By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
One of Father Nicholas Akindele’s dreams was to travel to the Holy Land. But, he told himself, “I already believe, so I don’t need to go there.” Still, the Nigerian priest, who has traveled to various countries in Africa, as well as to Europe, Australia and the United States, wanted to step into the land where Jesus Christ preached.
His trip June 4-15 came about by accident. Not long after Christmas last year, he took a retired priest to an appointment that lasted longer than expected. “I was tired. I was hungry. I was bored,” Fr. Akindele said. He pulled out his cell phone and started texting friends. One of them, Father Raymond Igbogidi, a Nigerian priest in New Orleans, called him back and asked whether he’d ever visited the Holy Land. “No.” Would he like to visit the Holy Land? “Yes,” Fr. Akindele replied.
Before he knew it, Fr. Akindele was traveling with a group to Israel. He and the tour group traveled through Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho, Masada and Judea. “There was so much to see,” said Fr. Akindele, who serves as parochial vicar at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf and as an intern in the Diocese of Davenport Tribunal. He and a deacon from New Orleans served as the spiritual leaders for the group.
He appreciated visiting the Mount of Olives, Holy Sepulcher, the site of the Last Supper, Mount of Transfiguration, Via Dolorosa and the Wailing Wall (Western Wall), among other sites. But the site that stood out most for him was the Garden of Agony where Jesus went to pray three times on the night before his death.
Fr. Akindele tried to imagine the feelings Jesus must have experienced that night, after having celebrated the Last Supper. “But it was also awesome and spiritual to be right there. To reflect on what was going to happen and how he died for us the next day.”
The priest reflected on how Jesus “chose death deliberately, for our sake. He enriched us with the glory of God. God sent his son to save the rich and the poor. He sent Jesus into the world with simple folks, among the Jewish people.”
The trip also included visits to places pertaining to Jesus’ disciples and to his mother Mary. Throughout his travels, Fr. Akindele chose to wear his black clerics because he is not afraid to let the world know that he is a priest. “I am not in disguise. I am there to evangelize.”
Wearing clerics draws attention on trips, including in Israel. He said people approached him to ask for prayers and blessings for themselves or their religious items. Some asked him to hear their confessions. Somewhere between Cana and Galilee his group ran into a group from Nigeria. “They were friends of mine and former parishioners. I was blessed to see them.”
Checkpoints that the group had to go through in Israel weren’t too bad. At Tel Aviv it took a little longer “because I had a Nigerian passport,” he said.
Fr. Akindele would like to return to Israel in about two years. He figures that’s enough time to absorb all he experienced and to prepare for his next visit. Parishioners from his current and past parishes have expressed interest in such a trip. “I will go back. One time is not enough.”