NETA NWOSU interacts with the Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Leo Ukwuani on the remodeling of the Church edifice and its key features.
What we have here is a church that has been transformed into a Church edifice that stands to enhance evangelization, going by the architectural features. So, what necessitated this concept of a remodeled Church?
Anyway, I believe that it’s as a result of divine inspiration. But considering it from the human point of view, there were so many defects in the old Church. For some time, a wholesome amount of money has been put in there to correct the leakage on the roof, but even with that whooping sum spent to no avail, it persisted. Then also, we were able to see cracks on the wall, which also pointed to the fact that either that there is some technical defect also. Then, also seeing the two wings of the Church that is low, so, we also considered that we can have something better by raising this. So, because of all these we had seen, we tried to do something, and the only thing we can do at that point is renovation. But by the time we started discussing with the Archbishop and Chancery about it so because we just came, we wanted to renovate. They said no, go and do a serious architectural design, bring it, let us see. So, at that point, when we went back to the architect, we found out that what we thought should be just a simple renovation, was not a simple renovation. So, they broke some part, did some test of the materials, and then they were convinced that this building was not actually standing the test of time. So, from there now, we moved from renovation to an idea of remodeling. So, this is actually what transpired.
We want you to talk about the features of the Church. You have the altar; it’s been expanded, it’s larger. Then, you have the gallery; you have all kinds of features in the Church that speak to the heart, enhances the Catholic faith, and gives you hope, gives you that feeling that you are in a Church. It’s more like an evangelizing feature. Please talk to us.
Actually, when we were in school, during our theology days in liturgy class, we were made to understand that liturgy is not just like the particular event or the service you are rendering at that point, but also even the Church art is part of that liturgy. It’s not that you are just doing baptism, but it’s a liturgical act you are performing at that point, but also, you have a drawing of John the Baptist baptizing Christ; it also brings out that act you are doing. So, back in the days, I had it at the back of my mind that it’s not just that you have a Church, but the Church art is also part of something that motivates people spiritually, liturgically and religiously too. So, that’s why by the time we put up this and we were concluding, I had to bring in an artist, let’s look at the Church structure, then, let’s look at what we can do with arts; like you have entered here which I know, you notice that we have those patterns, in fact, those things are actually money. We could have just done two, but as we noticed that it’s a natural setting for it, then, what came to us is Mysteries of Christ, which we have all of them there; Annunciation, Ascension, Baptism, Transfiguration, they are all there, then, the Last Supper which we doubled, and then facing the altar, Ascension, and then Assumption, just to balance it kind of. So, actually, we believe also that it will inspire people, put their minds to what they have come for. I believe that by the time somebody looks at those things, you know normally people come to the Church, you see people pressing their phones, and their mind is migrating, but you have other things that can actually come in now, distract you from your necessary migration of your mind, so now you focus on these things. By the time those arts and mural paintings are stunning to you, I believe that it will have put you to your mind that you are here to worship God. So, that’s what actually motivated us in doing that, believing that it’s an inspiration to people to worship, to focus and then, to put all their minds in what they have come to do. Outside the Church, you see those statues; there is an experience I actually had. The sculptor came from Onitsha to mount those things, so they worked overnight, and coincidentally, I was the one celebrating morning Mass on that day. So one Wednesday, they worked over night, they mounted it, for me to finish morning Mass and do one thing, and going to inspect what they were doing, I saw a woman already doing Stations of the Cross in what we mounted in the night. I tell you that at that point, I felt like melting. In fact, there was goose pimple all over me, seriously, I witnessed it; nobody told me. We have not blessed, we didn’t even tell people we are bringing this, somebody is already praying there; just like the few times you have come here also, you will see those statues; the other statues, people are praying. So, I believe that you cannot underestimate the relevance, the presence of those statues, mural painting, in fact, practically, until we brought it in, I never knew that it can actually inspire people to this extent.
We want you to talk about the Saints and the Angels you have right here?
