The Catholic Diocese of Ijebu-Ode was recently bereaved. The passing of the Diocese’s second Bishop, Emeritus Bishop Albert Ayinde Fasina has continued to generate commentaries from those whose lives he touched one way or the other. One of such high ranking clerics is Most Rev. (Dr.) Francis Obafemi Adesina, Bishop of Ijebu- Ode Diocese, his episcopal son whom Neta Nwosu, acting Editor engaged in a revealing conversation. Excerpts.
What words would you use to describe, His Lordship, late Bishop Albert AyindeFasina’s personality?
He was a phenomenon of faith, humility and prayer life. The father to all, especially to the poorest of the poor.
Please describe your working relationship with Emeritus Bishop Fasina.
My working relationship was a very noble, smooth and good one. I consider myself so privileged by grace, to succeed a humble, gentle, fatherly Bishop Emeritus, that is now late, Most Rev. Albert Ayinde Fasina. Since the day I was announced publicly, and I met him, he remained a father to me. He welcomed me, and prepared the diocese very well, for a seamless transition between his own government and the new Bishop, and we didn’t have any crisis in our hands, all because of his person, and all because of his faith;he kept teaching and telling the people that the Bishop is not what he can make for the Diocese, but what the Church wants for the Diocese of Ijebu-Ode. He focused them on prayer, that the Lord would give them the right person to lead the Church. So, when I was announced, he concluded and told the people this is God’s Church for you to lead you, and he did say that let him diminish and let him increase. And that described our relationship. He was so fatherly, he managed the transition so eloquently, seamlessly, in such a manner that things have been running smoothly, since I came,and he had remained in the background, to support me with his prayer, and he had a lot of aspiration for the progress we are making. And so, I lost a great apostle; I lost a great counsellor. But I know he gained the heaven, what he knew best, was to pray, and he prayed for me. We shared great moments of prayer together, and so, I believe he will be praying for me, for everyone,and for the Diocese to continue to grow.
Are there particular lessons you learnt from Bishop Fasina that would enhance the spiritual growth of the clergy, religious and lay faithful?
There are so many lessons to be learnt. Let me start by saying that Bishop Fasina, apart from what has been said,was a man of great faith. He believes so much in the Church, and the power of the Holy Spirit, working in the Church, not minding our human weaknesses. So, he would always conclude at every point that we need to pray. Another important thing I learnt from him, was a call to conversion, first, for the clergy, and then, the lay faithful. The need to have relationship with Jesus Christ, there are many things that distract us from prayer life; that distracts the Church. For him, only prayer can sustain the potency of the Church. As for legacy, there are so many legacies,but the legacies that are very outstanding about him,- for me, were his humility, his prayer life. The fact that Baba can sacrifice everything he had for the growth of the Church, and for the comfort of the other person, he was not focused on himself. And that quality of him was actually abused by many people. But yet, he kept giving himself, till the last moment. He entrusted so much in obedience to God, and he submitted himself. And so, for me as a Bishop, after his retirement, leaving the Church ofIjebu-Ode to the next level, I personally have to draw from his humility, from his faith, from his love for the faith, and the people of God, especially the poor, the destitute. The priests of this Diocese would have to continue to grow in the spirituality Baba left, which is the spirituality of communion for prayer. He believed that the Priests are not praying enough; we should pray more, we should sacrifice morebecause if we come together to pray more, and we open up ourselves to the Holy Spirit, we can do more than we are doing. And so, I would like to sustain such spirituality, where the Priests are more focused in prayer; Pastors and shepherds who pray; Pastors and Shepherds who live among the sheep;Pastors andShepherds who smell like the sheep;Pastors and Shepherds who are ready to sacrifice for the sheep, so that the place of God can grow in his Church, tremendously. So, we are looking forward to also institutionalise his love for the poor people. I’m going to be talking with my priests, and then,the lay faithful, very soon about a legacy.One of the outstanding legacies of Baba is care for the poor. He had already started a Foundation, but we need to strengthen it. His Foundation that is called Matthew 25: “When I was naked, you clothed me; when I was sick, you visited me; when I was hungry, you fed me”, Baba believed in that so much, and he lived it out. Already, he had a community here, where poor people are cared for. We need to bring that to the public, raise fund, and ensure that we sustain this legacy of his, without distracting from the other pastoral values and legacies he left us.
How long have you known Bishop Fasina?
