic education to help our children,” he said.
For political reasons, the Nigerian government has assumed control of the schools the Church founded in the area.
“And the great challenge we have is the fact that the government is not doing enough with regard to the education of children,” he said. “So our only option has been to build our own schools again in the parishes in the villages and developed places.”
He emphasized that education is not just about preparing young people to get good jobs and become upwardly mobile.
“It’s about the development of the human person,” he said. “An individual who is fully developed can be creative, he can provide for himself, he can handle whatever life brings him.”
The job market is competitive, and there are getting to be more college graduates than there are good jobs.
“So we encourage young people and help them learn to be creative so that they can create work in the private sector by being entrepreneurs,” said Bishop Adaji.
That way, they can provide for themselves and their families while creating good jobs for other people, too.
“That’s the kind of education we want our young people to attain and the kind of society we want them to help build,” he said.
Crowned with solid formation and sealed with the Holy Spirit, they are drawn toward lives that are also holy and pleasing to God.
“They’re not just in it for themselves,” said Bishop Adaji. “In our Catholic schools, we make it a point of emphasizing the formation of morals, the character of the individual, according to Catholic values and principles.”
Strong, stable family life helps make those values stick.
“The Church cannot do much when the family is stopped and destabilized,” he noted.
One heart, one Spirit
Catholic Christianity in the Idah diocese began with a short-lived mission initiative begun by Holy Ghost Fathers from France in 1903.
German members of the same order arrived in 1932-33 to resume the work. Because Nigeria was still under British rule, the to resume the work. Because Nigeria was still under British rule, the priests were taken prisoner during World War II, and the mission was again abandoned.
“That affected the growth of the Catholic faith for a long time,” Bishop Adaji noted.
The diocese’s patron saint is St. Boniface, an eighth-century bishop who received the crown of martyrdom while evangelizing the German people.
“He is the patron saint of Germany, and he is our patron saint because of the priests from Germany who were responsible for the second mission attempt,” said Bishop Adaji.
In around 1950, Holy Ghost Fathers from Canada began the third phase of Catholic evangelization in the area.
“We are now enjoying the fruits of their ministry,” said Bishop Adaji.
Early on, there were never more than 10 missionaries.
“But they covered the entire territory, called by their dedication and their commitment,” he noted.
While the bishop was a student in the Mission School, one Canadian priest was ministering alone in an area that is now part of over 15 parishes.
Growth and development continued. Pope St. Paul VI created the Prefecture Apostolic of Idah — basically a diocese in training — in 1968. Monsignor Leopord Grimard, one of the Holy Ghost Fathers from Canada, served as apostolic prefect.
The Church began to grow rapidly with the opening of schools and parishes, with support from throughout the Universal Church.
“That helped many of us become Catholic,” said Bishop Adaji.
Pope St. Paul elevated the territory to a diocese in 1978 and appointed Bishop Ephraim Obot, a Nigerian priest, its first bishop.
Throughout his 31 years as bishop, he emphasized leading children to Christ through good schools with excellent faith formation and catechesis.
The opening of a high-school seminary in 1982 has helped many young men discern their priestly calling.
“We have a very young generation of priests,” said Bishop Adaji. “God has blessed us so much with vocations to the Priesthood.”
Bishop Obot was close to death when Bishop Adaji came to pray the Rosary with him and the members of his household the morning of Easter Sunday in 2009.
Shortly thereafter, Bishop Obot died.
Bishop Adaji was appointed to succeed him a month later.
Home and abroad
One hundred seventeen priests minister in the Idah diocese’s 49 parishes and five Catholic communities that are in the process of becoming parishes.
The territory of each parish is large, with most encompassing 10 to 20 separate villages. The priests head out to offer Mass and minister sacramentally in the pattern of the original missionaries.
“The Church is growing rapidly, and we thank God for that,” said Bishop Adaji. “So we need to open more parishes and more Mass centers.”
There are 52 seminarians, nine of whom he hopes to ordain as transitional deacons in December, with priestly ordination to follow.
There would likely be more, but Bishop Adaji must cap the number of seminarians because of the expense of forming men for the Priesthood.
Religious sisters and brothers from numerous congregations — some of pontifical rite, some of diocesan rite — also serve in the diocese, mostly in schools and hospitals.
Bishop Adaji believes that while his priests ministering in the United States are performing an essential service, they are also gaining valuable experience that will help them when they return home.
“There are a lot of great positive values that coming to the United States can help you learn — values of organization, values of transparency,” he said. “It’s a highly advanced society and the Church here is very, very well organized.”
The priests here are also very committed and earn the respect of the people in their care, he said.
Communion of prayer
Bishop Adaji appreciates the prayers of the people of the Jefferson City diocese for the people of his diocese.
“Fundamentally, we are in communion of prayer together,” he said. “The Church as a whole is a communion of prayer. That is why when bishops, priests and deacons, when we pray the Divine Office, we are praying for the entire Church.”