The parish priest of St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, Okwuohia, Obowo, Imo State, Rev. Fr. John Enyinnaya, speaks to CHIDIEBUBE OKEOMA about his family background and life as a Catholic priest
Where and when were you born?
I was born on December 27, 1958. I am a twin; I have a twin sister. I was born 24 hours after my twin sister was born, so she is older than me by one day. I was born in a place called Umusioma, Umuarim in the Obowo Local Government Area of Imo State.
Can you describe the kind of setting you grew up in?
I grew up in a very humble family. My parents were not educated, but they loved education. My parents were not rich. My father would often say, “I do not have money in the bank, but my children are my wealth.” But ours was a very happy family. My parents had nine children – four males and five females. I am the sixth child among the nine children and the third male child.
At what point did you decide you wanted to become a Catholic priest?
I was in Primary Six when I heard announcements in church about enrollment in the Catholic Seminary School and I got interested. But the financial status of my family was a concern because enrollment involved money. I knew my father had the desire to send me to the seminary but he didn’t have the money. One day, my father returned home (from an outing) and asked me what I thought about going to the seminary. I told him I had heard the announcement about enrollment and I wished he had money to send me there. Later, one Friday evening, he called me and asked, “Do you still want to go to the seminary?” And my answer was yes. He gave me the enrollment fee and transport fare and that was how my journey to becoming a priest began.
What would you have become if you were not a Catholic priest?
I would have loved to become a medical doctor. When my grandmother was alive, I told her I would be a medical doctor. Till now I still have the desire to become a medical doctor but age is no more on my side. But I do advise sick persons on medical issues, which often works when they apply what I advise. When I was in the seminary, I worked in the clinic and I did very well for four years.
What does it mean to be a Catholic priest?
A lot; sacrifice, self denial. What do I mean by sacrifice? You are going there (into priesthood) not for yourself but for the people, not just for Catholics but for everybody. The sacrifice I mean is you offer yourself for service. Then, another important area is denial – Catholic priests do not marry. Not that you do not have people who admire you, especially the women who always come, looking for how to destroy you. But the office of a priest is prestigious; it is bigger than any other office. There is no retirement for a priest – once a priest is always a priest.
What are the processes for becoming a Catholic priest?
You must be an intelligent child of God; you study hard and have the desire to become a priest. It will reflect in your life and you must follow those who are already priests. If you want to get to the top, you must strive to stand on the shoulders of those who are already at the top. The call to priesthood is a divine calling. In the past, you can become a Catholic priest in 14 years but now it takes nothing less than 18 years. You will spend six years in Junior Seminary; you will spend one year doing what we call prefectery. Then you go for another one year called Spiritual Year. After that one year if you are lucky not to spend an extra year, you will proceed for Philosophy, which lasts for four years. After Philosophy, if you are lucky not to spend one extra year, you will proceed for Theology. All these processes take time and you are being tested over this period. After Theology is ordination and you then spend another one year for Internship – You will stay in a parish or a Catholic missionary school to teach and to understudy the master. It takes time and endurance to become a Catholic priest. So, when you see someone moving on the road as a Catholic priest, doff your cap to him. It is not easy to become a Catholic priest.
The life of celibacy comes with discipline and self-denial, will you say the choice was easy for you to make and live it?
It is not an easy thing but the question is ‘Were you forced to go there?’ It is not an easy thing because Catholic priests are human beings, who also have blood flowing in their veins. In deciding to be a priest you should know this is what you are going to face. But as human beings, at times, we find ourselves falling and rising.
What was your mother’s reaction to your decision to become a priest?
My mother too wanted me to become a priest, though she never said anything about it. But she would always encourage me to join in serving masses in church. She would promise to get me a gift if I joined them in serving masses in church. Everybody in my family supported me to become a Catholic priest and they are still supporting me till date.
Did your mother witness your ordination as a Catholic priest?
Yes, my mother was alive when I became a priest but my father died six months before my ordination. He was sick and hospitalised at the UNTH, Enugu before he died. I know my father is happy wherever he is that his dream of having me become a Catholic priest is a reality today.
How long have you been a Catholic priest?
I was ordained a Catholic priest in 1989; I have been a Catholic priest for 32 years and that is a dream come through.
What do you enjoy most about being a priest?
Everything about priesthood gives me joy. I think nothing but priesthood. I often find myself celebrating mass in my dreams. My life is all about the priesthood of the Catholic Church.
What has been your most memorable moment as a priest?