I have known Bishop Fasinafor a very long time, since ordination, but from a distance,as a Bishop, one of the Bishops of Lagos province, one of the Bishops of South West of Nigeria. My first one-onone encounter with Bishop Fasinawas in 2013, precisely, March 2013, just one month after I was made the Rector of SS. Peter and Paul Seminary, Bodija, Ibadan. In history, he was the first Bishop to visit me as a Rector. He visited me twice, and those two moments were great moments for me. The first one made me become more conscious of my call as a rector, and he insisted that you are not just a teacher, you are called to be an exemplary teacher; that your life must influence the seminarians, positively. He called me, reminded me on the need for prayer. That, priests in the ministry are often distracted because they don’t see prayer as important, that I need to insist on prayer,in the Seminary. He was the one who assisted me as a young Rector, or Rector of a few months, to know that well, I could not operate from any room that I prefer; I preferred to stay in my former room when I was made a Rector,but he was the one whomidwifed me, said no, you will come to the Rector’s room. This wasthe room that was given to the Rector, and Bishops would want you to take it up. I was too shy to go in there, and I resisted going there, until he came. I believed he is God sent because if I didn’t, maybe, I would have offended so many Bishops. He helped me to think through my resistance, and that was my first encounter with him. My other encounter was talking about teaching those Seminarians, and what we can do to help them to be better priests in the future. Those two visits, only God knows that they were prophetic for me. Only those two visits that I had as a Rector and the rest were general correspondence,until the day I was appointed a Bishop, that was January 17, 2019, about five years after my first physical meeting with him. And I came here on January 18, 2019, the day after my announcement to meet him physically. And so, that was howour relationship continued to grow, till he died. By the time I took over, Baba was weak, tired and sick. The sickness as a result of old age, gave me opportunity of getting closer, and closer to him. I saw him every day, especially when he was in the hospital. He was in the hospital for many months,before he was discharged.I saw him every day, and we shared prayers together, we shared the hope of coming back home, and when he was strong to come back home, I met him regularly because his house was in my office complex, and I saw him regularly, at an average of two or three times a week, and we shared a lot together. As a retired Bishop, I had somebody to fall back, to discuss my issues, to discuss spiritual, pastoral and administrative issues. Baba was great.
We would like you to tell us what his final days were like.
Well, his final days were very peaceful. Baba Fasina, apart from the initial moments in 2019, when he retired that he visited the hospital for months. In 2020, he returned home in December, he did not want to celebrate Christmas in the hospital, and he courageously came home, and since then, he never returned to the hospital. He regularly was attended to at home by his medical doctors. He went out for his dialysis, he was never bedridden, he was a man who was becoming frail, but he would host a lot of poor people, a lot of visitors from in and out of the Diocese, praying with them, sharing experiences with them. He was still writing books in his retire ment, writing prayer books in his retirement, distributing tracts in his retirement. In his final moments, Baba remained strong till the end. Little did people know about that. Even the day that he transited to heaven, Baba still went for his regular checkup. He still went for his dialysis that morning. I came back home, I wanted to rest, I asked for the assistance of a doctor, it was in the process, he passed on. He was very peaceful. We did not suffer running around. He was as calm as he has always been. Those were his final moments. In fact, when I was called about 5.30p.m, that I need to come to Bishop’s house immediately, I didn’t know what it was for,but I knew such a call could be because there was a problem. Some of the priests were there, a few of the pastors were there, they were praying, I had to put everybody out, laid my hands on him, he had received the sacrament, he had received the viaticum,and I knew it was time because he was so calm and peaceful. Eyes closed, and we started praying, waiting for the doctor to bring oxygen. By the time all that came, the doctor just said well, Baba had gone to God. People surrounded him with prayer, people were praying in the chapel; people were praying around him, nobody was actually in fear because he was so calm. We knew it was a moment of transition, and we accompanied him with prayer, those were the last moments of Baba.
Did he say anything to you? And what did he say to you? What were his last words?
The last words I heard from Baba was on the 28th of June. On the 29th, he didn’t speak to me because he was already transiting. He was too weak to speak. On the 28th of June, was my birthday, since I did not want any celebration in the Diocese, I wanted everything to be quiet. And I wanted to have a personal devotion in a Marian shrine, and I wanted it to be known only to myself. So,I stayed back home, and ensured my Secretary actually went to work. As I was dressing up to escape to Iwopin, where there is a Marian shrine, Baba called me, as if he knew my mind. He said Bishop, today is your birthday, and we said Mass for you. And I said, thank you Baba, and he prayed for me. His last words for me were prayers for my ministry, for good health, and long life.He prayed for me like a father would pray for his son, who is celebrating his birthday, and I promised him, Baba, I would see you very soon. My intention was to go for this devotion. And incidentally, I went to Iwopin, I prayed in the shrine that Baba loves so much, that Baba developed so much. I went there, had my private quiet time, said Mass, prayed for all those missionaries who set up the place, including himself (Bishop Fasina), not knowing that he was already preparing. And at about 5.30p.m,when I was through with the Mass and …I told the priest, thank you for accepting me here because he never knew I was coming. By the time I came back, it was late, and I said, I was going to see him on the 29th, when I go to office. I had a meeting in the house till 3 ‘0’ clock.As soon as I got ready to prepare to go there, that was when I got this call. So, on 29th, we didn’t speak, except I had the opportunity to bless him. I laid my hands on him, as he transited from this sinful world, to the glorious world, and to the glorious state.
We would like you to share the milestones of Bishop EmeritusFasina, inthe Catholic Diocese of Ijebu-Ode.
