Brother John Fidelis CSSp all
M I N I S T R Y
VERRE PASTORAL AREA
VERRE PASTORAL AREA.. 1
Sabon-Gide Take. 2
List of Helpers. 14
List of Churchs (stations) - 54. 15
Bro. John Fidelis CSSp. 18
Wukari, Yola. Verre area. 35
The Verre Pastoral Area. 36
Some Recollections by
Bro. John Fidelis CSSp
Some Recollections and Dissertation regarding my Ministry as a Missionary Brother in the Diocese of Yola, Nigeria
Nigeria is a big-big country and the part of Nigeria in which I was to work was in the North East, between the Benue river and the Atlantica mountains bordering the Cameroon. The first parish to which I was appointed was Sabon-Gide Take, at that time a huge area between the Donga river and the Taraba river. These were tributaries of the river Benue, which itself joins the mighty river Niger at Lokoja. Sabon-Gida Take is in the lower part of Yola Diocese. Yola Diocese is reputed to be about as big as Ireland and it was later to be divided in to two: Yola and Jalingo.
Bishop Francis Sheehan O.S.A. was the Bishop of Yola Diocese and he was very easy to get on with. His diocesan clergy, likewise, could not have been more helpful in their attitude to myself and other CSSp. Confreres working in Yola Diocese.
Apart from Yola (Jimeta) most of the parishes had large areas of bush. Sabon-Gide was one of these bush parishes, about 236 miles south of Yola and about 160 miles east of Makurdi. At that time Sabon-Gide had 150 bush churches, or outstations as we called them.
Father Terence Casey, CSSp. was the Priest in Charge and he welcomed me with open arms. I had met Father Terry during his pre-noviciate and again when I went to Nigeria on a visitor’s visa (six weeks) in April 1985, travelling with Father Harry Pass CSSp. At that time I had a quick tour of some of the parishes in Makurdi Diocese where a number of confreres were working. Moving east to Takum and then on to Wukari I was soon taken up the road to Sabon-Gide. Takum, Wukari and Sabon-Gide are at the bottom end of what was then Yola Diocese. My time was limited but I quickly came to the conclusion that Sabon-Gide and Yola Diocese were my preference. I liked the people of this large parish, who were mainly Tiv, although a good number of Igbo were in the centre as general traders. I got on well with Father Casey and he seemed to be on the same wavelength and with very much the same attitude to mission as myself.
I returned to Nigeria in January 1986, this time travelling with Father Tony McKay CSSp. We arrived in Kano to find that there were no planes from Kano to Makurdi. We stayed at the Central Hotel in Kano for two nights and then hired a taxi to take us to Aliade. Father McKay paid for this (I think the cost was about N20000:00 – about £40.) Not bad for a 400 mile journey.
Father Vincent Griffin CSSp., the District R.S. transported me to Wukari via Abwa , where we called in to see Father Paddy Foley CSSp., and to pick up oranges. Bishop Sheehan O.S.A. was also there and was himself en route to Wukari where he was to say Mass for the people.
Bishop Sheehan advised me to attend a course in Yola before taking up my appointment to Sabon-Gide. After a few days in Wukari I was driven up the road to Sabon-Gide. The road between Wukari and Sabon-Gida and beyond was very bad, with potholes deep enough to burst tyres or wreck suspension, and Father Griffin was going further up the road to Yola.
I was again welcomed by Father Casey and by the two Parish Catechists, Stephen Agber and Bernard Lokoja. The cook, Pius Bello, made a fine meal of chicken and chips. Terry and myself sat outside the Atte eating our meal under a magnificent starry sky with three storm lanterns (not too close) and talked and reminisced until the late hours. It was good to be back with plenty of work to do. A happy time.
On Monday 3rd February 1986 I went to Yola to attend a training workshop. I stayed with Father Eamonn McAteer CSSp., at St. Mary’s parish in Yola town. The workshop ended on Friday 7th February and on Saturday 8th I went back to Wukari. I contracted malaria and it lasted a week. I returned to Sabon-Gida on 15th February.
Terry was away in Yola from Monday 17th February until Saturday 22nd February. On his return we went to Wukari for a send-off for Father Philip Marsh CSSp., who was returning to the English Province. Monday 24th we returned to Sabon-Gida. A young boy was brought into the Centre with a bad scorpion sting. Terry put on a blackstone and the boy recovered quickly. I had no ministry this week and I was able to catch up on the paper work and accounts etc. A young girl was brought in with a snake bite, also a man with a snake bite. Terry put on blackstones and sent them to the local Clinic for injections (Penicillin).
After a short period Bishop Sheehan gave Terry permission to institute me as Minister of the Blessed Sacrament. It was my birthday, the 24th April, I was 59.
The Bishop also gave me (through Father Andy O’Sullivan C.S.Sp.) his consent for me to Baptise children (under the use of reason). Bishop Sheehan in his generosity also gave me a car, a Volkswagen 115, so that Father Terry and myself could divide the work to be done.
Sabon-Gida-Take is on the tar road between Wukari and Newman, it is about 100 km up the road from Wukari and is basically a Farm Produce Collection Centre. Yams, casava, maize, beans, groundnuts, millet, benny-seed (sesame seed), bambra nuts (a type of ground-bean) and rice are grown, with the accent on yams and cassava. The land on which these crops are grown is rich alluvial land that is part of the Benue River basin.
All this land was originally the land of the “Quara-Rafan”, a very powerful tribe who had their Centre in a walled town, Quara-Rafa. This tribe at one time had laid siege to Kano. In more recent times, having lost their power, they changed their name to “Jukan”. The mud-walled town of Quara-Rafa has been abandoned to the elements. In more recent times a new town called Dan-Anacha has sprung up on the tar road bypassing where Quara-Rafa had been. Dan-Anacha (about 10 km nearer to Wukari than Sabon-Gida-Take) is also a Farm Produce Collection Centre.
St. Patrick’s, Sabon-Gida, was a thriving parish, with many Congresses. The people of the parish were mainly Tiv, although in the centre there was a good number of Igbo traders and a few Jukan Catholics. Just down the road at Atsua there were some Hausa Catholics who had migrated from the northern side of the Benue river. This station was eventually to become the centre of the new parish of Dinia. People of a particular zone came together for Mass or Communion Service and for the instruction and enrolment of catechumens, also for the Baptism of adults.
Father Casey and myself tried to cover as many stations as possible. On Monday letters would be given out in the market by the catechists to the various church leaders for the coming week. These letters informed the church leader who would be coming to their station, what day and time, and for what reason. For example: Brother John --- will come to --- Achtisongo --- at 8a.m. on Wednesday the --- 2nd --- of June, for the --- Baptism of Children. --- Stephen Agber, the Parish Catechist, will arrive the day before to conduct the scrutiny. --- The Baptism will be followed by Communion Service. The two Parish Catechists would go out to Bush after market on Monday afternoon. Each had a motorbike and would travel to each station in turn until Sunday morning, when there would be Mass or Service in the Centre Church, and then at a selected out-station.
The Tiv people, who had migrated to the rich land east of Wukari and especially east of the Donga river, were in a way frontier people. They are good farmers and the relatively empty land between the Conga and the Traba rivers was an irresistable attraction. As I have said earlier, this land is Jukan tribal land. Most of the Jukan are not Christian, and even if they are not Muslim they do seem to have some affiliation with the Fulani and Hausa. They are very political and protective of their land, most of which is used by the Fulani – cattle drovers – and has been (so to speak) stolen from the Jukan for this purpose. As the Jukan are not good farmers there is no big conflict of interests.
With the coming of the Tiv there was bound to be conflict over rights as the Tiv did not want the cattle drovers to trample their crops and the Fulani take it as their eternal right to wander their cattle and sheep wherever they will.
The conflict engendered by the migration of the Tiv to this area has been simmering for many years. It has been festering beneath the surface and there had been riots in Sabon-Gida in the early eighties. There seems to me to be two events that precipitated this conflict in recent times. The first event happened many, many years ago, it is this: the Tiv are relative newcomers to Nigeria – about 250-300 years (ref. R.C. Abraham). From the onset they opposed the Muslim Hausa/Fulani from expanding their influence over the middle belt of Nigeria and effectively frustrated their efforts and the Fulani have long memories.
