Official report on the Traditional Latin Mass Apostolate of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter in Nigeria.
Father Evaristus Eshiogwu.
The Chairman, Fra Freddy, then introduced Father Evaristus Eshiogwu who was representing the new association in Nigeria. Unfortunately, because of visa difficulties, the President of the Ecclesia Dei Society of Nigeria was unable to attend so Father Evaristus spoke on his behalf. Normally, association reports are dealt with during the Saturday business but because Father Evaristus gave his talk during the Open Forum, and because of the huge interest in a new society coming out of Africa, it was decided to include the talk in this part of the proceedings.
On Saturday, 8th December 2001, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary, the Very Reverend Father Arnaud Devillers, Superior General of the Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), celebrated a Solemn High Mass at Nne Enyemaka Shrine, Umuaka, in the diocese of Orlu, Nigeria. That was the solemn inauguration of the first Latin Mass apostolate of the FSSP in Nigeria. Mr. Michael Davies, the respected President of the International Una Voce Federation was present at the Mass. His moving articles of the occasion have since brought this young apostolate into the limelight among traditional Catholics around the world. It is, therefore, a wonderful privilege for me to be present at this gathering. May I use the opportunity to extend my warmest attitude to the various traditional Latin Mass groups and individuals from around the world for an outpouring of books, religious articles and money that has been sent to us. I do assure everyone that all these gifts and donations are being put to the best interests of the apostolate. However, as for the books, since we have neither a school nor the children who can use them, I donate them to the Catholic schools in the diocese and they are always very grateful.
Since the inauguration of the apostolate, the traditional Latin Mass, which was unknown to the majority of the new generation Catholics, and forgotten by the few who saw it before it disappeared from our altars, has become a subject of discussion and even controversy in the country. Interest in the Mass is more prominent among the younger generation Catholics, especially those actively involved in various Marian devotions and the new devotion to the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. These young Catholics have embraced the traditional Mass as a precious treasure because of the recent influx of abuses at the new Mass which are now very widespread in Nigeria. These young people have organised themselves in various dioceses petitioning the bishops to allow the Mass in their dioceses. They have also formed a national body, the Ecclesia Dei Traditional Latin Mass Association of Nigeria, through the encouragement of Mr. Davies here. This was formally inaugurated in December 2002. Since then, the officials have been working closely with Mr. Davies and the Secretary, Mr. Darroch, for the approval of their statutes and consequent affiliation with this international body. This is partly why I am here today. The national president Mr. Edwin Akaedu, was to be here with me but we were unable to obtain a visa for him.
The general reaction of the faithful in Nigeria was surprise since a few can only associate the traditional Latin Mass with Archbishop Lefebvre. The majority had no idea about it and so remain nonchalant. As for the clergy and the religious, the majority still think the old Mass was banned because of the late Archbishop Lefebvre’s encounter with the Vatican. However, a few know about the indult Mass but generally feel attached to the new Mass because it gives room for self-expression. On the part of the bishops, the return of the old Mass was a big embarrassment, provoking both anger and resentment against my bishop. They had judged that the new Mass was well received by the faithful in Nigeria. Hence they saw the indult for the old Mass as irrelevant. Thus they hid information on the document away from the faithful. However, since December 2001, at least eight to ten bishops must have received petitions for the indult Mass from the faithful in their diocese. Some have ignored the petitions and some have given informal responses on occasions. One or two have received delegations of the petitioners and turned down the request. In one diocese, with the greatest number of members (about 1,300), we have written three times without any official response. Yet they have not relented or given up their requests. One particular bishop has gone a step further by banning the Latin Mass Association in his archdiocese, with a threat to deny the sacraments to anyone known to belong to it.
My local ordinary, the Bishop of Orlu, when he permitted me to join the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, asked the Superior General, Father Devillers, to send me back to the diocese so I can begin the Latin Mass there. His unflinching support and encouragement has never diminished even as he is being persecuted by fellow bishops for restoring the ancient liturgy. He officially handed over the diocesan shrine, which he built in 1988 in commemoration of the Marian Year, to the FSSP to use solely for the Latin Mass apostolate. He allowed us to build a chapel there according to the traditional architecture and to be used specifically for the traditional Latin Mass. He also allowed us to build and own a rectory. He is, even now, ready to establish the apostolate as a personal parish for those interested in the traditional Mass. All these gestures are coming to an apostolate where the faithful who are interested are so poor that they can hardly afford the transport money to attend Mass once in two months. The majority are young people within the ages of 17 to 35 years. Within the diocese of Orlu, we have about 405 members in the Latin Mass group but only two men have cars and one has a motorcycle. Of this number only about 120 live close enough to the shrine as to be able to attend Mass on foot or by bicycle on Sundays. Their interest is such that even though they attend their parish Mass on Sundays they still attend the Latin Mass afterwards to conclude their day. They give all the moral support they can.
As a result of the above situation our apostolate has had to depend solely on the support of Latin Mass groups overseas for sustenance and our projects. Our shine was built in the open air with no roof or walls but in 1999 we were able to put a roof over it. When Mr. Davies visited us in 2001, he saw foundation holes dug around the shrine. Now the foundations have been filled with concrete and the walls have come up to the flooring level. Since January this year we have been able to complete a four-bedroom bungalow, with a living room, chapel, dining room and kitchen (although not yet furnished). All this was made possible by the generosity of Latin Mass groups in America which have been sponsoring us. They have always been generous each time I visit them since I left there is 2001. We have also received some donations from groups in Germany and some individuals in Italy, the UK and Ireland. I am earnestly praying that we will be able to complete the chapel so that our good bishop will bless it before he retires in a few years time. I trust that the Blessed Mother of Perpetual Help will make this possible through your generosity so that the chapel will become a donation of faith to the cause of the traditional Latin Mass movement in Nigeria.
With a sincere sense of gratitude, I commend you all to our prayers at the shrine.