It was the day I was ordained as a priest. I felt really fulfilled because it was a long journey. I was ordained on August 4, 1989. I was the only one ordained as a priest in my parish. As at that time, the Bishop went from one parish to another to ordain priests and in my parish I was the only one ordained. On that day, the church was filled to its brims. Being a priest is not an easy role, but if you become a priest and you know what you are doing your roads are opened, unless you mess up.
Are there misconceptions about Catholic priesthood and the life of celibacy that you feel should be strengthened?
The truth is that being a priest does not remove one’s human nature. People seem not to understand that priests are human beings too and they are not above making little mistakes. Oftentimes they (priests) are alone and when you are alone, you must be very careful because the devil can come. Some people misunderstand us (priests). But people should understand that priests are human beings. All we need to do is to assist and pray for the priests. We (priests) are alone in the world but Jesus is with us.
Has any woman ever made advances to you or tried to be in a relationship with you?
How can they not make advances to me? I am a very handsome man. They do, but it is left for me as a Catholic priest, who knows what his office means, to say no or yes. If I tell you that no woman has ever made advances to me, I may not be telling you the truth. There are many (women) who appreciate you and want something from you, it is just for you to know who you are. If a priest does not recognise his position, they (women) will mess him up and people will turn him into a butt of jokes.
What is your view on the call for Catholic priests to start getting married?
If other priests like it, let them get married but I, Revd Fr. John Enyinnaya, will not get married. For me, getting married is getting an additional job to the job of a priest. It is either you want to be a priest or a married man. Priesthood is not an easy job because you must give it your whole attention. Priesthood is not a profession, it is a vocation. Remember I said earlier that Catholic priests are like ghosts; they have a lot to do. If you get married as a priest you will be limited in your service to God and mankind. You may get up one morning for mass, and then your child is ill. Are you going to leave the child and go for morning mass? If you leave the mass to attend to your child there will be confusion in the church. So, one must choose between being a Catholic priest and a married man.
What are the mistakes you have made in life?
Will you say becoming a Catholic priest while people were expecting me to get married is a mistake? As far as I know, it is not a mistake. I wouldn’t say I have made any mistakes or done anything that when I look back I wish I could turn back the hand of time.
The only mistake I can say I have made was lying to my father when I was in the seminary; that was the first and the last lie I told my father.
Will you conduct a same-sex wedding if Catholic Church permits it?
Which Catholic Bishop will ever say that? I am sure that the Catholic Church will not permit such an abomination, something that God said is wrong. Even animals abhor such a thing and any human being doing it is crazy, sick and needs to be quarantined. One of the reasons for marriage is procreation. When a man marries a man, how will they procreate?
What is your take on the use of hijab in the missionary school?
That (wearing of hijab) is the Muslim way of dressing and if the Muslims want that, they can have their schools and send their children there to preserve their tradition and religion. But if a Muslim wants to attend a Christian missionary school, then if you go to Rome you must behave like the Romans. Such pupils can keep their hijab and wear it when they go for holidays. It should not bring a quarrel; when you come to school, wear the school uniform and keep your hijab at home. You don’t have to come to a Christian missionary school.
What is your take about the increasing kidnaps of Catholic priests?
People no longer respect God; they now toy with sacred, ordained priests. It is wrong. If I am kidnapped now and you are looking for money, my brothers will not bring any money; my bishop will say, ‘If you kill him, bring his corpse to where we can see it and bury him.’ If you are expecting any ransom to be paid, you will not get any. As a priest, my ransom has long been paid. The moment I became a Catholic priest, was when my ransom was paid. The church has no money. The devil has gone to the church; God will fish them out soon. They are putting their hands in dangerous places and God will expose them.
Do you do any other thing outside priesthood?
I am a lecturer at the Imo State College of Education. I teach in the Department of Christian Religious Knowledge. Even when I was at St. Paul’s Parish, Osu I was the principal of the school that I established. When I was at Arondizuogu, I was also the principal of the school. I was also the one that established it.
How do you combine priesthood and lecturing?
A priest is also a teacher, there is no combination. Even while I was a parish priest at Arondizogu, I was still doing my programmes. When I was at Arondizuogu, I went to Kaduna for public complaint communications, I did radio and television programmess and also did counselling. I also went to ABSU for my master’s and PhD. The most important thing is to manage your time. Oftentimes when we say we don’t have time, what is missing is the initiative to manage our time well.
Source:- Punch Ng