The second event was the coming of the Christian Missionaries, and the Tiv response. The Tiv, while still keeping their traditional culture-based religion, did in large numbers, embrace the Christian ethic in the form of the N.K.S.T., a Protestant form of Christianity, and after the Civil Conflict and the Biafran war, began to show interest in the Catholic way of Christian life and were becoming Catholics in ever increasing numbers.
These two elements brought into play the tribal, political and religious dimension to the present conflict of interests and for the present has destroyed a viable economic and religious community.
Early in the year, on 28th February, I went to Yola to stay with Father D’Ambrosio C.S.S.p. Father Joe was teaching in the Junior Seminary (Jimeta). We lived in a house that was part of the Cathedral compound and I was to learn a little of the Tiv language. Father Joe D’Ambrosio is a good teacher and I was quick to learn enough to preside at Communion Services etc. Father John Atoba C.S.S.p. also lived with us, at that time he was not yet a priest, and as a scholastic was finishing a course prior to moving on in his vocation to the priesthood.
I stayed with Joe in Yola (Jimeta) until Thursday 20th March when we moved from Jimeta to Mapeo to conduct the Easter ceremonies. Mapeo was the Bishop’s favourite parish, he had been parish priest in Mapeo for many years before he was consecrated bishop. Mapeo is well into the bush and is at the base of the Alantica mountains that divide Nigeria from the Cameroon. It is Chamba country and further into the bush than the Verre pastoral area, where I was to work some years later, again with Father Terry Casey.
After Easter in Mapeo Joe D’Amrbosio and myself returned to Yola in time for the Diocesan General Assembly and Presbyterial Meeting, which I was to attend as observer.
After the Assembly, on Sunday 6th April, we had lunch at St, Mary’s Yola town and on the following day I went to Immigration to renew my visa.
Father Joe and myself set out for Sabon-Gida on the Tuesday. The temperature was very high, about 40C/100F, and the car was like an oven. We had three punctures on the road and very little shade in which to change the tyres. I began to suffer from heat exhaustion and I had to rest at Sabon-Gida. Father Casey took me down to Wukari when I had sufficiently recovered. Meanwhile Father Joe raced to Wukari to tell the Sisters there to expect me and to say that he thought I may have had a heart attack.
I remained in Wukari until 15th April when Terry and myself returned to Sabon-Gida. I was still not fully recovered and was vomiting and had some diahorrea, but was recovering. The parish must come first and on 17th/18th Terry went out to a Congress.
To get back to the parish: it must be said that it was not all smooth working. As I have indicated previously, the people of this area were frontier people. Sabon-Gida parish had to some extent the flavour of the Wild West, but without the horses and six-shooters. Communities were jealous of each other and liked to have their own name, e.g. the name of the head of their extended family, as the name of their church. There was always a little stealing of land or crops but a system of democratic arbitration, where they sat in their Atte (a sort of shelter without walls) and argued their differences over a wood fie and a pot or two of Brukatoo (native beer) did, in the main, work.
Father Mark Connolly C.S.S.P., who at the time was the priest in charge of St. Mary’s parish, Wukari, initiated, along with Father Philip Marsh C.S.S.P, and Father Terry Casey C.S.S.P., a Programme of teaching the Faith. They called it “The Road to Baptism”. They also encouraged some young Catholic men to start a C.R.I. (Class of Religious Instruction) for the children. When the people saw that things were being done and that the benefit was to themselves, they responded with good interest in what we were trying to do and in what the Christian (Catholic) Church is all about.
The Church in Sabon-Gida is a large one. The foundations and walls were laid by Father Eamonn McAteer C.S.S.P., working in conjunction with Father Mark Connolly C.S.S.P. and Father John Groves C.S.S.P., who were resident in Wukari. The church (155ft. x 35ft) was completed by Father Terry Casey C.S.S.P. He also raised the walls to give a better roof space. The roof trusses were made of mahogany, hand cut from “Byissa”, and very strong. The roofing carpenter was an Igbo man called Gody, from Wukari.
Father Casey was due to take his holiday in the U.K. in June/July 1986 but had arranged to take it earlier, which was a little unfortunate as the Bishop had decided to inaugurate the new parish of Gindin-Dorowa in May 1986 and Terry had to leave two days before this event. Gindin-Dorowa, on the banks of the Donga river, received fifty stations from Sabon-Gida and about forty from Wukari. Before the actual event I went out to Bush with the priest-elect of the new parish, Father John Gangwari, to introduce him to the stations that were being split from Sabon-Gida. The ceremony went well and I returned to Sabon-Gida to take charge until Father Frank Moran C.S.S.P. could join me as priest-in-charge. As it happened Father Frank did not arrive for a couple of weeks but we (the catechists and I) had a comprehensive programme to fulfil, so we were kept busy. Father Frank arrived and more could be done but unfortunately his father became very ill and Frank returned to the U.K. in time for the death and funeral of his well loved father. I soldiered on and had visits from the Bishop, from Father Pierre Deglair C.S.S.P., and from Father Andy O’Sullivan C.S.S.P. from Takum parish.
The time seemed to fly and in no time Terry was back and we could think of finishing the church. As it happened it was nearly twelve months before we could put in a concrete floor and a proper sanctuary. We managed to get a very good Mason from Wukari to do the job. He was excellent and a very good worker. His name was Gregory Eze. He was to die of cancer four years letter – may he rest in peace.
With Gregory’s help we were able to put in a good concrete floor and sanctuary and got the walls cemented inside and out. Also at this time I designed the altar and open-iron gates for the church. Gregory and myself built the altar of concrete slabs, the moulds for these were made by a carpenter relative of our catechist, Stephen Agber. He had the trade name of Dimako and had worked on the round houses that made up the living compound of the mission. I remember that I had to correct his angles a few times before he got the job done, but eventually things worked out fine and the altar was a source of envy among some the Diocesan Fathers who saw it and I gave the plans to many. The gates also were distinct, they were made by an Igbo welder in Wukari and I gave him permission to put my design in his portfolio. The side doors were made to the same pattern, but much later after Father Casey and myself had left for other appointments.
During my time in Sabon-Gida we also deepened the well divined by Grace Flanagan. I divined another well in the Compound and this was dug by a man we called Aboa (Snake). Both wells were excellent and ensured a plentiful supply of water for the Centre Mission. Altogether I divined five wells in the parish, and all of them came good.
No parish is without problems, but one incident stands out which typifies one aspect of running the parish at that time. An incident occurred concerning the implementation of the Diocesan Constitution, which had taken two years to come to fruition, and was to be implemented in all parishes in the Diocese. One of the rules was that Church leaders and Choir leaders had to be Sacramental. Our Choir leader in the Centre was not and he was refusing to step down. He had the support of a minority faction in the parish and was adamant that he would not be moved. I arranged with Terry that he would go out to Bush on the Sunday morning and I would preside at the Communion Service in the Centre. Father Bert Noonan C.S.S.P. had died in Rome and this was the first opportunity to have a Remembrance Service for him, so I entered the church early and waited for the choir leader to appear. On his entry into the church I explained to him the programme for the Service to mark the death for Father Noonan C.S.S.P. Without giving it any thought the choir leader turned to me and told me to “piss off”. Other people heard him and promptly sent for the Tiv Chief. The outcome was that I won the day and the Constitution was implemented. Thank you Bert!
A sequel to this, after much false-footing of the disruptive element in the parish, was a letter to the Bishop. I quote from this letter: “Rev. Brother, We have not find any fault from this old man but he is gradually allowing himself into the matter by constantly coming into church with canes and sometimes pushes people out of the church (he should be warned or he will face the music) – end of quote. The Bishop did not take any notice of this and we had very little trouble after this and things settled down.
There is always a little tension among frontier people. It is taken as normal. We just say “Tiv-like” – no problem.
