Nigerian archbishop brings message of ‘kinship in Christ’s love’

ORANGEBURG — A Nigerian archbishop brought a message to Holy Trinity Church on July 1 about the liberation of surrendering all to Jesus Christ.

 Most. Rev. Anthony J.V. Obinna, of the Archdiocese of Owerri, Nigeria, celebrated Mass during a visit to Father Michael Okere, who is the church administrator and is on assignment to the Diocese of Charleston from Owerri.

Archbishop Obinna visited from June 28 through July 4 as part of a month-long trip to the United States that included stops in Maryland and Pittsburgh, Pa.

In his homily, the archbishop focused on the spiritual freedom Catholics and other Christians can discover if they completely surrender themselves to the love of Jesus Christ. He described a period of spiritual alienation he experienced in the 1980s that began while he was studying at Catholic University. There, he said, he “realized African-Americans were my blood brothers,” and started to become disillusioned and angry when he studied the injustices of the slave trade and other periods of injustice and cruelty throughout world history.

“Jesus had patience with me and saw me go through that turmoil. I was angry when I looked at all the inequity in the world,” he said. “Then, I had an illumination on the feast of the Annunciation. On March 25, 1988, I became more grateful to God. I allowed Christ to free me, and as Christ has freed me I seek to free others. Our lust and greed is what can lead us to enslave one another. That is what is holding the world captive … we can be slaves to our passions, our jealousy. Jesus sets us free from every bitterness and jealousy.”

Archbishop Obinna also talked briefly about his journey to the priesthood. He described how Irish and French Catholic missionaries brought the faith to his part of Nigeria in 1912, and how his father became a Catholic and headmaster of the Catholic school that Archbishop Obinna attended as a child.

The archbishop described the Nigerian church as both flourishing and struggling. In his archdiocese, which includes six dioceses, he oversees 750,000 Roman Catholics in 101 parishes. He said there are currently 255 priests, 170 seminarians and more than 100 nuns. In recent years, he confirmed approximately 1,200 people at one Mass.

At the same time, he said, the archdiocese struggles because of a history of war and government corruption to raise enough money to keep schools and other facilities going, and also to open new schools and needed facilities such as a retirement home for priests. In recent years, Archbishop Obinna has been involved in opening Veritas University, the first Catholic university in Nigeria.

“I’m happy to do these things because it is the mission Christ has given me, and I hope my presence and my story will intensify your joy,” he said. “Once you submit totally to Christ you will see a difference. I’m a new man because of submitting to Christ.”

In an interview with The Miscellany, Archbishop Obinna said he was happy to be visiting South Carolina again and to see the diversity of the Catholic community in Orangeburg manifested in the Holy Trinity parishioners, which include white, African-American, Hispanic and Asian Catholics.

“Unity in Christ is being manifested here in Orangeburg, and this is what the future of the Church is going to be,” he said. “Love is the main language of the Church. The languages we speak are just the medium of communication.”

Archbishop Obinna recalled that he first visited the diocese in 2003 after meeting Bishop Robert J. Baker in Rome. He delivered a lecture that year about the shared heritage of African and African-American Catholics, and the need to reach out to African-American Catholics. As a result of that visit, Archbishop Obinna said he sent Father Okere to the diocese, where he served at St. Ann Church, Kingstree, before moving to Orangeburg in 2006.

“I’m happy about the collaboration between Nigeria and the Diocese of Charleston,” he said. “It’s wonderful in this part of the world, especially with the past history of slavery, to begin a new path, a path of kinship in Christ’s love.”

An honor guard of fourth degree Knights of Columbus members from around the Midlands and Pee Dee provided a guard for the archbishop at the beginning and end of the Mass, and a reception was held afterward.

“It was an awesome experience to see him and to listen to his message from the heart,” said Geneva Roache, a 40-year member of Holy Trinity. “Everything he said really pertains to this parish. I feel we’re really working toward the kind of love and understanding he described.”