News from Onitsha, (Nigeria)

Fidelis and John Paul are two Nigerian brothers. When they had finished their formation in Cameroon, they went back to Nigeria. They re-opened the fraternity of Onitsha which has remained closed for several years, taken care of by a Protestant friend for the whole period. They have both made their perpetual vows and have lived together for three years.
Onitsha, people in the neighbourhoodOnitsha, people in the neighbourhood
We tender our apologies for our silence for nearly two years now. All the same, Onitsha is breathing normally. The only fracas is the economic crunches that maim our country Nigeria despite the fact that we have abundant natural, human, agro-based and mineral resources. Bad government and corruption are very prevalent in Nigeria. Our highly prized value systems are fast eroding and disintegrating into oblivion. Materialism, individualism, nepotism, tribalism and pragmatic approaches to things are becoming the order of the day in the present day Nigeria.
A child in Igboland is given a name while the father focuses on its face. And so the Onitsha fraternity is fast taking on all the required shapes in relation to its environment and context. In the beginning, when we reopened our fraternity in November 2006, life was very hectic. We found it very difficult to readapt to the people's customs. Hedonism takes precedence and an outsider adapts with difficultly to the practical school of the peasants who try to make ends meet every now and then. But, have the "poor of Yahweh" got something to offer us in this precarious Nigerian situation?
For sure there are signs of the kingdom. Without self-emptying, one cannot be possessed by God. But poverty may not be equated with abjection and forced deprivation of oneself from the necessities of life. How does the average poor man survive with the burdens attached to his daily life? The centre can't really hold in the socio-political life of Nigerian people as things fall apart in ruins. Nothing seems to work after many years of our political independence as everybody tends to cheat everybody else. The rich prey on the poor in this gregarious entity called Nigeria. "I am afraid of my friends, even you", so reads some car stickers.Onitsha, the traffic!Onitsha, the traffic! The political sycophants elected not selected in the masquerade of the 2007 general elections in Nigeria, to represent their respective constituencies, eat and grow fat at the expense of the poor masses whose money they embezzle. What shall we do? It seems to me that economic and social revolutions are looming on the threshold.

This is the contextual situation of the society where the Onitsha fraternity is located. Are we not like the urchins and orphans thrown into the reality of this haggard, puny and egocentric world of Nigeria? There are sufferings and unbearable hardships as we share the lot of the ordinary life of the poor ones, as Religious Brothers. But we are full of hope that we will survive with them if we accept the reality of our life. Divine providence is at work in our lives here in Onitsha. We centre our life on God. "Father! into your tender hand we abandon ourselves, do with us what you will". We think that in every event of our life, we must learn what will lead us to God. Even our disappointments and brokenness are stepping stones to holiness. We have learnt to cast our contemplative eyes on our daily fraternal sharing with the poor, fraternal relationships, with the characters we meet in the market places, in the work places etc.

I can assure you that since we came back from our studies, we have enrolled ourselves into the "Nazareth practical school of daily living". In this school, what works is practice and not theory. You have to be authentically a Little Brother of Jesus confronting life as an ordinary man as well as a Religious Brother.One has to be poor but not an idle pauper. Poor life is rewarding and precious if we value each moment in every event of our earthly life as we remain the yeast trying to 'contaminate' mankind with goodness and God's imperative to "love your neighbour as yourself". Not very long ago when we reopened the Onitsha fraternity, we had a baptism of fire from swindlers in religious and poor clothing. Two of them were able to deceive us while teaching us the big lessons of our life: "Every disappointment is a lesson but sometimes also a blessing".
John-Paul can be described as the "brother who is available". John PaulJohn PaulHe is mostly at home, working in different parts of the fraternity. He also has the time to attend to many of our friends who come to the fraternity for different reasons. Some of them come to pray, for their spiritual, moral, psychological and even financial needs. John Paul is more for the organisation and beauty of the fraternity, and he is formally appointed as the postulant director for our young postulants. We are happy to announce to you that we have a postulant with us. We are very hopeful of getting more young men who love and are ready to live our life as brothers. There are many people writing us. We do our best to help these young men to discover their vocation and our own especially.

Concerning our projects in Onistha, John Paul is trying the poultry business. It will certainly work out well but people in the know ask us to make it a seasonal affair so as to succeed. We are going to buy some day-old chicks around September, which will be ready for sale in December when people need them for bazaars and Christmas. In January we are going to buy more which will be for sale at Easter. For the time being, we are cultivating the part of our garden which still available to grow maize, yams and other vegetables.
As for myself, Fidelis, I tried to secure employment when we came back.FidelisFidelis I worked as a teacher for ten months. I was teaching computer science and geography in a private school that belongs to one of our friends. I was badly underpaid and used to do even extra curricula activities, sometimes being asked to teach other subjects. My salary was 5000 naira a month, which is about 30.5 euros. This amount hardly covered my travel expenses, nor the various extra activities I was asked to undertake. I made frantic efforts to secure a gainful and stable employment but all proved unsuccessful. Finally we discussed the affair with the region and they agreed that I had to try to start working on a self-employed basis, which I could do permanently.
We relate well with the neighbours, even though some of them do not seem to understand our style of life. Some of them come to our fraternity chapel to pray and to receive some directions or counselling.