Generally speaking the people of the parish were good people who genuinely tried to understand the faith, and live by it, an instance of this is the following true story. One of the men in the Centre, by the name of Joseph Ikio, who was a small farmer and job-man, was away from his home compound, as also was his wife and children (they would be in school) when his compound was burnt to the ground through the negligence of the people next to him. They had been clearing dead grass from their own compound by the normal method of firing it, but keeping it well under control. They had neglected to ensure that the fire had not travelled unseen to the next compound, which belonged to Joseph Ikio. Consequently, Joseph Ikio and his family lost everything, money, cloth, his beds, in fact all. He was advised to go to the local police and, after investigation, some redress would be ensured from the culprits. He was asked many times had he done this, he always answered no. The last time I asked him his reply was: “They are poor people, they cannot afford it, and I am a Christian.” This was the end of the story. How many people in Europe would miss a chance of compensation, I wonder? All the other parishioners rallied round and he eventually repaired his compound and also became a market trader.
Another time, deep into the bush (I am not sure of the name but I think it was Faga) I was called for Child Baptism and Communion Service, and after the Service as my driver, Julius, and myself prepared to leave, we were asked to wait. A chicken was brought and then a barrow-load of yams, and again we prepared to leave. We were stopped again and a goat was bundled into the back of the car and as a parting gesture I was handed N20-00 as petrol money. Wow! And the people at home are giving 50pence and £1 in church collections. Again, one wonders.
After the Centre Church in Sabon-Gida had been finished Father Casey decided to put in the foundations of three churches for communities on the tar road: Nyitio (Dananacha), Aza, a community close to the Taraba river and Myamchiel, a community between Sabon-Gida and Dananacha: these three churches were finished by Father Pierre Deglaire C.S.S.p. Nyitio was renamed after the town of Dan-Anacha and was to become the Centre of the new parish. Sabon-Gida was getting higher in numbers and was already back to 150 stations and increasing. Out of the original Sabon-Gida parish there had developed 50 stations to the new parish of Gindin-Dorowa, and later the parishes of Dinia (Atsua) and Dan-Anacha (Nyitio). Most of the groundwork for these new parishes was done by Father Terry Casey C.S.S.p., by myself, (Brother John C.S.S.p.) and by Father Pierre Deglaire C.S.S.p. Not a bad record for the Holy Ghost Fathers in less than ten years.
Many other things could be said about Sabon-Gida parish but this is not a comprehensive history, just some recollections.
Father Casey and myself parted company in May 1988, Terry to go to Yola and then on Sabbatical and I was posted to Takum to help Father O’Sullivan C.S.S.p. while Father John Sweeney C.S.S.p., was away on holiday. So my involvement with Sabon-Gida-Take came to an end.
At the end of these recollections I give a list of some of the churches (out-stations) that made up the parish of Sabon-Gida-Take. It is by no means a full list but gleaned from an old diary. I also give a list of some of the people who helped us by their support and work for the mission.
List of Helpers
Pius Bello (cook).
Stephen Agber, Bernard Lokoja, Clement and John (Catechists)
Dan-Loudi, Julius Bello (drivers)
Gregory Eze (mason)
Gody (roofing joiner)
I include Grace Flanagan (Water Diviner) whose well made things much easier in the Centre.
I must also include the various Holy Ghost Fathers who supported us in our Mission.
List of Churchs (stations) - 54
Nyitio, Atsua, Myamchiel, Aza, Chia, Ukusa, Gbakorun, Tijime, Utime, Mermyido, Kasua, Utsave, Jigba, Ashitsongo, Atsagba, Iorkyaa, Mshityo, Nyikwagh, Kwar, Nyikiogh, Usar, Shirgba, Kwagawhi, Kurgh, Chuku, Mali, Atanga, Faga, Iba, Ayer, Icheen, Tutetule, Iorhuna, Kurugh, Iorumbe, Bamun, Cosmos, Naan, Dooga, Vas, Gerya, Girgba, Akosu, Kokotye, Mchia, Apeelan, Tyotsugh, Gwaiwa, Tyougese, Orkeke, Borokuku, Kumajov, Begha. And 96 others.
Attached to these pages as an addition are the original designs for the altar and gates for the church of St. Patrick. Sabon-Gida-Take and a map of the (approx.) location of he parish of Sabon-Gida.
Brother John Fidelis C.S.S.p.
P.S. In the year 2001 an estimated 350,000 Tivs have been forced to flee their homes and farms by the Jukans and Fulani from the area indicated by the shaded Jalingo Diocese on Map 2.
Takum and Wukari
Diocese of Yola
Bro. John Fidelis CSSp
In May 1988, Father Terry Casey CSSp., was leaving for Yola, on the way to his Sabbatical. Father Pierre Deglair CSSp., was installed in Sabon-Gida-Take, and Terry had driven me down to Takum where I was to work as Minister of the Blessed Sacrament.
Some time before I left Sabon-Gida my car, a Volkswagen 115 had needed repair (the clutch had gone). Terry and myself had taken it up to Yola for repair, and the Bishop had offered me a Toyota Corolla. This car had originally been Terry’s but had been wrecked by Father Frank Moran CSSp., in his short sojourn in Sabon-Gida. The car was repaired and in good condition and it served me well in Sabon-Gida, Takum and Wukari. After driving me to Takum, Terry got a taxi to Wukari and eventually to Yola.
In Takum I was to stand in for Father John Sweeney CSSp., who was to go on leave to the UK. Before he left for his holiday I went out with him a few times to different stations, mainly on the tar road. Father Sweeney was digging many wells at that time, and I divined three wells for him. He was only digging native wells – not deep enough or wide enough. They would last a couple of seasons and then would either dry up or had to be deepened. I don’t think he put any concrete rings in any of his wells. This was to save money and to dig many wells for the price of one. I am afraid that John went for quantity rather than quality, but these native wells did give some respite from water shortage over a large area, so could be said to be worthwhile.
After Father Sweeney had left for his break in the UK I went to three or four stations per week, usually two stations on Sunday and two – sometimes three – stations during the week. Every other Sunday I went to the Army Barracks just outside Takum to conduct Communion Service, and on one occasion to preside at the Stations of the Cross. I had no appointed driver and had to rely on a local car repair mechanic who was willing to drive me to stations when necessary. It was not a very satisfactory arrangement but no doubt this would have changed as time went on. As it happened, I was not given the time as I contracted typhoid.
Some of the things that happened during my short stay in Takum I record, for what they are worth.
Because of the many robberies and break-ins in the Takum area, to say nothing of the Parish House and Compound in Takum, the house was locked very securely at night. Three padlocks on the iron-gate security door, and front door combination meant that it took two or three minutes to get in or out of the house. During the day the cook, Daniel, would keep an eye on things. Also, two young boys who lived in the Compound would provide valuable help when not in school.
Daniel the cook I was always wary about as I know that he took tinned stuff from the store for his own and his family’s use. Daniel did not keep a clean kitchen, and on one occasion I caught him washing the water-filter under a tap from the tank of river water supplied by “Aprafim” Construction Company and was for cloth washing purposes only, the well water being reserved for boiling and filtering (drinking water) and domestic use, e.g. kitchen.
Father Sweeney was a great importer of goods from the UK and always in his packs he would have powdered soups, dehydrated vegetables, coffee, etc. His energy and enthusiasm for the Mission was fabulous and nothing was impossible with God’s help, which he had in abundance. Father John Sweeney was a great enthusiast for teaching the people by the use of film shows and his many religious films, interspersed with Charlie Chaplin, were very popular with them, especially at Congresses in the Bush.
Father Andy O’Sullivan CSSp., also showed films to good advantage.
Father Andy O’Sullivan CSSp., was very fussy in his preparation for going to bush (Congresses etc.) and although he did not aver to the fact, he seemed to be divided in his mind as to what he would take with him to Congress. He would double check his leads on the kit-car, sometimes unloading the Generator or Projector, to go through a final check to see that they were working properly, and after leaving he would sometimes come back fifteen minutes or so later for a final check, or because he had forgotten something. It all seemed to work for him and he was well liked by the people.
After Father Sweeney had left for his holiday in the UK some of the Congresses were left to the head Catechist, who was familiar with the projector and also was accustomed to the people at the Congress and their particular problems.
Father O’Sullivan had full days and would say Mass in the Centre before attending to people who came to the office with problems. If Father Andy was away at a Congress, or for any other reason, I presided at Communion Service in the Centre before going to a station on the tar road. During my short time in Takum I introduced a number of Scholastics to the way in which the Communion Service was conducted, during their month or so of their pastoral work. I met a number who later became priests, after I had left for other appointments.
