The community gathers for the ordination of Solomon Kaanan July 7 at the Cathedral of St. Gerard Majella in Katsina-Ala, Nigeria. Photograph courtesy of Father Pablo Migone.
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To the ends of the earth

Originally Appeared in : 9915-7/18/19

Editor’s note: This column is newsworthy as a first person account of the ordinations in Nigeria. It has been translated into Spanish here.

 

Bishop Hartmayer and I recently traveled to the ends of the earth. After a familiar drive to Atlanta from Savannah, we boarded two long flights which, after 24 hours, carried us to the city of Abuja in central Nigeria. The purpose of the long journey was simple: to participate in the ordinations to the priesthood of Theodore Agba, Solomon Kaanan, and Peter Lanshima. These three young men came to the Diocese of Savannah after completing their philosophy studies in Nigeria, and studied theology at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Florida, while sponsored by the Diocese of Savannah. They will now serve as priests in our diocese for a period of time, and after its conclusion, they will have the option of remaining here or returning home.

 

After a hearty breakfast on our first day, we traveled with Father Daniel Melaba to Gwagwalada in the outskirts of the city to visit the headquarters of the Missionary Society of Saint Paul. This missionary society was founded in 1976 by the bishops of Nigeria in response to Pope Paul VI’s call, while visiting Uganda, urging African nations to provide missionaries for the universal Church. The society now has 268 priests and four of them currently serve in various cities of our diocese including Savannah, Swainsboro, Tifton, and Waynesboro. The Superior General, Father Victor Onwukeme, MSP, graciously received us; we had lunch together, and he gave us a tour of the seminary.

 

The following day started early with a long drive toward the southeast of Abuja through Nasarawa State and into Benue State. We were warmly welcomed in Makurdi at St. Joseph Parish for a late lunch with Father Emmanuel, a priest, who some years ago, briefly worked at St. Joseph Church in Macon. Our journey concluded at the house of Bishop William Amove Avenya in Gboko. Bishop Hartmayer had been a guest of Bishop Avenya in 2013 during his first visit there, during which he ordained the very first 17 priests of the newly created Diocese of Gboko.

 

The joy of the faithful present was evident in the music, dancing, and cheering throughout and after the ordination Mass. Neither the sweltering heat nor the lengthy rite took away from the beauty and excitement of the moment. Bishop Hartmayer and I joined the families and friends of the newly ordained priests at a reception afterwards where there was plenty of food and traditional Tiv dancing. Later that same day I visited the market of Gboko and the Queen of the Rosary Secondary School with Father Melaba. This boarding school educates about 1,000 young ladies, many of whom continue onto university studies and professional careers.

 

The ordination of Father Solomon Kaanan was the next day, and required about an hour drive from Gboko. We traveled in a small bus to the smaller city of Katsina-Ala which until recently has been struck by violence and strife. We arrived just 10 minutes before the starting time of the ordination. Father Solomon was ordained along with another priest for Katsina-Ala and a member of the Josephite Order. Bishop Peter Adoboh of Katsina-Ala who had recently returned to his diocese after receiving medical treatment warmly welcomed us. Unlike the ordination Mass in Gboko which was all in English with some songs in Tiv, the language of the predominant Tiv tribe, the Mass in Katsina-Ala included much more Tiv. Father Moses, Vocation Director of Katsina-Ala, translated Bishop Hartmayer’s homily from English. After a gathering with the priests of the diocese, we had a late lunch at the house of Bishop Adoboh, Father Solomon Kaanan Solomon Kaanan briefly Father Solomon Kaanan stopped at Father Solomon’s reception, and returned to Gboko. That evening a group of priests gathered at Bishop William’s house, including some of the men ordained by Bishop Hartmayer in 2013. Words of gratitude and encouragement were exchanged, a Tiv dance troop performed a traditional dance, and a meal was shared.

 

The final day of the journey included a stop at the government offices of Makurdi, capital of Benue State, to meet with the Deputy Governor Benson Abounu. In the name of the governor he expressed profound gratitude to Bishop Hartmayer for his solidarity with and trust in the people of Benue State. After presenting traditional wear to the bishop, he declared him an honorary citizen of Benue. We continued toward Abuja where Father Isaac Dugu of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria welcomed us for dinner. That evening we boarded an airplane once again and began our journey back to Savannah.

 

We were joyfully welcomed with open arms everywhere we visited. One evening a priest stated while addressing all those gathered that Bishop Hartmayer and I had traveled to the ends of the earth to be with them. We return home grateful for the experience and thankful to God for the gift of the priesthood conferred on the young men who will soon begin ministry in our diocese.

 

Father Pablo Migone is chancellor of the Diocese of Savannah.

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