Mission to Achalla

The small mission in Achalla is the most remote mission of our priory, about 2 hours to the West of Enugu. It is in a small village of perhaps 800 people, about 45 minutes North East from the large city of Onitcha.

The peoples here are largely Catholic, but there are still some pagans. The day of our arrival there were a lot of drums for the pagan burial service that was held in the afternoon. The people live off the land. Electricity is practically non-existant except on the very rare occasions. Travel is mostly on foot, but a few have motorcycles. Many people complained of illness this weekend, and there were two sick calls on Sunday. Some of the children were also sick on Saturday.

We have a small mission here since 2 years. We come once a month as we have the opportunity, usually at the end of the month. There is one family that receives us, who take care of the outdoor chapel.

The first coordinator of this chapel died last June, and was buried by Fr. Benedict. Many from the village came to his funeral – over 100 people – but the parish priest was very angry with them. There is a small regular group of around 50 people. On Sunday the 27th there were 45, plus 2 sick calls immediately after the Mass.

The chapel is modest, entirely outside in the nature, covered with a very solid metal roof.

On Saturdays there is firstly the adult catechism before the Mass at 16:00, which lasts around 45 minutes. It is necessary to give them the catechism in Igbo as very few speak English here. The children do learn English in school, but with very little effect. The adults can only speak a few words. Thus it is necessary to have a translator at least until the priest learns the language.

This Saturday we spoke about the virtues of Hope and Charity, as Fr. Peter had spoken to them about Faith. After this small lesson there was the Rosary and then the Holy Mass. This Saturday was the Ember Saturday in September, so there were six lessons. One of our pre-seminarians read the lessons in Igbo whilst the priest recited them in Latin. The sermon was about the sacrament of orders and especially the Minor Orders which are Traditionally conferred on the Ember Saturday. The faithful were reminded to pray for vocations – because only God can instill into the heart the desire to consecrate oneself to Him. Only God can give the grace to persevere in one’s vocation, and only God can give the grace to be faithful to one’s vocation.

Normally after the Mass there is the catechism for children, but many were sick and did not have the strength to even sit down. So we talked a bit about sickness and the Cross, and proposed that perhaps they could come tomorrow for catechism before the Mass. This was a good proposition welcomed by parents and all.

Thus at 7:00 in the morning on Sunday they all came to catechism, and the priest explained to them the sacrament of Extreme Unction, the sacrament that Our Lord gave to us for the healing of the sick but especially to prepare the soul for eternity. Father spoke about how this sacrament is a special gift of the mercy of God, preparing the soul for eternity and wiping away all the debt due to sin.

After the Catechism on Sunday there was the Rosary and confessions. Many came to confession, and some went to confession after Mass as they could not get to Achalla in time. In fact  we had some visitors from afar who had difficulty to arrive in time, but they arrived just as the priest was half-way through the sermon.

The people live in great poverty and great simplicity. After the Mass on Saturday we were invited to take part in their meal, which was called Samovita. It is a type of porridge made from wheat and a sort of soup made from several greens and a few vegetables. It is actually eaten with the hands – the porridge is actually a kind of paste that one makes into a ball and then dips it into the soup. The food is not even chewed, but simply swallowed whole. It is one of their best foods.

They have several animals, including a few goats and quite a few wild chickens. The goats are kept on a leash so that they do not eat any of the crops and are kept in the kitchen at night. At evening the chickens actually climb up into the palm trees in order to rest in the branches so as not to be eaten by animals. Unfortunately their young can only hide in the bushes and they seem to lose many during the night.

During the evening discussion we spoke much about the history of the Igbo people. It is very interesting to note that the old way of counting the week was actually according to ‘market days’. There were only four market days per Igbo week. After seven market-weeks there would be the counting of the month, with 13 months to a year. Many children are named according to which market-day they were born – for instance the name “Okeke” would refer to the fact that he was born on this day of ‘kek’. Many people in Achalla have their native Igbo name as well as their Christian name, with the Igbo name being what is used in daily life whilst they would be named Christian on important occasions.

After a photo with the important families of the chapel, we then had to leave after the Mass for the chapel of Onitsha.