At 11a.m, Tuesday, October 27, 2020, in St. Agnes Catholic Church, Maryland, Lagos, the Dean of Maryland Deanery, Very Rev. Fr. Anthony Taiye Fadairo, celebrated Mass in company of Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Okogie; Bishop of Ijebu Ode, Most. Rev. (Dr.) Francis Adesina; Dean of Apapa Deanery, Very Rev. Msgr. Anthony Erinle and a host of other priests to mark the 30th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Scores of Priests and lay faithful celebrated with Very Rev. Fr. Fadairo. It was a joyful ceremony. The Acting Editor, NETA NWOSU in a chat with the Dean and Parish Priest of St. Agnes Catholic Church, encapsulates his journey and experiences so far in the priestly vocation.
How long have you been a Catholic and at what point did you decide to be a Priest?
I have been a Catholic all my life. Baptized seven or eight days after my birth, and I have been a Catholic ever since. So, I was an Altar Boy. I started serving at age eight. I was an Altar Boy till I went to the seminary at age 18. Well, the decision was not that difficult. As an Altar Boy, you are close to the altar, and you are close to Priests, and then you see what they do, and then, the inspiration gets into you too. You want to do what you see. So, that is the story. We will like to know what you were doing before you eventually became a Priest. As an Altar Boy, you would have been in the Primary or Secondary school. We would like to know what transpired thereafter and how your dream eventually snowballed into the priestly vocation. Well, as an Altar Boy, I was in primary school, and then, I went to secondary school. I wanted to go to the Minor seminary, wrote to the examination, passed it, but I couldn’t get the letter for interview in time because it was given to somebody who brought it late. Eventually, I was encouraged to at least, go to one of the Secondary schools that I applied to, and then after, I continued the journey. So, that was how it was; I didn’t do any other thing. I have been in school, from school to the seminary.
We would like to know what you like most being a priest?
Well, what I love most is taking care of the needs of the people. We have myriads of problems here and there; both spiritual, physical and otherwise. And then, you see it, you feel it, and then, been able to at least to contribute to solving some of the problems is what one enjoys; serving the people of God; that is the thing.
Has there been any moment in your 30 years of priesthood that you regretted going into the vocation?
Well, if I am being sincere with you, I will say to you, there has never being. As a priest, there are times you are tired, times that you are bored, but you know it’s all part of the human living. But looking back to see any regret; no, there was never any time.
It’s all being joyful moments. Please, share the joyful moments; your joyful moments in the priesthood?
The joyful! Well, every day for me is joy. When I talk about being smooth, well, as a person and as a priest, you look back, you see some of the things you would have done otherwise, but you know because that is what you teach yourself; life is a continuum. But talking about it, the joy is seeing people happy around you, contributing to the growth of the Church, and then, in different Parishes one has been; you feel the people and they feel you. And then, the feedback that you get from people about your service to the people of God; those are the thing that brings joy to one as a Priest. So, I will say I‘ve been lucky in terms of my work as a Priest, at least to the service of the people of God; all the places I have been, you see expression of joy and happiness of one rendering service to them. So, that is the joy. That you are doing the work, it’s tiring, but people of God love what you are doing; that is the joy. You have your joy; you have your moments when you are tired. Sometimes, one can feel heavily burdened too because of the burden of the people and because of the work that you have to do, but it’s a total package; the priesthood is a total package. Just like what Christ Himself has said; you have your cross to carry, even as a Priest. So, when you put all together, it is all towards one direction; salvation of your soul and the salvation of the souls of the people that you minister to. So, that is what brings the joy.
Everyone has cross to carry! Please, let us into the biggest challenges you have faced as a Priest? The Biggest challenge?
(Sighs). To be candid, I cannot say that I can put my hand on any to say is a big challenge. As I tried to explain earlier, as a Priest, just like any other person, the burden of work is there. Sometimes, you have too many things to do with little time to do them. So, those are the things that I see. Sometimes, you are tired, you feel like just running away to have a rest, but you don’t have the luxury. All the places that I have been have been challenging, the needs are always very great, but experience helps one to face the challenges, and then you move on. So, that is the life for me. But, I see a lot of people, what you see as challenge, people want that challenge, they don’t even have the opportunity of having the challenge. But as a person, you feel burdened by some of the work that you have to do, but you know that it is for the good of the church, so you do it. So, if there is any challenge, it is sometimes just the heaviness of the works, but God always provides the grace; that has been my understanding. God will not give you an assignment that he will not give you the enabling grace to accomplish. Many will say that majority of Nigerians are religious, but when you take a deep look at them, you get to know that most of them are illiterates in their respective religions. And this applies to the Catholic Church where majority of them lack the understanding of some of the doctrines or catechism. How do you think this issue can be addressed? Well, you keep on teaching. That is one of the things I learnt early. In order to take care of ignorance, you have to educate people. Almost all the Parishes I have been, I have set up Bible and doctrinal classes. And you do that in order to correct ignorance. That is one of the things I always advocate, and I tell people; the young priests that I encounter, ‘Do this, it’s good for yourself, for continuous studies, and then to educate the people.’ So, that is what I do. For instance, in the lockdown, when we couldn’t even meet for the Bible class, every day, I have a reflection about 10 minutes that people can think about. So, if people take time to listen to such reflection, they go to Bible class or they read what is coming out. A lot of Priests are writing, some lay people now, are writing. So, Catholics can take the opportunity to read, to study, then, this ignorance will be taken away. There is no doubt about it that a lot of people are ignorant of their faith, of the religion, even the history of the Church; they are ignorant of it. But what can you do? You keep on teaching. You correct ignorance through pushing out knowledge through education. So, that is what you can do. But, having said that, there are some people who will not react to whatever, they are okay with their lives, so to say. But, maybe a time will come when they will come to the realization of what they need.
