Rev. Fr. Sylvester-Mary Oladunjoye speaks with NETA NWOSU and CONSTAINCIA URUAKPA on humble beginning of the Parish and its 17-year journey so far.
We would like to know what informed the Church and its structural shape?
Well, the Church was a missionary vision of the then Parish Priest of Holy Family Catholic Church, 22 Road, Festac, Fr. Emmanuel Abela, in the early 2000s. He was replaced by Very Rev. Msgr. Bernard Okodua, and Monsignor continued with the missionary vision to secure this place. It was actually secured in two parts, one part came first; the other part was added on. So, the idea was to get a bigger space, wherein all the parishes in Festac can use, should they have any celebration with expectation of large crowd, this would be the place they use. That is why the Church is the biggest Church among the Festac Town Parishes, in terms of capacity. The shape of the Church, I don’t really know what informed it because many engineers, architects, at the time, were consulted, and asked to bring their drawings, when Fr. Anthony Obadina, CMF, was the Parish Priest of Holy Family Catholic Church, and this building’s architectural drawing was approved for construction.
From my enquiries from my predecessors, I was able to gather that the Church capacity was initially 5000, but was later reduced because of the magnitude about 3500, 4000 basically. That was what we started then, around 2007, 2008, when the building project actually commenced. Prior to that time, the talks as to the building of the Church had already begun, so, we just needed a priest on ground, who would be directly involved in overseeing the construction of the Church that would become like the centre of the Festac Town Parishes. Yes, Holy Family is the mother parish of all these Churches now, beginning from Annunciation, to Visitation, Nativity here, Presentation, and even St. Joseph, Abule-Ado. Holy Family is the mother Church, all these Churches, Parishes now, were their outstations then. But we thank God for the missionary vision they had, to make this place a truly Catholic area, wherein, Catholics can have access to the Church, to the sacraments and to the Catholic way of life, at a very close distance to their houses.
That is why we have this Church. A close look at the Church and its structural shape, will reveal a design that can be said to be five in shape, five in the sense that the pentagon sort of was used, and five is symbolic in the Catholic Church of the five wounds of Jesus, and also, of the call to all of us, like we say, five continents or ausioniers of the world. So, this place was meant to be like I said earlier, the centre of Festac Town and environ parishes. So, that is why we have it this way, this shape. Now, if you look, you will also see that in Festac Town itself, we have five parishes. So, that may be some of the inspiration behind the shape of the Church. Yes, the Church can take any shape, it may be directly involved in what they envisioned for it, or shaped the general way Churches are shaped in different places or Dioceses or Churches or areas; all of them gearing towards evangelization, gearing towards the vision of the Church, to every human being in it. So, that’s that about the history of the Church, its structural shape and symbolic meaning of it.
How did you come about the name, Catholic Church of the Nativity?
Yes, when Fr. Anthony Obadina was Parish Priest of Holy Family, we discovered that Holy Family is one family in the Catholic Church; every family aspires to be like. When you now think of the mystery of the Holy Family that brought about that family, in the first place, then, you remember the Joyful Mysteries which encompasses the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation, and Finding of our Lord Jesus Christ in the temple. Fr. Anthony Obadina then envisioned an assembly of Festac Town parishes of Joyful Mysteries, that is why we have Annunciation, Visitation, here, Nativity, the Presentation, and St. Joseph, AbuleAdo. So, that was why this place was named Catholic Church of the Nativity. It was suggested by Fr. Anthony Obadina, and our Archbishop Emeritus, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie approved it.
At what point did you actually come into the picture in the history of the Parish, Catholic Church of the Nativity?
Yes, I have been hearing of Catholic Church of the Nativity, and indeed all the Festac Town outstations then, now parishes. But I came into the picture upon the last general transfer on December 31, 2020, which reassigned me to this place, as the new Parish Priest. Prior to my resuming here, January 22, 2021, exactly five months, I was in another parish in Lekki Region, and I have stayed there for over four years. I was moved here like any priest would be transferred to any parish. And history shows that I am the third Parish Priest here. The first priest was Priestin-Charge, then the second priest; this place was elevated to the status of a parish. Then, I can say the second Parish Priest was the third Pastor of this parish. So, the last general transfer brought me here as Parish Priest.
We would like to know what Catholic Church of the Nativity is known for. What are the peculiar features this parish; is there any special apostolate it is interested in, what is it known for?
