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The SMA International Media Centre had the privilege to interview Fr. Oshalaiye Christopher, SMA about his mission in the Republic of Benin. This article is a response to that interview.

Chris Oshalaiye 1 31 08 2020“I am a happy missionary priest and I am glad to have the opportunity to minister to the people of God every day.” “At some point in time, I thought the number of people present at Mass was more important, I was quite surprised to witness in this new parish that just about 10 – 15 people came for morning Mass which was incomparable to the previous parish I worked in,” he exclaimed, adding that, “it is the savoir-faire I had in Niger when I went to help out the SMA confreres during the break that changed my notion of numbers positively.”

 

Fr. Oshalaiye became aware that it is not a question of numbers but the witness of faith that is cardinal and as a missionary saying, “ I am called to be faithful to the mission and not to be counting numbers, bearing in mind that the numbers do not necessarily determine the faith.”

It is worth noting that the area where the parish in Bougou is situated in a predominantly Muslim populated area, however, there is religious tolerance and the relationship between Christians and Muslims is amicable.

College Esperance BougouFaithful to the SMA charism and reading the signs of the time and the needs of the people in the village, the parish, under the authority of the diocese, started a Catholic school (a nursery, primary and secondary) called Complexe Scolaire Catholique Ecole Esperance de Bougou which is open to children of all walks of life “and for us here, it is also a means of evangelization,” according to of Fr. Oshalaiye whose desire to become a priest dates back to when he was a later servant. It was Fr. Flatley Alphonsus’ lifestyle that “attracted me to the SMA when I was in the minor seminary where he was the vice-rector,” he said.

Among the joys of the mission that he experiences so far, is having another family away from home, feeling welcomed, being understood, and most especially the joy of being with people who sincerely want the growth of the mission of the Lord despite the daily challenges. He also acknowledged the fact that he has “always felt supported by the SMA confreres” and those to whom he is “sent by their gestures of love and support” toward him and the mission. And this according to him has contributed to his growth as an SMA missionary.

Les enfants Bougou 31 08 2020Like every other mission, all is not joy, all is not rose in Bourgou. Lack of sufficient funds to run the school effectively, laxity in certain areas of the pastoral program that at times make him drive for up to 35 km and find no one on rendezvous. The faithful congregation has more elderly people and this is quite worrying, however he said he “acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is very active in the church’s work of evangelization.” He also mentioned one of the mass centers where the catechist kept reminding him that the elderly faithful is diminishing, but one day, “from nowhere a good number of children joined in the eucharistic celebration. No one invited them neither were any bells rang nor candies dished out but it was a sign that God had not turned a deaf ear to His faithful, for He himself had brought them,” he said. His parish has a total of 39 mass centers and the furthest is 49km away. The greatest challenge here is language. there are ten different languages that are spoken in the region. they include Lokpa, Kabye, Yom, Fulfulde, Nago, Ditamari, Fon, Lema, French, and English. 

One other challenge that cannot escape being mentioned is the global pandemic that has almost stalled the world. “It has affected the church, and even though the Catholic Church as a whole made her presence felt in a positive light through her acts of charity at all levels,” he said, “ the pandemic has also taught us to focus more on that which is really essential for the faith.” He further added that this pandemic, “has given many an opportunity to have an idea of what the early Christians went through during the persecution, obliged to hide in order to celebrate the Eucharist, and now in our own case the Christians have been subjected to do without the eucharist for months.”

Chris Oshalaiye 2 31 08 2020The Society of African Mission is now 164 years old. It has seen missionaries come and go. A lot has been accomplished; lives have been touched but a lot is yet to be done, and that is why Fr. Oshalaiye sustains that “the SMA charism is still relevant because there are a lot of people who still do not know Christ and the most abandoned are still very much around. Also, over the years, I have come to realize that knowing Christ or being a Christian is more than coming regularly to Church as it is seen today and as such the SMA as a whole still has a lot of work to do.”

Despite all the ups and downs of the mission, “it is the grace and the love of God that has really sustained me. He has been faithful and has been my driving force. He has shown me His love through my family, friends confreres, and the people that I am sent to,” he said adding that “ I am a happy missionary priest and I am glad to have the opportunity to minister to the people of God every day.”

Illustration of a map of DjougouFr. Oshalaiye Christopher, belongs to the SMA Nigerian Province and was ordained priest on the 04th of July 2015. He was appointed to the republic of Benin for mission. Since then, his mission has been in the northern part of the country, and has worked in two different parishes namely; Notre Dame de Sacré Cœur, Banikanni, in the archdiocese of Parakou (2015 – 2017) and, Notre Dame de Lourdes, Bougou, in the diocese of Djougou (2017 hitherto). 

 By Dominic Wabwireh, SMA