I did not get to know the parish (people) very well as I was not there long enough but there was good activity, albeit both Father Andy and Father John were to some extent paternalistic in their approach to Mission.
On Sunday 12th August 1988 Father Andy O’Sullivan went to Wukari to attend to Father John Groves CSSp., who had become ill (overwork?). I think he was suffering from burn-out. Father Andy had to get him to hospital in Aliade and as a consequence I was on my own. I began to feel ill and thought that I had malaria, so took some Chloroquine and Paracetamol and continued to preside at the morning Communion Services. My condition became worse and I had to stop the Services and take Paracetamol every four hours to try to bring my temperature down. It was hovering between 104f and 106f. It was a bit rough. I struggled on until Friday 16th August when Sister Patricia (Holy Rosary Sister) came to the Mission for Preventative Medicine Classes with the women in the Centre. By that time my temperature was more 106f than 104f. Sister Patricia conferred with Father O’Sullivan, who had just come in from Wukari. She said she would take me to Wukari and try to get my temperature down.
In Wukari I was put to bed. Sister Patricia and Sister Marie-Anne, who was also a Holy Rosary Sister, wrapped me in wet towels and gave me a variety of medication in an attempt to reduce my temperature. It did not work and on Sunday 19th August I was transported to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Aliade.
Bishop Sheehan had come to Wukari to preside at the Sunday Masses as Father John Groves had himself been taken to Aliade. He was too ill to stay in St. Mary’s, Wukari.
Bishop Sheehan decided to take me down to Aliade himself but with Sister Marie-Anne in attendance. It was also an opportunity to visit Father Groves and assess the Parish situation at St. Mary’s, Wukari.
On arrival at St. Vincent’s Hospital I was given a room and waited for the Doctor to see what the problem was. While waiting for the Doctor to come I visited the toilet, which was next door. Unfortunately, unsuspected by me, I had been bleeding inside and at the toilet all this came out in a great rush. I collapsed on my knees with blood everywhere. It took me two or three minutes before I could stand and clean myself of the blood, with half a toilet roll. I managed to get back to my room and had just put on clean briefs before a Sister came running. I remember very little of the next twenty-four hours, or maybe longer. When I finally came to my senses some of my Confreres had gathered round my bed: Father Michael Murphy CSSp., Father Vincent Griffin CSSp., Father John Beirne CSSp., Sister Paula and Sister Bernadine (Daughters of Charity), Sister Patricia (Holy Rosary Sister), Doctor Thomas and maybe one or two others. Apparently the Confreres thought I was about to die and had gathered to pray over me, but God is good, and he moved Sister Bernadine to insist that I be given large injections of Chloraphenicol, a powerful antibiotic drug used in some cases of typhoid. It worked and I came out of my unconsciousness to find them gathered around me. It was another two weeks before I could walk unaided and another week before I was taken, along with Father John Groves CSSp., to Kano to get a plane (KLM) to UK. It so happened that the airline (KLM) refused to take us on the grounds of passenger safety. They thought I/we may still be infectious. Father John Beirne CSSp., worked tirelessly to secure us a place on a plane, and after going to the Airport every evening for ten days we finally got off and could relax. But it was a trying time for all. Our driver during this saga was a young German aspirant to our Congregation, Mr Thomas Nead. He drove us to a few places of interest in Kano and even to “Daura” the supposed birthplace of the Hausa people.
St. Vincent’s Hospital was run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and the Sisters there were exceptional and very caring. They were well liked by all. The Hospital was built by the Holy Ghost Fathers, Father Peter Jeffery CSSp., and Father Terry Casey CSSp., who wired or corrected the wiring while on his period of Prefecting and teaching Electronics at the Trade Centre in Makurdi.
And so ends my ministry in Takum. I was to go back for a short period the following year – but more under the heading – Wukari. Although I was not in Takum for very long I came to appreciate the patience and kindness of Father Andy O’Sullivan, who was Parish Priest of Takum Parish and also the Dean of Wukari Deanery. I also appreciated the incomparable Father John Sweeney, whose energy and fervour were a lesson to all.
After I had returned to the UK for a rest I wrote to the Sisters at St. Vincent’s. I give the contents of this letter to end this episode of my ministry in Takum at this time.
Dear Community in Jesus Christ,
May I express my deepest thanks for all that you did for me while
I was under your care. It is not often that people experience such
kindness and devotion. I suspect that one does not have to be ill to feel
the dedication you give to all who come under your care, and I for one
am deeply grateful for your devotion. When the Angel of Death came by
he found that another Angel was in attendance and God, in his inscrutable
wisdom, did not allow one to be supplanted by the other. I thank that
Angel in the form of Sister Bernadine, may she have a long life and
happiness in her work. May all your Community be assured of my prayers
for your work and for yourselves. Words do not express adequately all
that I would like to say. So I say again, thank you, not for my life, that is
God’s to give, but for being his willing instruments in an unforgettable
Experience in my life that will last forever.
May God Bless you all, and your work
Yours in J. and M.
Brother John Fidelis CSSp.
During my time in Takum we had the occasional visit from Bishop Sheehan OSA, and other priests visiting the Diocese, and on two or three occasions I organised a Feast Day meal, to which the Sisters from Wukari were invited. This was mentioned to me years later by a Holy Rosary Sister (Sister Marie) who seemed to enjoy the meal with relish.
In spite of the typhoid I had no complaints. It was good to be there.
In 1998 – 1999 Takum town was all but destroyed by ethnic violence and a good part of the parish burned and looted. It is now part of the greater devastation that has occurred in “Taraba” State.
Religious – Ethnic – Political – Personal score etc.
After I had returned to the UK to recuperate from the Typhoid attack I first went to Bickley and then home to Preston. I was still very weak and an incident that comes to mind is this: on going into London to get the National Express bus from Victoria Bus Station to Preston I got on the wrong train at Bickley and instead of getting to Victoria Station I ended up in the Strand (Charing Cross). The bus would not wait and I had to get to Victoria Coach Station quickly. The Underground was closed for some reason and I was beginning to feel tired. I only had a small rucksack to carry but my strength was ebbing away so I stopped a taxi and all was well. However, in getting into the taxi I had misjudged the depth of the kerb and stumbled, banging my head on the taxi roof as I got in. I was still in a bit of a daze when I caught the bus. I could relax, I thought, but a couple of drug addicts began to disrupt the passengers at our end of the bus and had to be taken off at Birmingham. Altogether it was a tiring day.
I got the all-clear from the School of Tropical Medicine in Liverpool, who also tested me for Aids. I had had blood transfusions in Nigeria so they thought it wise. Again, the test was negative. The tiredness lasted a good two months, it was a trying time as well as a tiring time. It was the middle of January 1989 before I felt fit enough to return to Nigeria. Just three months at home, give or take a few days, and I was ready to go back to Nigeria. From August 21st until the first week in October I had been in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Aliade. This was followed by ten days delay in Kano, by which time I was recovering rapidly, although I was still very weak. I now had (in January 1989) a clean bill of health from the Tropical Hospital in Liverpool.
It was clear that I would not be going back to Takum. Father John Groves CSSp., who was Parish Priest in St. Mary’s, Wukari had, before his illness, initiated and had been building a new Parish on the outskirts of Wukari (Holy Spirit Parish) but had gone back to the UK at the same time as myself on 13/10/1988. He was not to return.
The new Parish House – Holy Spirit – was completed by Father Harry Pass CSSp.
On my return to Nigeria Father Eamonn McAteer CSSp., the new R.S., asked me to “Caretake” the new parish until a Parish Priest could be appointed. Father Pass CSSp., was tied up in other work and Father Tony McKay CSSp., was holding the fort temporarily but was on the move to his new appointment as the Director of the Pre-Noviciate in Yola. Father McKay and myself went out to a few Stations and Congresses etc. but Tony was preparing to move and in fact went down to “Attakwu” – S.I.S.T. near Enugu in his quest for books that could be used in the Pre-Noviciate.
Holy Spirit Parish had two good Catechists who had elected to move from St. Mary’s, Wukari, to the new Parish. The Catechists, Raphael and Peter, were invaluable in the setting up of some sort of plan and organisation for the new parish (Holy Spirit).
