By Barb Arland-Fye
Sister Margaret Kruse’s invitation last October intrigued me. As the new director of Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat near Wheatland, she and her staff were brainstorming ideas for the 2019 Lenten season. They wondered if I would facilitate a four-week series of conversations with speakers of various faiths or ethnicities on topics they are passionate about.
After back-and-forth emails and phone calls, we decided to host conversations with an African priest studying in Iowa; an interracial couple and an African American; two Jewish religious leaders; and a Muslim woman. Join us for soup and the last of the four conversations on April 2 from 6-8 p.m. at the Prairie. Call (563) 336-8414 to let sister know you are coming.
Before the first conversation on March 12, I asked Father Nicholas Akindele of Nigeria if he wanted a list of questions ahead of time. That’s not necessary, he told me with a warm smile. “Let the conversation flow freely.” We did, and Fr. Nicholas left us wanting more.
When asked about his calling to the priesthood, Fr. Nicholas shared a wonderful story about the seedbed of his vocation, in his infancy. Years later, “My mother told me that when she had me she always sang for me. The meaning of the song is particularly telling … ‘My angel, my angel, let my child grow up. Let my child grow up to come and serve you,’” said Fr. Nicholas, now 47 and the oldest of eight children. His mother sang that particular song “only for me.”
Ordained to the priesthood in 2000 in Nigeria, he later studied canon law at Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. Meanwhile, a priest friend studying in the Diocese of Davenport had been inviting him to visit. Fr. Nicholas arrived in the summer of 2016 to do an internship in the diocese’s Marriage Tribunal. After completing his license in canon law in Belgium, he returned to Davenport. Now he is pursuing doctoral studies while working in the Marriage Tribunal and assisting at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport.
He reflected that when he was 12 years old, his father took him to school seven hours from home. Now he lives 6,653 miles from Nigeria. “So I saw that (my father) had a vision. He prepared me for a tomorrow I never saw.”
Fr. Nicholas spoke about vocations to the priesthood and religious life in Africa, and how God speaks to the poor — not just the materially poor, but the poor in spirit. That is where there is openness to God; it is fertile ground for God to plant the seedbed of vocation, Fr. Nicholas told our gathering.
Catholics celebrate Mass with exuberance in Nigeria, he said. They dance, sing a lot and are receptive to longer homilies. If a priest in Africa preaches for only 10 to 15 minutes, people ask, “What’s wrong with Father?” That’s the reverse here, he said Bishop Martin Amos (now retired) told him.
Another contrast: Africans are religious, in the sense that they make the connection between God and the things that happen in their daily lives. If it rains, they see it as a blessing from God, Fr. Nicholas said. But they need to integrate that religiosity with ethics and justice, he observed. During his studies in canon law, he read that the religious majority of the previous century will become the religious minority of this century. What is missing is hope, he said. “Wherever you find people having more children, there is hope for the society; there is hope for the church.”
Next week, I’ll share some excerpts from the conversation on racism and white privilege.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)