We have six statues of the Saints, and we did it such a way that coming to the main entrance of the Church, it has two wings. It’s a natural demarcation like that; the right wing and the left wing. So, we now brought into the left wing three out of these six, and the three statues we are placing them based on the historical relevance of these statues to our Church. So, therein, we actually have St. Joseph on the right wing. For now, by the special grace of God, the Oblates of St. Joseph are actually the priests that are working here. So as we are sons of St. Joseph, definitely, we also have one or two things to ask him over the parish which we work, so, we need his fatherly intercession. That’s why we have St. Joseph there. So, historically, he (St. Joseph) is connected to this parish based on the fact that his spiritual sons are working here. Then, the second statue we have there, although I said six, three; Ss. Peter and Paul, we paired them; we see them as one so, because this Church goes by the name Ss. Peter and Paul. Of course, that was why we made others six feet, but their own is seven feet. Then, we now have beside Ss. Peter and Paul, in the right wing, the statue of Blessed Iwene Tansi. In my language, there is something we say, ‘Nka bun kayi’, meaning that ‘this is our own’. So, we are bringing him also because of the import he has to our culture. This is a Saint from Africa, a Saint from Nigeria, Blessed Iwene Tansi. Then you go to the other side, the left wing of the Church, the statues we have there; three statues, those ones, you cannot entirely remove them from people; people also are miracle conscious. But then, we lead them in the light of the Catholic Church because I believe that Catholic Church has it all. So, on that left wing now, if you are looking for miracle, we placed some Saints that we believe that they are related to miracles, they can intercede for people and miracle happens. So, therein, we have Padre Pio. Then, we have St. Rita of Cascia, and then we have St, Anthony. That’s what we actually have. I want to tell you the experience I had. Somebody just came and was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t see St. Jerome here.’ I asked ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘My name is Jerome, I didn’t see St. Jerome.’ I said, ‘My name is Leo, I am not seeing St. Leo here. So, the message am sending across is, it doesn’t matter, but this is just to enhance our faith. It mustn’t be yes, it will be a Saint that you are answering his name or that you are named after, no, it’s purely based on this that we actually drew these statues, on the historical relevance, and then on the miracle relevance too; that’s why we have it. On Angels, I want to say something here. By the time Mario Eze Arts, at Nkpor there finished moulding my statues of Angels, he told me that he has not done this to anybody ever. It became clear to me that it’s not just that I woke up midnight and I had this thing, I just made a call and told him. The only thing I was thinking at that point was ‘Oh, it’s because of the Bible verse I know.’ But when he was mounting these, and told me that he has never done this to anybody, it became clearer that it’s not just that I know the Bible that talked about nine Choirs of Angels, but it’s actually a serious inspiration from God because it was actually after midnight that I just called him, told him what I wanted. Actually, it was even the Artist that made me to think about different instruments. I just told him Cherubim and Seraphim, nine Choirs of Angels, and then the Bible passage I knew before then, that’s Isaiah six where the Heaven opened; there was a vision, Isaiah saw God and fell on the ground, and then started saying Sanctus, Sanctus, Holy, Holy, seeing the Choirs of Continued from PAGE 09 Angels gathering around God. That was when God said, ‘Who shall I send? And he (Isaiah) actually having seen those visions, he was elated and elevated spiritually, and he now said, ‘Here I am, send me Lord.’ Yet, as I said, I was thinking and just acting out what I have read, until this Artist told me that he has not done it anywhere. And actually, Some Churches I went, I wouldn’t mention names here, one or two Churches around I saw, I went back, I saw, I counted; this one is nine in number, and each of the Angels are having different musical instruments. And then, going by the design of our Church, we now placed them so that it goes round. So, the vision I had that nine Choirs of Angels singing praises, continuous praise unto the Lord. So, the same way we did the Statues; in the right wing, we have three there, in the left wing three, and at the back, we have three because we only have facial, the parapet is only in the front and at the back, so, there’s nowhere it can rest in the middle, which also helped us because if you scatter it one, one, it may not come out very well.
What is the sitting capacity of the Church?
Officially, it should be 2,500, but if there’s no COVID, and we try to bring in adjustable seats, it will be 3,000, but officially, going by pew, it should be 2,500.
I would like to have your background as Parish Priest. When actually did you become a Parish Priest?
I became a Parish Priest in 2014.
Is this your first parish?
How has it been and what’s your vision of what a Parish Priest should be?
Well, I can say that I didn’t just become a Parish Priest, I went through the tutelage. I had a mentor, Fr. Dory Tubesa, OSJ, a Philipino. In him, I saw a Priest that is different because I worked with him somewhere in a Parish before here, then, when he came here also, I worked with him. I saw a Priest that is different, a Priest that many people misconstrued, but he will continue to be on his guard. He’s never deterred.