After Father Tony McKay CSSp., had left for Yola I began to regularize the work to be done re. the visiting of Stations and Congresses etc. To this effect I drew up a monthly planner sheet so that Raphael and Peter would know in advance where they should be as regards Stations and which Catechist I would be with for Communion Services, and where. Letters would be sent out to cover the month and things worked well.
One glitch in the planning came as a result of the setting up of the Pastoral Centre in St. Mary’s Parish, Wukari. This Centre was to be run by Sister Ann McElroy, a Holy Rosary Sister, who had some training in the Delles Course of
Instruction for prospective Church Leaders and Catechists. This Course had the blessing of Bishop Sheehan O.S.A. and was a good introduction into the preaching of the Word of God for the area.
Unfortunately Sister Ann had cast her eye on Raphael, our Head Catechist in Holy Spirit Parish. The reason Sister Ann wanted him was because he was well trained and had much experience. He could speak Tiv, Hausa, Jukan his native language, and English, also some Fulani, altogether a valuable man to have on your team.
It seemed to me that Sister Ann had waited until Father Tony McKay had left for Yola before asking Father Ignatius Kaigama, who was P.P. of St. Mary’s, Wukari, and also the V.G. of the Diocese, to come and take Raphael from Holy Spirit Parish for the new Pastoral Centre. This would have left the Parish with just one Catechist, Peter, and we would not have been able to organise our parish in a proper way as a new parish has to have intensive coverage, especially in the early stages of its development.
Father Kaigama was a little put out and angry when I refused his request and was standing on his dignity as V.G. to try to browbeat me. Fortunately, before the situation could get out of hand, Father Paddy Gaffney CSSp., turned up at the Mission and things simmered down. The result was that Raphael would go to the Pastoral Centre for one week only. I had made my point and Raphael himself wanted to stay in Holy Spirit Parish.
Father Ignatius Kaigama went on eventually to become the Bishop of the new Diocese of Jalingo, and later still he was translated to the Diocese of Jos as Archbishop. We met on many occasions before these events and had got on very well. He is magnanimous in his ministry. I am fortunate to have met him, perhaps begging to differ is part of the friendship process.
Back to Holy Spirit Parish: Father Gaffney CSSp., was in between appointments and offered to stay in Holy Spirit Parish until a new P.P. was appointed. It was to be Father Frank Moran CSSp.
It was about the middle of February before Father Frank arrived. During that time I had got the parish organised re. Congresses and Visitations. Father Gaffney was a God-send because of the Masses he presided at, mainly at Congresses, but also I could have Consecrated Hosts to take with me to individual stations.
Because I was in charge I kept the books, and church collections were handed to me. It worked fine, although Father Paddy would have liked to take over.
One strange incident never fully explained, except by Bishop Sheehan in his letter to me. Bishop Sheehan had already given me permission to Baptise infants and then I received a letter from him, relayed to me through Father Kaigama, to the effect that I had his full permission to Baptise infants when I went to a Congress or a Station for this purpose. This letter was for a clarification requested by Father Gaffney. The letter was signed – copy to Bro. John Fidelis CSSp
Rev. Parish Priest CSSp
Rev. Fr P. Gaffney CSSp
All of the Holy Spirit Parish, Wukari.
I have had no indication or explanation from Father Gaffney of this letter and can only construe that he (Paddy) had tried to stop me from Baptising young children under the use of reason, for whatever reason I do not know, but suspect some form of clericalism. It is past and forgotten, I give this account only.
When Father Frank Moran CSSp came to the Holy Spirit Parish as Superior and Parish Priest things were much easier. We did not know at the time that Frank was already a sick man and was to go back to England never to return. He had cancer. A sad loss to the District and the Holy Spirit Parish. While he was with us Paddy and myself had suffered Frank’s idiosyncracies with patience. Frank was liable to change our allotted Stations without any consultation. This was the cause of some confusion, especially to Paddy as he was invariably going to two Stations for Confessions and Mass.
On one occasion Frank booked me for two Stations for Communion Service. The trouble was he had arranged for me to do water divining at both Stations – in the afternoon. The heat was killing and I could only manage the divining at one Station before risking heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. Shortly after this incident Father Kaigama, Frank and myself went down to Aliade for a District get-together. Frank went to see Doctor Thomas at St. Vincent’s Hospital and was referred to Bishop Murray Hospital, Makurdi. He only came back to Wukari briefly before leaving for the UK. He died the following year, 29th December 1991. He was 47 years old. May he rest in peace.
After Father Frank Moran CSSP. had gone home he was replaced with the R.S., Father Eamonn McAteer CSSp. This was only temporary until something could be sorted out. It was at this time that we had a request from Father John Sweeney CSSp. in Takum for me to go to Takum at weekends and help with Communion Services while Father Andy O’Sullivan CSSp. was on leave. Usually it entailed going to Takum on Saturday afternoon and presiding at the Communion Service on Sunday morning.
The pattern was as follows: week one, Communion Service at the Centre for the Tiv people and then Service at another Station, e.g. at Cutep Station before returning to Wukari. Second week, Service at the large Army Camp just outside Takum and then a further Service on the way back to Wukari, e.g. Peva, a Tiv and Igbo Station, which was to become the centre of a new parish – Chanchangi. This was indicated before I left Takum with typhoid and was to come to fruition after I had left Takum.
The Toyota Corolla car had been given to Holy Spirit parish by Bishop Sheehan and I had been using it regularly. On one occasion going up the road prior to driving into the bush we came upon an accident that had happened about ten minutes earlier. A taxi carrying twelve people had suddenly burst into flames. All twelve people were incinerated and no one could get near to it until it was completely burnt out. Apparently the taxi had been in collision with another vehicle when coming out of the taxi park. No damage seemed to have been done but undetected damage had been done to the petrol supply and eventually, having got some way up the road, someone decided to light a cigarette. Eye-witnesses said that the taxi just exploded into a ball of fire. The remains were eventually buried in a common grave at the side of the road. Whoever they were, may they rest in peace.
Holy Spirit Parish was beginning to come together as one unit and we could see it becoming more viable as it coalesced into a new Parish with its own identity. However the situation of running the Parish was difficult as Father McAteer was often away on his duty as R.S. This situation was resolved when it was determined by Father McAteer that I should go to the UK for my Silver Jubilee. He was going himself to England for two weeks so we travelled together, along with Sister Moira from the Pastoral Centre in Yola. We arrived in good time for the General Assembly at Upholland. I travelled there from Preston, where I was enjoying a break for my Jubilee. At the Assembly I received a Papal Blessing and a cheque. Also we incorporated into the last day a meal for the Assembly for Father Fitzgerald who was celebrating his 40 years of Priesthood and for myself, 25 years of Profession to the Religious life. Afterwards we had our usual get-together (love-in) in the evening, with beer, etc. and conversation, catching up to date with the affairs of the Province. A good time was had by all. In October 1989 I returned to Nigeria.
I was not to return to Holy Spirit, Wukari.
The people of the Holy Spirit Parish were mainly Tiv, with a few Igbo traders and a few Jukan Catholic Christians. Many of the people had great faith.
I remember on one occasion going out to a station in the deep bush. This station had not had a visit for two years. When I arrived I was greeted with great happiness, apparently their church leader had gone off to a different area and had taken the station books with him e.g. Tiv bible, how to conduct a service without a priest, and other useful books from which they could learn. For two years this small community had met every Sunday morning to recite from memory the rosary and the stations of the cross to keep their faith community together. I made haste to supply them with the necessary books and appointed one Elder, who could read, as church leader. They were so happy it was, to say the least, quite embarrassing to encounter such faith. Little did I know that in the trouble to come this faith community was, in all probability, wiped out, I do not know, I can only remember them with love.
RECOLLECTIONS OF BROTHER JOHN FIDELIS C.S.SP. ON
HIS MINISTRY AS A MISSIONARY BROTHER IN THE
DIOCESE OF YOLA, NIGERIA
Wukari, Yola. Verre area
After I had returned to Nigeria (11/10/89) I first went to Jos where a District Council meeting had just concluded. After this meeting I went by car to Yola, a distance of about 550 kms.