Well, Baba Fasina, from the history, was a pastor in the Cathedral. His vocation was a pastoral vocation. By the time he was appointed Bishop, I think 1988, he was the Cathedral Administrator, and from there,grace took him up. He was the simplest of all the shepherds of God, just as Msgr. John Aniagwu preached on the day of his funeral. He was a reluctant Bishop, he never wanted it. The more he resisted, the more the grace of God told him that my grace is sufficient for you. He finally received that grace, and continued. From testimonies of people who knew him before, as a pastor, he never lost his pastoral zeal for people. His love for conversion, his love for evangelization, he kept all that through his ministry, as Bishop. He was an administrator, but he favoured more pastoral, spiritual aspects of administration, more than what we would call a highly organized chancier, as it were. Everything was pastoral to him, from the office, to his people, to bringing the car and going out, his life was pastoral. In spite of his illness,which he admitted, he thought he was going to die early, but God kept him alive; and he lived 29 years as a bishop. He was the Pastor of this Diocese, for 29 years as Bishop. The first Bishop was 21 years, he lived 29 years, and after that, he lived even two years more after his retirement. We would haveloved that he lived longer than that in his retirement. He should have retired at 75,but the Church kept him,till five years after that. These are the milestones, agood man, a holy man and everybody wants to keep him forever, but God felt it was his own time. So, in those 75 years and 29 years of active ministry, as Bishop, and those two years in retirement, he contributed so much,to the pastoral growth of the Diocese. The parishes, I was told, were only seven when he became bishop, and by the time he was leaving, the number of parishes had grown to about 45.The priests were very few, may be about seven priests, but now, we are about 65 priests. Most of the priests in this Diocese were ordained by him. So,I’m brought here. I’m his successor by grace, who given grace by patrimonyof a man of faith, and a man of prayer, and hopefully, by God’s grace, and by his prayer, when Godreceives his soul, I will continue to build on the foundation he laid.
What condolence message do you have for the clergy and layfaithful of Ijebu-Ode?
Well, my condolences first, to the family of Baba Fasina. There is no way we can talk about this. It is a loss to them. Baba is gone physically from them, but he will always be there spiritually, and so I condole with the family of Fasina, who never abandoned him, when he was in ministry, and when he retired. In fact, his connection with his family became even stronger, in his weakness as an old man, who was frail and tired. I pray the Lord will continue to comfort them, and sustain them in their faith. On the second round, my condolence goes to the clergy, the religious of Ijebu-Ode Diocese, and all those who have the opportunity of living here, and working with Baba.There are so many of them. The testimonies on the day of funeral spilled over, they were so many, and we couldn’t count. They were more than two hundred clerics, and then, the religious same way. So I condole with them. Baba does not want us to cry for him. Baba wants us to remain cheerful in faith. If humility, prayer, evangelization, care for the poor, charity, would continue through us, Baba will so much be happy in heaven for this.
For the laity, we would want to thank all the laity, beginning with the laity in this Diocese; to the laity in the Lagos province, and the laity in Nigeria. Baba was a man who was able to reach out to everybody, particularly the laity. His strength and his support came mostly from the lay people. He would visit a lot of lay people,who were rich enough to support the Diocese.Hewould get help. He poured everything, charitably. In fact, some people told me that they were always angry with him because there was no amount of money you give to Baba, that was always enough because,as soon as he gets home, he gives all to his priests, his religious, to laity, individual families, who are in need, and he had list of many people he wanted to help, and he kept doing that. I’m sure many of them would miss Baba. And many of them havebeen writing tributes and testimonies. I condole with them, and ask that what they had received freely without charge, they must also give it to others without charge.
They have received love, they have received compassion, and they have received support from Baba. It would be Baba’s joy to seeing them doing same to others; going beyond the confines of Ijebu sons and daughters, doing it even to non-natives, everyone, including non-members of the Church, doing it to people who are not members of the Church, so that we can have testimony of faith. Baba loves conversion; he achieved a lot of conversion, through his charity and prayer. And that is the best way to remember Baba. Finally, to the entire Diocese ofIjebu-Ode, that I am by grace, the local ordinary, I like to say, like what God said to Joshua, when Moses succeededhim, in the mountain of Nebo. God says Joshua be strong, for I’m going to lead you to the Promised Land. Be strong to lead the people of God.The same words I want to say to the people of God, that God is saying to each one of us, we should be strong. He’s the one who is leading us. He led Anthony Sanusi, and he handed over to Albert AyindeFasina; Albert AyindeFasina has returned back to God,just as Anthony Sanusi had done, and he has handed over to me. And you and I, the people of God, must continue to move to that Promised Land.
It’s the Lord, who leads. He leads in our strength, in our weaknesses because the Church is the body of Christ .Let us console ourselves with these words because the Lord will not abandon his people. In the readings of today, ‘the shepherd, sheep and the compassion of the Lord’, is the appropriate typical message we have to move forward. Be a good shepherd, a shepherd with the compassionate heart, like that of Jesus. We have to be shepherds to one another