Catholic Church of the Nativity is known for her hospitality. The Nativity mystery itself shows the mystery of incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word becoming flesh, and dwelling among us. Church of Nativity is known for hospitality, her welcoming spirit. That is the founding vision and mission of this parish, and that is what has transpired in various ways. We welcome people from everywhere. That is why we have parishioners, even as far as Ago Palace Way, and we have parishioners even across from Satellite Deanery. If you check the expanse of the Deanery, it covers those across the Express Road, and even those beyond Festac Town. So, all of them come here regularly, we have events here; and our hospitality, I think is the first among all we are having here. We have others This Church was meant to be… too, like our family outlook. The parish is organized like a family; no sort of discrimination. We try as much as possible to support one another. We encourage one another, and also to translate what we preach into what we do. That is what we are doing for them. Thirdly, you can also consider our musical beauty. I don’t want to talk about the beauty of the Church; that can be said to be transient. I am talking about those qualities that actually mark us as children of God, and that actually help us to continue to forge ahead for our joint mission to the kingdom of God.
We would like you to compare your experience here to your former parish?
The experience is not too different, in the sense that it is the same Church, in the same Archdiocese, with the same people; children of God. My former parish, I actually did a lot; they said in a short time, that’s what they said, but I was just basically doing my own work, as I deemed fit and as I deemed necessary. In view of the prospects of the place, which is still the prospect at the moment, so that as the place is growing, the Church is equally in her own way to growing too, so that it doesn’t become like ‘this place has outgrown the Church’. So, we try to make the Church to be measuring up, as is physically possible. And this was the case also pastorally, they witnessed, according to them, very good pastoral attention, more than they witnessed in recent years. So, comparing that to here, I will not want to jump into comparison because every place is unique in itself, and I have only stayed five months here, and there, I spent four years, three months plus. So, I think I still need more time to stay here. But even if I have stayed four years plus here or even more, I will still come back to the same conclusion I mentioned earlier; every place is unique, and every place has its own prospects, which whoever is the leader there, or whoever is the pastor there, should know, understand, and persevere, especially, with the good of the people in mind, with reference to our mission here on earth.
We would like to know the population of the lay faithful in the Church?
The population of the lay faithful here before my arrival, we were told, was about 2000, 3000, but during COVID-19, a lot happened, like we know. Father told me the number dropped to about 1500, and that’s about what we still have. So, with COVID-I9 pandemic, some people are still scared coming back to the Church, despite the measures we put place in the Church, people are not still confident in it or they don’t feel so strong to be able to weather that, among us. So, we still give them pastoral succour, pastoral assistance, but population of the Church is as Father said it was, and so I met it. But we are trying to improve on that, not basically the population as such, but to also trying to make them grow in their faith. In terms of the lay organizations, societies, how many societies do you have here, and how many organizations do you have, and how well are they doing? Yes, the organizations, we have four of them, as is statutory, that is the Catholic Men Organisation (CMO); Catholic Women Organisation (CWO), Catholic Youth Organisation (CYON) and Missionary Childhood Association (MCA). We have four of them, and they are doing well. We also have other societies.
We have Young Christian Workers. We have St. Vincent de Paul. We have the Legion of Mary. We have the Board of Lectors, Knights of the Altars; Mass servers as they are commonly known, we have the Church Wardens, we have the Altar Decorators or Altar Dressers, or Altar cleaners; they are a group. We have the Choir. We have St. Anthony Society. We have Infant Jesus Society. We have many other societies, even we recently started one, Community of Companions of ????… and Angels, and so on and so forth. And they are not doing badly, despite the onslaught of COVID, they are trying to come back, and they trying to improve. And it has not been bad. It has been good. Tell us about the relics in the Church We don’t have the Society of St. Rita here, not even St. Jude, we have many people bearing Rita, and those who are interested in starting the group, so that was why we got the statue for them to encourage them, and they did contributed to it. Same goes for St. Jude Society, the patron of difficult and hopeless cases. St. Rita is the patron of impossible cases.
St. Anthony is well known all over the world, he is a doctor of the Church, and died at 36 years. The relic of St. Anthony of Padua. So, we have Infant Jesus, we have strong members of Infant Jesus society members here. What about the features of the Altar We have the image of Divine Mercy, I am the Archdiocesan Chaplain of Divine Mercy Devotion, and the Pope had ruled that the image should be conspicuous on the sanctuary, in order to call people’s attention to the infinite mercy of God. So, the ‘A’ inscription you see indicates ‘Alfa’ and while the ‘O’ implies ‘Omega’, Christ the beginning and the end of all things. We also have monogram ‘HIS’, which means Jesus Christ.