I will let you in on a few things. You see, things about the priesthood and the Catholic Church have always intrigued me. It made me become a Mass server. But, I never had the calling for the priesthood. I became a doctor. And I have kept a close relationship with my friends who later became priests. But I have a first son of age 10 whose favourite channel is EWTN, who says he wants to be a priest. That’s my prayer for him. Now, in 1983, just as I was about rounding off primary school, my dad said we would be going to a priestly ordination of his office colleague’s younger brother. I was excited. As it turned out the one we were going for his ordination also had his cousin to be ordained too, two priests within the same family.
It was to hold at the Holy Cross Catholic Cathedral, Lagos on September 18, on the eve of my birthday. It is usually a great thing for a family to have their son go to the seminary, and greater still when he eventually makes it to be a priest. The journey to becoming a priest is like the journey to becoming a doctor. It has never been easy. And it will never be easy. That ordination would be the first I would witness. Since then I have tried not to miss any, if I can. So, that fateful day, eight deacons were ordained priests. They are fondly called the “Class of eight”. Their ordination brochure has been kept like a relic. The priests are Fr. Christopher Ajala, Fr. Edmund Akpala, Fr. Michael Akintolu, Fr. Alphonsus Ania, Fr. Pascal Atomori, Fr. Alfred Adewale Martins, Fr. Jerome Oduntan and Fr. Peter Oke.
They have kept together. But their fate and destiny were different. One of them has been my parish priest and two of them have come visiting the parish at certain times. When His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Okogie retired at the canonical age of 75, as the Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos, anyone to replace him had big shoes to fill. But, one of those men I witnessed his priestly ordination back then was the one to replace Cardinal Okogie! Now a bishop, Martins was elevated to the rank of the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos on August 4, 2012, at the Holy Cross Catholic Cathedral, Lagos. This year marked the 8th year anniversary of that installation. Since his installation, the Archbishop has kept the spiritual passion burning.
The Catholic Church in Lagos has grown by leaps and bounds. Archbishop Martins knows how to pick the right people to work with him. Competence is his watchword. No sentiments. He has made sure the Church has remained a place of truth, salvation, and succour. Many people who call themselves men of God now prefer to hobnob with politicians. Not Martins. His Grace led Lagos Catholics to the Lagos State Government House in protest against the killing of innocent people in Nigeria. He is never quick to transfer priests, especially those that have performed very well in their parishes, allowing them to consolidate on the gains of their stewardship, much to the joy of many parishioners. That has helped keep many of the faithful who would otherwise go Church or priest hopping rooted in their parishes. Archbishop Martins has continued to inspire confidence. Particularly this period the Church has faced the COVID-19 pandemic.
His voice has been strident for the people of God to commune with their God the way they have always done, being also mindful of the continual threat of the coronavirus. He uses every opportunity to remind the faithful that the novel coronavirus is real, and that they should continue all the safety measures, like regular washing of hands, keeping social distancing and wearing of masks. Archbishop Martins has ensured that the Catholic Church continues to ensconce devotional fervour to the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, and not give room to lapsed and decidedly worldly practices of those who want to dilute our faith with moral relativism, same-sex marriage, ordination of women as priests, abortion and other unwholesome and wrong-headed ideas.
His Grace, Archbishop Alfred Martins was born on June 1, 1959 into the family of Mr. Gregory Obasola and Mrs. Victoria Oluremi Martins (both now of blessed memory). His first education was at St. Augustine’s primary school, Itesi, Abeokuta from 1956 to 1970. From there he went to St. Theresa’s Minor Seminary Oke-Are, Ibadan where he did his secondary school education. In 1976, he went to Saints Peter and Paul Seminary School, Bodija, Ibadan. There he did his three years in Philosophy and four years in Sacred Theology which he finished in June 1983. He had his Diaconate ordination on December 18, 1982. Nine months after he was ordained a priest.
He worked as an Assistant Administrator at Holy Cross. He also worked in a few parishes, and later taught at SS Peter and Paul Major Seminar from where he was elevated to a bishop when the Diocese of Abeokuta was created. That day when he was first ordained a priest, among the eight of them, he was the one with a very “special” prayer point, requesting all people to help him “with prayers in his priestly vocation”. Need we ask what that “special” prayer is? I join Catholics, Christians, Nigerians and many well wishers in wishing Archbishop Alfred Martins a fruitful stewardship in the Lord’s vineyard. Dr Odoemena, medical practitioner, Lagos @cuzdetriumph