Mission to Onitsha

The mission to Onitsha is connected to the mission of Achalla due to the fact that they are fairly close – around 45 min travel by car. However, the roads between Onitsha and Achalla are very bad. Although route 234 is a major road in Nigeria, going between the large cities of Enugu and Onitsha, it is in very bad condition. There is no asphalt for a large section of the road. 

There are ditches so large that many cars go offroad in order to pass by them. Often the two lane “highway” becomes simply one lane. There are heavy trucks that attempt to bring their goods to the neighboring city, but since the roads are so bad they often breakdown in the middle of their journey, and their cargo at the whim of thieves and opportunists. This makes any sort of travel very dangerous and very slow.

Onitsha is one of the largest cities of Nigeria, the 5th largest according to population. It lies on the Niger river. It is also the oldest diocese of Nigeria, as the missionaries used the river for transport to the many peoples who live along the river.

Our mission was firstly in the city of Asaba on the other side of the river, but there was not enough place in this chapel and it was difficult to get to for many people. We were able to find a building to rent for the Sunday, namely the 4th floor of an unfinished project. The faithful do their best with the modest means at their disposal to make this rough concrete building into a chapel for the celebration of Mass.

On this Sunday there was a small delay due to an accident a few hundred meters from the chapel. An impatient motorcycle driver tried to pass our car on the left as we were turning into the street that leads to the chapel. He was going well over 50 km an hour and hit the side of the car and completely took off the side mirror. The two motorcycle passengers slid for a good 10 meters. Many people gathered around, and started to berate the fellow lying on the ground for his stupidity. When they saw a priest get out of the car they were especially angry with him and began to say he was not only stupid but cursed. There were about 20-30 witnesses to the scene, but no one called the police – it seems they wouldn’t have come anyway, and they always mean more trouble.

However the driver was not seriously hurt – he simply had a very large and nasty scrape on his arm, from the thumb to the elbow. Providentially the hospital was just across the street. Peter-Paul escorted him there with his passenger who was completely uninjured. People were still yelling at him for his careless driving as he wandered off.

Thus the Mass was a bit late – in fact about 30 minutes late – due to the accident. Many confessions were heard while the people recited another rosary.

This chapel has a very good organist from Umuaka. Even if he only has a very small electronic organ he was able to do accompany the people rather well. He knows a great deal of Gregorian chant and there is also a fairly large choir for such a small chapel – around 7 people who sang the propers of the Mass and intoned the Kyrie. Here as in all the chapels in Nigeria they sang the Kyrie de angelis in a rather peculiar way, without the semitone at Si. It thus sounds much more ‘modal’ than the way it is often sung in Europe or America.

There Mass was served by an entire contingent of ministers – 7 in total. They serve the Mass quite well and had obviously been instructed in even the minor details of serving.

Also of note is that the coordinator of the chapel always prepares the chant and texts of the Mass as a small booklet so that each Sunday the faithful can use it for singing and to know the reading. This is rather important as books are so expensive that almost no one has a missal.

After the Mass there was the giving of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel [the Brown Scapular]. Eight of the faithful were enrolled. After the blessing of the scapular and the investiture, the entire chapel made the Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, using the text of that same consecration composed by Pius XII.

After the granting of the scapular there was a conference. The conference was about the importance of Latin, and why the liturgy ought to be in Latin.

In the first part of the conference Father explained the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, of how it is the sacrifice of the New Law, the official offering of the Church and identical to the sacrifice of Calvary. From the nature of the Mass it could be seen that it is a universal sacrifice, for all peoples, all nations and all places. Father then spoke about the nature of language, of how language must communicate precisely and clearly. From the nature of language and of the Mass one could see some very practical consequences. The fact that it is the official sacrifice of the Church, it ought to be done in the official language of the Church, namely Latin. Even the Second Vatican Council in its decree Sacrosanctum Concilium demanded that the Mass be offered in Latin [par. 36] and that the faithful themselves ought to learn how to sing the parts that pertain to them in Latin [par 56].

Since the sacrifice is for the Church, who is sent to all nations, it is also suitable that the language be also of all peoples – that is to say, in a language that is not the particular language of a certain tribe, but available to all of them. The Latin language, since it is no longer the use of a particular people, belongs to no one, and thus can be used by everyone without prejudice. Also the Latin language is very precise, whose vocabulary and grammar has been fixed for many centuries. Even the great scientists such as Isaac Newton composed his Elementae Philosophiae in Latin.

Latin also is a great symbol of the unity of the Church, and corresponds to the natural desire of men that the language of the temple should not be the language of business. The Hindus do not make their public worship in Tamil or Hindi, but rather in Sanskrit, the sacred language that is reserved for this purpose. The Jews do not say their prayers in Yiddish, but in Ancient Hebrew. Likewise the Muslim does not offer his prayers in the vulgar tongue, but in classical Arabic. Thus even human nature requires a sacred language given and approved by God.

The conference was recorded by many cellphones, and the text will be published.

After the conference there was a visit to the house of the coordinator for dinner and conversation. The organist came with us and gave a lesson about Gregorian chant to all that would hear him.

After this there was the long drive home, about 3 hours, in order to be back for Vespers in the priory at 18:30.