Let us come to your role as the Dean of Maryland Deanery. We will like to know your vision and how this vision has evolved over the years?
Well, the Deanery is under sev en years. The vision is for us to have the Priests in the Deanery doing their work the way they are supposed to do it, getting close to the people of God, being there for the people of God, and then, being there for themselves too. And thanks be to God, that is being achieved. We have been able to make everybody who is in the Deanery to participate in the life of the Church in the Archdiocese. All the events we are always well represented, present to the need of the people, and then always coming together. That’s what Deanery is always about. As a Dean, you are to coordinate the Priests under you, make them to love what they ought to love, to do what they ought to do. And thank God, we have achieved that. At least, the people of God in different Parishes are being carried along. That is the vision; to encourage the Priests, for them to encourage their people to be part of the church, to make effort to be part of the progress that is happening in the Churches. And they are all doing that to the glory of God. So, everyone is striving to bring the Church closer to their people; through evangelization, through their presence. And then, they take time to listen to the people of God from the different parishes. So far, so good, the people are nearer to their Priests; and then, they are getting closer to their Priests and getting closer to the local Church too.
We would like to know the current state of things in the Maryland Deanery and the challenges the Deanery is currently facing?
Well, at present, I can’t put my hand on any challenge being faced by the Deanery. We have our regular meetings; the Priests are at their duties. So, in terms of challenge, there is none. So, the Maryland Deanery, St. Agnes; things are working here. This is the centre of the Maryland Deanery. When anything, the Priests have access to their Dean, and then, the people of God; there’s no complaint coming from anywhere within the Deanery. So, at least the people; parishioners in all the various Parishes know they have access to their Dean, if anything is going wrong in their Parish. And then, we too, we go around to talk about things, see what is happening, give advice. So far, so good, we don’t have any challenge that we are facing at present. The only challenge is just the corona virus, and the only complain would be that the Churches are not full; some of the Parishes are struggling to cope with finances, and then, some other capable Parishes are supporting. So far, so good, those are the few challenges that I can recall that are being well taken care of. So, that is what I can say.
There are certain times people experience difficulties and they feel neglected by God, and they ask, ‘why God, why are you doing this to me.’ Have you ever been in such a situation? Please tell us what you said to people in such situations that came to you.
Let me just say something to you. Yester night, after our Rosary; with my Assistant, we normally have our Rosary after our meal in the evening. After the Rosary, then we go for our night prayer. We finished the Rosary, and then we were strolling; we were talking, and then, suddenly, we were discussing about problem, and I said to my Assistant that my own understanding and principle in life is that there is no problem that does not have a solution, unless it’s not a problem. Problems and solutions are always side by side. It’s only for one to recognize the problem and then to look; solution is always nearby. As a person too, that has always been my principle; there’s no problem that is beyond God. That is real. If you are in any problem, I always preach endurance. That is the way I see it. If there is any problem, it will pass. The worst of a problem is, even if somebody is sick, the problem will come to an end, either through death or through surviving that sickness and getting out of it. So, all is towards salvation. So, people come and talk about serious problem, but you let them know even problem is part of life. It has never been smooth for anybody. Life is not 100 percent smooth. What I always say to people is that just pray that you will have more to enjoy than endure. There is nobody who is alive who will not have something to endure. That is the way life itself is. Christ that we all follow as Christians; he had his own wonderful time, good times with friends, progress in His missionary work that He enjoyed, works of evangelization, and then, He said it even before His passion, the Son of man is going to suffer. Suffering is part of life. So, when people come depressed, when they talk I say, ‘Come, are you bigger than the Son of God? Jesus Himself had a cross to carry. So, you too, you will have your own cross to carry.’ So, that has always been my counseling. By the time you talk to them, let them know that suffering is part of life, a lot of them will then say, ‘Oh, so suffering is not God neglecting you.’ Not at all. Sometimes, suffering purifies you. So, that is the way I see it, and that is the way I explain it to people, that if they have challenge, please, it will pass. It becomes the past, and then, if they have a problem, it will end; there will be a solution. So, that is the way I have lived my life, and that is the way I encourage other people to live it too.