There seemed to be some confusion about what my role would be in Yola. I discovered that Bishop Sheehan O.S.A. had sent round the Diocese an information letter about appointments. In this letter I had been assigned to the Verre Pastoral Area, although Father Eamonn McAteer, my R.S. had not confirmed this. At a meeting we had in St. Mary’s, Yola, it seemed that Father Jim Brown C.S.S.p., who was P.P. of St. Mary’s, had come to the conclusion that he was to take over the Verre area and it was clear that I was not included.
Father Terry Casey C.S.S.p. was on his way back to Nigeria, having spoken to Father Eamonn McAteer earlier in England and had agreed to come back to Nigeria from his Sabbatical to take over the Verre area. While our meeting was in progress Father Mark Connolly C.S.S.p. went to Yola Airport to meet him and he (Terry) arrived to a confusion of interests. After listening to the meeting he declared that he thought he had been conned into coming back and promptly picked up his bags and vowed to return to the Airport en-route to the U.K. However, Father Connolly was able to persuade him to come back, at least to hear what was on offer.
The meeting, after much deliberation, decided that Father Terry Casey and myself (Brother John C.S.S.p.) would take and run the Verre Pastoral Area, and we immediately made preparations to do this. Father Jim Brown was a bit put out by this but I formed the impression that Bishop Sheehan, knowing that Father Terry was coming back, and also knowing that Father Terry and myself had worked well together in Sabon-Gida was well satisfied with the arrangement. He gave Father Terry and myself his full support.
The Verre Pastoral Area
The first thing we did was to separate the Bush Stations that had been consigned to the Verre Area, called tentatively Jangbunu parish, from those of St. Mary’s parish. The separation entailed checking the books of St. Mary’s, Yola, and establishing the boundaries. To help with this I put together several trek sheets that had been compiled and left by Father Patrice Gasser C.S.S.p., who had worked the area from St. Mary’s, Yola. These sheets were really scraps of paper on which Father Patrice had jotted down a few tracks and stations, together with some distances from the main Yola, Jangbunu, Karlahi, access road (track). An old ordnance survey map gave me some idea of the shape and orientation of this bush road and, after some trial and error, I was able to draw the map you will see in this account, albeit on a smaller scale.
To my knowledge there is no other map of this area in existence, and although reproduced a number of times for various reasons, this original map served us well and is still the only one locating the Catholic Stations in the Verre Area.
The Verre People have an interesting history and a wealth of information about them can be found in Jos Museum.
The Religious Order of St. Augustine (The Augustinians) who had opened a parish at the place called Mapeo were very conscious of the large area to the North of the Chamba that was untouched by either Muslim or Christian and was out of bounds to missionaries. The Augustinians opened an outstation at Jangbunu, which was on the border between Chamba and Verre. Because of its position Jangbunu was of importance as a jumping-off spot, or entrance into the Verre area, and it was opened as a separate residential mission in December 1967. This was a great leap forward in this area. Permission to enter Verre territory was not given until about 1969.
The first Christian (Catholic) Mission in the Verre area was Lainde, a village close to Jangbunu. Father R. Hughes O.S.A. had gone into the Verre mountains surreptitiously and, to some extent prepared the way for Father M.O. Flynn O.S.A., who was appointed resident priest of Jangbunu parish in 1970. A number of other priests (Augustinians) did, from time to time, assist him but it was he who did most of the ground breaking work necessary in a new parish. He was P.P. there for about twenty years. Ill-health necessitated a move and a diocesan priest, Father Ignatius Kaigama, who was later to become the first Bishop of Jalingo, and later translated to the diocese of Jos as Archbishop, took over.
The Holy Ghost Fathers had been given the parish of St. Mary’s, Yola Town with Father Eamonn McAteer C.S.S.p. as parish priest, and it was agreed that the Verre Pastoral Area would be joined to St. Mary’s parish and administered from there. Along with Father Eamonn, Father Patrice Gasser C.S.S.p., a Swiss Holy Ghost Father, took over from Father Ignatius Kaigama and served the area well, albeit
from a distance, but much was done. Father Patrice built a church in Mayo, a village at the bottom end of the Mayo valley, a cleft in the Verre Mountains accessible only from an interior track servicing it from the Yola/Yadim dirt road (track).
At this time there was also Father Adrian Edwards C.S.S.p., who was resident in Yadim. He was not so much involved in parish work but had been employed by Bishop Sheehan in his capacity as an Anthropologist to give an overall picture of the people and in many ways assist them, by learning their language and by discussing with some of their elders and teachers their culture and aspirations for the future.
Father Edwards, along with a visiting friend, Mr Roger Blench, who was an Anthropologist working with U.N.E.S.C.O., produced a Verre wordbook (almost a dictionary) which was published by Oxford Press. This was a valuable contribution to the Verre People and to the area in general.
Father Edwards had, as his base in Yadim, a small dilapidated rest-house that was 24’ x 12’, divided into two rooms (see drawing). This was the house that Father Terry Casey and myself took on in October 1989
Father Terry and myself had made the decision to live in the Verre area and we chose Yadim and the rest-house recently vacated by Father Edwards. This rest-house was very dilapidated and cramped. A toilet in the storeroom was beyond repair and after cleaning this up (down to ground level) and sealing the outlet, we had to resort to going to the bush for toilet. I can remember that going out to bush at about 5a.m. with a small hoe and toilet roll, everything very still and quiet and only just coming light when, well our of sight of the house and having squatted down to relieve myself, a Fulani herdsman appeared from nowhere and with a greeting of Sannu Kadai (greetings to you), he passed by as if it was a common occurrence: maybe it was, but it seemed laughingly strange and a little comical at 5 o’clock n the morning.
We quickly settled down and began to organise the work to be done. The first thing was to get into contact with the people and the various stations that make up the parish (there were 42). We had to begin by deciding some sort of rota in which to operate for Mass and visits. I had no car at this time and was dependent on Father Terry and the Hilux, a four-wheel drive Toyota that had been donated by the Bickley fund-raising committee, with Mrs. Margaret Ford as the driving force behind the magnificent gesture. This vehicle had come specifically for use in the Verre area and was an invaluable tool in getting around the very bad roads (tracks) that make up the communication network of the area.
As I had not yet been given transport of my own we arranged that Terry would drop me off at a Station and then carry on to the next, picking me up on his way back. We had only one Catechist, Elias, who had elected to come with us from Yola. He was not fully trained and was more house-boy than Catechist, and as we had no cook either he was doubling as cook and interpreter (he could speak passable English). He is a Verre man and knew and was respected by the people.
Elias would stay with me and together we would conduct the Communion Service with Elias acting as interpreter. Things worked well, but by no means ideally. I had to learn enough Hausa to conduct the Service and this was very awkward as I am no linguist but gradually I became reasonably proficient.
Although Terry and myself were moving about the parish quite a lot, sometimes staying in the original house in Janbunu, we had to make Yadim more permanent, with better accommodation and a water tank. At that time we had to rely on water carried in buckets from a river about half a mile away, and in which we had to dig. The surface water had already evaporated as the harmattan wind and the dry season was already parching the land. Bishop Sheehan had agreed to pay for several round houses to be built in Yadim. These round houses were to be made of mud blocks with a concrete floor and cement rendered walls. It took most of the dry season for the blocks to be made.
We acquired the services of a Mason, recommended by Bishop Sheehan, and as he blocks were delivered he got on with the job, working to the plan decided by Father Terry and myself. (See drawing on next page)
These round houses, with grass roofs, gave us more space and better organisation, as we now had a reasonable office. The houses were roofed by four local Stations (we bought the materials). The furniture was made by a good carpenter in Yola and the iron army style collapsible beds were relegated to use in the bush.
One thing we had to sort out was the Bazaars. Every year each station held a money-making get-together called a Bazaar. The money made went to the Central Administration for the running of the Parish. This money was essential as the people’s contribution, along with their Church Collection, to the existence of the Parish and the upkeep of the Priest-in-Charge, and also myself as the Pastoral worker attached to the Verre area. Sometimes various stations would come together to hold a bigger Bazaar and so boost both the enjoyment of the event and make more money for the Parish. Unfortunately some Church leaders took the opportunity to cream off some of the money for so-called wages, and taking this practise as a right. They did the same with church collections.
