Mission to Port Harcourt

The large city of Port Harcourt is at the delta of the Niger river. Extending some 4180 km the Niger river is the third-largest river in Africa, and it’s delta region is quite vast. The delta region is also very rich in oil, which is the most important export product of Nigeria. Thus the city of Port Harcourt is principally built on the oil industry.

We have been going to Port Harcourt since January of this year, and only sporadically, sometimes only once every 2 months, and not at all during the summer. Thus we have been in Port Harcourt around 6 times. It is very difficult for a mission to grow in such conditions, but it is a beginning that we hope to build on.

The city of Port Harcourt is a logistical nightmare for our missions. The so-called ‘highway’ from Enugu to Port Harcourt is in such bad condition that it is simply non-existent. During the last mission Fr. Jenkins tried to make the trip by bus. However, immediately outside the city of Enugu the roads become so terrible that the bus must take the small roads into the villages to keep moving towards Port Harcourt. These small roads are filled with water in the rainy season and the bus sinks up to its axles in mud.

What makes the trip more dangerous is that the locals will block the road with fallen trees and ropes and demand payment to remove them. Every 200 meters in a small village the same process is repeated: they block the road and demand 50-200 Naira and then remove the barrier. The next car approaches, and the same. With the auto-route completely non-functional they will have many buses that try to make this route, and each of them have to pay this ‘toll tax’ in order to get through. What would normally require just 2-3 hours on a normal highway takes over 8-9 hours to travel.

On arrival to the city the traffic problems become even worse. The main expressway is ostensibly 3 lanes, but none of them are free. There are huge craters in the road that a car could fall into. There are large ponds of water that cover 2 lanes for several hundred meters, sometimes up to 2 meters deep. Cars stand in traffic for 2-3 hours just to pass the main junction.

With such conditions it is literally impossible for people to move in the city by car, not to mention goods and services. Many large trucks simply break down in the middle of the road because of the potholes, and of course this makes the situation even worse as the truck is simply abandoned and there is very little effort to try to get it out.

Thus in organizing the Mass in Port Harcourt for this Sunday we have tried another way to get to the chapel than by bus. The airport and the roads leading to it are very well maintained, especially since they are so critical to the oil industry. The flights from Enugu to Port Harcourt are about 5 times the price of the bus trip [10 USD], but at the equivalent of 50 USD it is not an exorbitant price. Thus this Friday 2 October we purchased a flight from Enugu to Port Harcourt. The flight arrived on time, but the arrival was fairly late in the evening at 18:10. The only real option in these conditions is to find a hotel, as the houses of the faithful are more than 2 hours away and travel in Nigeria at night time is simply impossible, due to the conditions of the roads.

Also it should be noted that there have been many abductions in the city of Port Harcourt in the last year. Many people are simply taken away and held for ransom, especially people who are connected with the oil industry or who have money. Thus it is not wise to travel at night at all, and to keep to places well guarded by security, such as hotels.

The hotel in the city is about 1 hour from the airport. It is quite good for Nigerian standards, but abysmal for European standards. We will need to find a different one in the future. After a night in the hotel Fr. Jenkins began the trip to the chapel in the morning, with the Mass and conference having been planned at 11:00. The chapel is organized in a school that allows us to use a large classroom for the Mass.

The planned arrival of the driver was for 9:00, but he arrived only after 10:30 due to the horrible traffic conditions. After departing the hotel we made the way across town. The chapel is actually quite close to the hotel, only 4.5km. However the trip from the hotel to the chapel actually took 2 hours, or twice the time of the flight. The Mass was finally had at 13:30 as there were many confessions and we waited for the faithful that phoned to say that they were on their way.

The votive Mass was of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the First Saturday. The conference after the Mass was on the devotion to Our Lady according to her three extraordinary privileges: The Immaculate Conception, Her Divine Maternity, and Her Assumption into heaven. There were about 15 people for this Saturday, or a good half of the number of faithful who come on Sundays.

The Sunday following the Mass was planned for 8:30am. Departure from the hotel at 6:00 to insure that we get to the chapel in time, actual departure around 6:10 due to the driver being a bit late. On Sundays everything is closed in Nigeria, so the roads are almost empty. Thus what would normally take 2 hours or more on a regular work day now took only 15 minutes – arrival at the chapel at around 6:30. Thus a good 2 hours to prepare everything.

For the Mass there was around 25 people, some of them arriving after the Gospel. After the Mass there were some more confessions.

After the Mass and the taking down of the chapel, there was the drive to the airport for a flight to Abuja. This is part of the new logistical organization – instead of just one chapel, by airplane we can serve two different chapels on the same Sunday, effectively doubling the amount of Masses that the faithful receive per month. This is essential to insure the sacraments for the faithful, their perseverance in the faith and the growth of the chapel.

Also it should be noted that the faithful were very generous. In fact the entire cost of the travel to the chapel was covered by the collections, the only cost remaining for the priory to cover was the hotel and food, or around 12000 Naira [60 USD]. This will be ameliorated in the next mission run. With the growth of the chapel it should be easy to cover even this cost by the Sunday collection, making the mission practically self-sustaining which is very important for the future.

We hope in the future to find an hotel closer to the airport which has a conference room where we could celebrate the Mass. This would make the organization of the Sunday masses much easier and even for the poorer faithful easier to access, as there is a lot of public transport that goes to the airport. We will pray for these intentions and hope that our next mission to Port Harcourt will be even more successful.