Of late, there’s been a heated debate on homosexuals being part of the church, following Pope Francis’ statement that was grossly misunderstood. I will like to seek your views on this. Can homosexuals be part of the church?
I am sure you yourself know it more than I do. You have read the document that has come out, so there’s no need for one to continue to flog the issue. Every one of us; we are sons and daughters of God. Whether you are homosexual, whether you are whatever you are, whether you are straight or not; according to what he said, we are all sons and daughters of God, made in the image and likeness of God. But, the other technical part of what makes people homosexual or what it is all about, that is a different thing. But, in terms of who we are; we are sons and daughters of God, and then, there are regulations, and most especially for us Christians, believers; what you are allowed to do and what you are not allowed to do. The basic thing that has been placed in us is to do good and avoid evil, that is the basic thing. So, in the church, it has been said long time ago, even during the time of Augustine, the Church is a Church of saints and sinners. If you commit sin through what you think you are, then, you have to find a way out of it. But the Church is open to all, but the Church also has its regulation about conducts.
So, other things about this, I’m sure you can easily lay your hands on it. So, for me, that is the way the Church is. It’s not my own what I have to say. No. that is the way the Church is. Church is a Church for saints and sinners. So, everybody is welcome in the Church. But when you are welcome, just like the story in the Bible; the Lord opened the door, the banquet Hall for everybody to come in. when they all came in, He still went round to check. You must be with the wedding garment, and that is what makes the difference. Everybody is welcomed, but you must conform to the rules and regulations of the Church, or else, you may be inside the Church, you come to Church, you are there, but you find yourself outside. And at the end of the day, you may find yourself being rejected by the Lord. Lord we ate with you, we drank with you, we walked around with you, but I do not know you. So, it is for the individual to know the expectation and to work accordingly. Today, Sunday, November 22 is the Feast of Christ the King, and we will be talking about kingship, we will be talking about citizenship of that kingdom of God.
So, I would like you to rate the realization of God’s kingdom in Nigeria, taking cognizance of the social ills of the country
. Well, you cannot rate the presence of the kingdom in terms of the ills. You rate the presence of the kingdom in terms of the people who have come to embrace the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God, mind you is a continuum. We pray everyday, ‘Let Your will be done here on earth, as it is in heaven.’ The first joy of it is that a lot of people have come to know Christ. That is the beginning. And part of those who have come to know Christ, they are working assiduously towards being part of that kingdom. That is what one should promote. And having said that there are some who have come to know about the kingdom, but who are not doing their best, but that is also part of life. It is for those who have come to understand what it means, to continue to encourage those who are lagging behind. So, we have a lot of Nigerians that are Christians, but in terms of practice, there’s still a lot to be done.
So, they know what the kingdom is all about, some are working assiduously towards the kingdom, while others need to do better. That is the way I will see it. Though, as Christians, we are supposed to be Saints of God working here on earth. And then, people around us must be able to see that, so that they too will embrace the kingdom. The kingdom God we were told last week, when the question was asked ‘Where does God live?’ God is in each and every one of us. And if we are able to allow people around us to see God living in us, then, more people will get closer to the kingdom. So, we should thank God first and foremost for those who have come to embrace the faith, for those who are practicing the faith, who are working towards the kingdom. And then, we continue to tow those who are not living up to expectation along, most especially, those who are Christians, so that we must continuously teach about the kingdom.
So, it is a thing of joy that we have opportunity to have that celebration, but it is also a time for us for reflection. So, the Church also I’m sure is using that opportunity to tell people the kingdom of God is getting closer to us, just like we have been told salvation is closer to us now than the time we first believed. So, that is what the kingdom is all about. So, we are all moving closer to it, but the kingdom as we have been told begins here. If you are not living the life of the children of God here, it will be difficult for one to be part of the kingdom in heaven, when it is fully established.
There are a number of young men wanting to join the vocation of priesthood. What advice would you give to a young man contemplating to join the vocation of priesthood?
The advice is be prayerful. Be open to the spirit direction. Live your Christian life well. So, prayer does it. Praying first to be called, praying for God to show you the way. It’s not everybody that say they want to be a Priest that eventually becomes one. So, discernment is key; to be able to discern the vocation through prayer. Such a person tries to be close to the Priest to able to help you in discernment, to be able to help you in knowing what you are supposed to know, what you are supposed to do, and then, put it into prayer. And then, the prayer should be ‘Lord let Your will be done. If it is your will, call me.’