Archbishop Valerian Maduka Okeke from the Archdiocese of Onitsha, Nigeria, confirmed 19 young people at a weekly Igbo Mass at St. Clement Pope Church, South Ozone Park. Joy filled the church during this special pastoral visit on June 12.
In his homily, the archbishop said that the day was a time of gratitude and joy, especially because the young people who completed their initiation in the faith through Confirmation “will pass the light of the faith to the young ones.”
He then focused on the need to practice mercy by loving and forgiving one another.
“Jesus is the visible face of God’s mercy,” Archbishop Okeke said. “This Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is a time to revisit the virtue of mercy, to show mercy to others.”
“Mercy is a virtue and when you practice it, it will affect everything,” archbishop said. “Goodness is holistic. Everything you do, do it in a good way.”
Sister Beatrice Chukwumazie, D.M.M.M., appreciated the focus on God’s mercy since her congregation’s mission is to practice compassion in action. She was also thrilled that young people, including her niece, were confirmed by the archbishop.
“These young people have accepted the call to be soldiers of Christ,” she said. “One of my nieces converted to Catholicism and is a joy to my uncle and my grandfather in heaven and my mother … I cannot explain my happiness.”
The confirmands were also filled with happiness. Chinoiere Anumudu said she felt privileged to have been confirmed by the archbishop during the Igbo Mass she has attended for years.
St. Clement Pope is home to one of the largest Nigerian communities in the area, said Father Anthony Nzegwu, administrator. He estimates that the parish serves about 60 Nigerian families. In addition to a Mass in the Igbo language, the parish also offers Masses in English on Sunday mornings and on Saturday night.
The Igbo Mass typically attracts more than 250 people, including families from the Igbo ethnic group who travel from different parts of the diocese and sometimes from out of state. Parishioners said that attendance increases every Sunday.
Parishioner Kemakolam Obi, said he was happy to have the Igbo Mass because it brought the parishioners together as a community.
“We celebrate our culture and we also bring the young ones, our children, to learn how we worship as well as (to learn about) the Catholic doctrine,” he added. “It reassures the continuity of the faith because our children also worship here.”
The Confirmation Mass filled St. Clement Pope, with some of the 400 attendees having to stand outside. On this special occasion, the Mass was celebrated in English and Igbo, with songs in Igbo, Latin and English.
“It’s not every day that a bishop comes from Nigeria to help to confirm our young people,” said Pauline Oparah, the leader of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of St. John International, a fraternal organization dedicated to serving the Church.
Parishioners participated in the offertory dance, bringing their offerings to a basket placed in front of the altar. As they presented their gifts to God, the choir accompanied them with joyful song, percussion pots and other instruments.
“In Nigeria we have this cultural (tradition) to express joy in giving thanks to God the giver of gifts, giving back to him,” Father Nzegwu said. “People come and dance and show that joy to God.”
At the end of the Mass, he thanked the archbishop, the numerous visiting priests and every member of the parish for their support during this joyous occasion. The clergy present included Father Patrick Okafor, Father Fredrick Anawonah, Father Emmanuel Emenu, Father Innocent Amasiorah, Father Nonso Onyeagu, Father Cosmas Nzeabalu, Father Paul Ideadi, Father Anthony Madu and Deacon Nath. Smith.
The parish administrator also expressed gratitude toward Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who gave his permission for the Mass to be celebrated by Archbishop Okeke.
The archbishop has been a friend of the Brooklyn Diocese for more than 40 days, since he was a seminarian. During this visit he also attended the ordination of the new 10 priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn and had a meeting with Nigerian priests ministering in the U.S. and Canada.
The June 12 celebrations continued after the Mass during a reception in the basement of the church, followed by a cultural celebration. The festivities included traditional dishes such as soup with fufu and ogbono soup, meats, among others. Serving the food were the members of Women Catholic Organization. Like the members of other parish groups, they sought to showcase the unity of the church.
“The parishioners are loving, very kind, generous with their time, talent and treasure,” Father Nzegwu said.
Archbishop Valerian Okeke enjoyed his visit to this large Igbo community. “It is a sign of lively faith,” he said.
Archbishop Valerian M. Okeke visited the Nigerian community at St. Clement Pope Church. There were nine other priests in attendance, including Father Anthony Nzegwu, parish administrator, and Father Patrick Okafor, episcopal vicar for Onitsha Archdiocesan Priests in U.S. and Canada.
(Photos by Maria-Pia Negro Chin)