Another practise that had crept in was the borrowing of money from the parish for the buying of beer. The church leaders expected the Father to provide crates and transport from Yola. A typical example is this:
Money taken at the Bazaar = N3500:00
(N2000:00 = total on the day, real amount.
Parish loan for beer (N1000:00 = also on the day and drunk.
Extras (N 500:00 = no proper accounting given.
They claimed that as the takings for the day was N3500:00, that this was the figure the Bazaar had made for the Parish. They failed to understand that the loan had to be re-paid, and the extras also had to be accounted for.
We stopped the practise of loans for beer and eventually introduced an accounting sheet that worked well. I give an example of this sheet in the appendix to these recollections. It must also be understood that normally 10% of this revenue had to go the Bishop for the running of the Diocese.
Father Terry and myself came to the conclusion that the Christian in the Verre area had become rice-Christians (begging-bowl Christians). One of the ways we began to reverse this trend was to try to give them a better sense of Christian identity and responsibility as Christians for their own affairs and culture. We eventually started a programme of building concrete churches to replace their dilapidated mud churches, which in their eyes belonged to the Father, and therefore were not their responsibility.
We started by giving them the responsibility of making concrete blocks.
We would work out with the church leader and people the size of their new church, the location and the number of blocks needed. We (that is the parish) would provide, if possible, half the cement needed for the making of the blocks and sometimes the sand
and water. As the people got used to the idea of having their own custom-built church their attitude changed and a little element of competition developed between them. So, with the help of the Little Way Association who gave us so much funding, we were able to turn the parish around from begging-bowl to outgoing and giving church.
The church collections were another thing that had to be sorted out. The church collections were extremely low. I give in the appendix a six-month breakdown of the Sunday collections in 1990, May to October. You will see that the total revenue from church collections was in pound-sterling £94.64p. Much depended on the rate of exchange, so the figures are arbitrary but near enough.
There were, of course, many other things that helped to swing the pendulum, the main one being that we were living in the bush, and available. We formed a very happy relationship with the people. Also we had a good mutual respect and understanding with the Fulani (Muslim) people who lived in the Verre area.
Bishop Sheehan had given his permission and support for a small Clinic to be established in Yadim and Sister Celsus F.M.S. was a tireless force in setting up this Clinic, which served all, and was a boon to the whole area. Sister Celsus would come out from Yola and stay for two nights. She had her own accommodation near the Clinic but would come over to our Compound for an evening meal and an exchange of views. Invariably we sat outside under an incomparable starry sky, it was very restful.
Sister Celsus had a contact in the British High Commission in Lagos, Mr Timothy Livesey. He came to see Sister Celsus in Yola and he also came out to Yadim. He expressed great interest in the work we were doing in the Verre area and asked if he and a colleague could come and stay in Yadim during a few days break. We, of course, said yes. Some time later he let us know that he and his colleague would fly to Yola and that their transport – a land-rover – would come by road bringing, among other things, a motorbike for the use of the medical staff in Yadim. When they arrived they stayed for one night in the parish of St. Mary’s, Yola, and came out to Yadim the following day. Their transport, having arrived according to schedule, from Lagos, they followed Sister Celsus to Yadim and our cook prepared a good meal for the six of us. They then repaired to the round-houses we had prepared for them and Sister Celsus went to her own quarters in the Medical Centre.
Some of the gifts Timothy had in his land-rover were cartons of sweet biscuits and boxes of drink: cartons of Lucozade, Ribena, Lemon, Orange. For the next two weeks the children at the various stations had a good time at the expense of the British High Commission.
Father Casey took Timothy and his colleagues to the various stations, Jangbunu, Karlahi, etc. and on one occasion took them up the mountain to visit Ugi-Dutsy. It was the rainy season and I gather that before they reached Ugi-Dutsy the rain came and they spent some time under a couple of plastic sheets erected by the Catechists. For their meal they had baked beans and corned beef, heated together on a
small primus gas stove, and bread. It was a great experience for them and they were thrilled to have had this experience of what life can be like in the Bush, and in the Missions generally.
Timothy Livesey promised a sum of money – in Naira – from the British High Commission and eventually this arrived. This money, about N50,000:00, was to cause an incident between Sister Celsus and myself. Sister Celsus came to the Mission (Yadim) when Father Terry was away at the other end of the parish. She had brought a surveyor with her. Her intention was for him to make a survey of the Medical Clinic area with a view to having a water borehole for the Clinic. It was to cost N30,000:00 for the survey and she had convinced herself that the money from the High Commission was for that purpose. I had to convince her that the money was for the general use of the parish and not for a borehole. Sister Celsus was much put out and she departed in a huff. I explained all this to Terry on his return, he gathered his proofs and we went into Yola to see her. Sister saw the point and was happy with the situation.
Later in the year, on visiting Jos to see a Mr Anderson about money changing, Terry and myself discovered that Mr Anderson had been the first person to survey the Verre area and he advised us against boreholes in the area and explained why. This led to a big push for wells. I had designed a rig for the digging of wells (see appendix) and it worked well. I designed a further well rig along the same lines. This also came to be in great demand. A further refinement, but never built, was designed to be operated by fewer people is also in the appendix of these recollections.
Father Casey and myself also turned our attention to completing our living quarters in Yadim. We built a large Atte with a concrete floor and concrete block walls. To strengthen the walls we decided on having a concrete, metal reinforced, lintel made in sections to the curve of the circular Atte. I made a large curved box to the correct dimensions, and with concrete and metal cage inserted these large lintels became the top course of the Atte. We had allowed for large windows, the frames of which I also made, and when covered with mosquito netting made the Atte a comfortable and mosquito and fly-free room in which we could relax and have our meals. At a later date Bishop Sheehan paid for a toilet and shower house. This was invaluable especially to wash off the days grime. The toilet was serviced by a septic tank but the water still had to be brought from the river, this being one of the chores needed to be done in a busy mission. We also piped water to wash basins in our round houses and things were getting more comfortable.
By this time we had trained our Catechists. We had decided on three, with Elias the senior; number two was Samuel, who was very keen, and together they made a good team. Denis, our third Catechist, was also a big asset to the Mission. Bishop Sheehan would, at that time, not accept Denis as a full Catechist because he was considered to be too young. So we made him Catechist to the Yan-Choir, an organisation we started for the young people of the parish. Denis was a pillar in this Yan-Choir and much work was done in preparing them for Baptism. Their meetings, held in different regions of the parish every month, were a great success and to hear
the Yan-Choir singing, especially at our Masses or Communion Services, was an inspiration to us all.
The parish was beginning to sing; from rice-Christians the people were becoming more self-reliant and more interested in their parish. We had initiated a building programme and this was going well. Some of the new churches are small, family churches, others more for an area, and some for a region of more than one village. The general running of the parish was going well and we had Sisters and Catechists coming out from Yola Pastoral Training Centre on occasion. They were a big help. Also, Father Terry gave the church leaders some instruction in interpreting the readings and the correct form of the “Service without a Minister”. I took the church leaders for the general clarity of their speech and deportment when conducting the Sunday Service. Some of these talks and training instructions I have placed in the index. The parish was going so well that Father Terry and myself were able to have our leave in the U.K. together on two occasions. Bishop Sheehan paid for our plane tickets and gave us £100 donation towards our three-month holiday and recuperation period (every 23 months). The people seemed to know we needed this and we had no problems in our return.
We did of course have some setbacks. One came through the local Muslim Chief in Karlahi. He stopped the work on some churches and said that if a church was built of mud and was deteriorating we must have his authority before work could continue. Some of the people were incensed at this and threatened to beat him up and wreck his car if he ever came to their village. Through representation and negotiation with the Local Government in Fufory we were given permission to build concrete churches to replace all the mud churches in the Verre area. We had to produce a detailed measurement of every compound for submission to the Local Authority. This entailed measuring as accurately as possible the various Compounds and new locations of the new concrete churches. This I spent some time doing and we had no trouble after that.
One comical incident occurred when building the new church at Karlahi. I had drawn the ground plan and this had been submitted to the local Chief. After a short period he gave his permission, but got things mixed up and sent a representative and permission was given to the local Lutheran Church in Karlahi, who were delighted to have this permission our of the blue, so to speak. Anyhow this situation was sorted out and we began to build the biggest church in the area. It was to be 80’ x 30’, built on a slope to avoid the fadima-land on which a previous concrete church had been built and was now cracking and was inadequate in size. Our new church was funded by the Diocese of Cologne in Germany.
Another comical and hilariously funny incident was the placing of the ring-beam. In theory the ring-beam should be cast in one continuous fashion so that there were no breaks in its casting. So much for theory: the local gang of parishioners who were mixing and placing the concrete decided that they could not go on without something to eat and drink. We sent out to Karlahi for groundnut twists (a sort of hard twists of nut and very sustaining), also for pots of Brukatoo (a sort of beer made
from millet). Unfortunately the only brukatoo in the town was of the most potent kind and they did not tell us. After half an hour of rest, nut twists and brukatoo, plus the heat of the day, the gang could hardly stand up and were weaving about drunk. The work had to be abandoned for the day. It would have been impossible and dangerous to continue, but everyone was very happy.
Many things were happening in the parish. I need not go into all the detail but some things stand out and need to be reiterated here. Christmas and Easter were always busy times. At Christmas we tried to cover a good selection of the stations. Our programme was as follows: first we would go to Jangbunu usually on the 23rd December. Terry would hear confessions at Jangbunu and Lainde. On 24th December we would check our cars – by this time I had a Volkswagen 1500 – and after loading up Terry would stay in Jangbunu for the 8-00p.m. Christmas Mass and then travel through he bush to Yadim to celebrate Mass there. I would travel to Lainde for 8-00p.m. Service and then travel through the bush to Marashi, arriving about 12 midnight. After the Service I would again travel through the bush to Yadim, getting there some time after 3-00a.m. Terry would finish his Mass about the same time. By 7-30a.m. Terry would go to Womcassa and I would go to Lukjo and Safa-Towa. As the morning progressed Terry would race to Mayo for a late Mass, passing me at Safa-Towa. After Safa-Towa I, on occasion, would got to Sari and then back to Yadim to await Terry. We would take off for Yola the following day for a well- earned rest, having covered 9 stations. The same applied to Easter celebrations, but one year, with the help of two scholastics, we covered 14 stations, celebrating Masses Communion Services and the New Fire and Easter Liturgy. It was a very trying week starting of course with Palm Sunday. Altogether in the week we covered 19/20 stations.
In our parish there were a good number of people who followed their own traditional religion. I think these were mainly of the Wom, a somewhat breakaway group in culture and language from the Verre, although I think they would dispute this. Some of these people, especially the women, seem to be the guardians of life and especially the dance traditions of the area. These women do not wear clothes, instead they wear a bunch of leaves both front and back. They are a very happy and hard working people. It is said that if you have not danced with a naked woman of the area, you do not know the people. I have never in my life seen more happy people. On one occasion, at a station called Bengni, I was conducting a Harvest Festival and Communion Service, in which the various groups in the station brought to the altar their gifts of sorghum, rice, yams and other crops they had produced during the year. These gifts were sold or used at the Bazaar. It is a time of rejoicing that God has given them a good crop that year. They had done the planting and the reaping and now they came into the church with their offering to God, carrying their sheaves. Everyone was trying to outdo each other and amid good-natured bantering and much happiness everyone was having a good time. We had finished the Service and I was taking off my soutane and preparing to clear the altar when one of these traditional women came into the church carrying one sweet potato. I quickly put my soutane back on and all the paraphinalia, candle, holy water, etc. was put back into place. I gracefully accepted her sweet potato, gave her a blessing with holy water and finally we had a little bumps-a-daisy, before she went out of the church, with a face glowing like an angel. Her happiness filled the church. She had not understood any of the Service in terms of language but God touched her and although she was not a Christian her happiness should not be forgotten. God works in mysterious ways. It is His mission through Jesus and the Holy Spirit and it was a privilege to see such happenings.
There are many incidents too numerous to mention here. Our life in the parish was a very full one. From travelling the bush and moving by Hilux to the various stations, going by Volkswagen on almost impossible tracks, arriving in the middle of nowhere at a station where the people were so glad to see us for Communion Services, Baptisms and Enrolment of new Catechumens. The work was very demanding but very satisfying.
We had to go into Yola to replenish our supplies and to have a few days rest. We combined these trips to Yola with the buying of cement and wood for the new churches, organising the buying of metal cages and rods for the ring-beams, and the making of the well-rigs, which I designed. We sometimes combined these trips with our monthly community meetings at which we would meet Confreres working in the top end of Yola Diocese, Giwana, Gombi, Zing, as well as Jemeta and Yola.
One event in particular stands out: during a shortage of cement we were buying from a Hausa trader and had agreed the price and number of bags. We had also organised with a Muslim lorry owner that his driver would deliver the cement to Yadim. Our Catechist supervising the loading of the bags concluded that these bags were short weight and all loading was stopped. A weighing machine was taken to the loading place and it was discovered that a few kilos had been taken from each bag. We actually saw workers in another store opening bags, taking out a good scoop and re-sealing the bags: a lucrative business for the boss. We got our money back and after that incident all bags of cement were weighed before loading. Fortunately we had good Catechists to do this work but it was time consuming.
We went to Jos for a few days Retreat every year and also to Makurdi to attend our Annual Assembly. We also attended the Diocesan Assembly, Yola, where matters concerning the running of the Diocese and our parishes were discussed with the Bishop and the Clergy of the Diocese.
During the petrol crisis I took two drums down to a town called Zing, which is in a different State. Having purchased the petrol we duly set off for Yola. The weather was very hot, about 120F and getting hotter, as it was midday. We had gone some way up the road when an Army vehicle passed us, going towards Zing. The soldiers saw the drums on the back of the Hilux and turning round they soon caught up with us. There was a ban on transporting fuel from a neighbouring State and the regulations were that all such fuel be confiscated and sold cheaply to passers-by, or the drums were to be punctured and the fuel wasted. I was ordered out of the Hilux, by soldiers brandishing kalashnikovs,and presented to the Colonel in charge. By this time the heat was at least 125F and I was kept looking up to what seemed to be the shady, cool interior of a very high vehicle. Some fast talking on my part, and the fact that the petrol was meant for the Verre Mission, won the day and I was given a slip of paper with a signature on it to get us through the Customs barrier that had been set up further up the road. We had no trouble getting through and continued on our way to Yola. By the time we reached Yola I was suffering from near heatstroke and after drinking plenty of water and a bottle of beer, I retired to my room, put on the fan and the air-conditioner and flaked out until the following morning. Fortunately I recovered quickly. I still have the slip of paper given to me by the officer.
Finally, on one occasion going from Yola to Yadim, bandits caught me. This was, to some extent, a comical event. I was in the Volkswagen and had secreted behind the back seat my portable tabernacle, with a ciborium full of the Blessed Sacrament. This would have been broken open by the bandits. I knew that further traffic was coming down the road, as it was market day in Yadim, so I delayed the bandits by abusing them, calling them all sorts of blankety-blank so-and-sos. Two the bandits, with kalashnikovs, who had stopped the car, were confidently upright because of the abuse and the fact that I was not afraid of them began to crouch and shout: “we can shoot you baturi (white man) and was a bit put out when this be-whiskered white man replied: “give me the gun and I can bloody shoot you.” The strategy was to delay them, this worked and the car was shunted into the bush and I was taken to a place in the bush where there were other people spread-eagled on the ground. You do not argue with guns. They took my overnight bag, my camera and N1020:00. They had bigger fish to try. They reputedly got away with N300,000:00.
This signalled the end of my time in the Verre area. The R.S. , Father Hugh Davoren C.S.S.p., in conjunction with Father Peter Ward C.S.S.p., the English Provincial, who was visiting at that time, decided that I would be of better service if I went as Bursar to the Holy Ghost House, Aliade (H.G.H). So my association with Father Terry Casey C.S.S.p., and the Verre Pastoral area came to and end. I visited Yola occasionally. Aliade is a day’s journey by car from Yola, and a different Diocese, and so ended my involvement with the Diocese of Yola and Bishop Patrick Sheehan O..S.A.