Sunday, November 16, 2008

Back from Nigeria

Well, here I am, back from Nigeria, to find trees that have, in the meantime, turned from green to many shades of gold, from their abundance to their late-Autumn dress of fewer and fewer leaves as the wind blows. By contrast, I have left behind cloudless blue skies, high temperatures and the dust of the harmattan season that carries sand from the Sahara…

It was a wonderful experience and in many different ways. Thirty years have passed since my first visit to Nigeria, so many things have changed and many remain unchanged.

As we checked in online, the day before departure, printing out boarding passes for the plane, there was a sense of amazement that such is entirely possible today (admittedly painfully slowly), something undreamed even a few years ago.

Also, with the collapse of landline telephones, mobile phones are everywhere. Who would ever have imagined that a young man strolling through a remote village would also be speaking into his mobile phone? As the nomadic Fulani herd their cattle through the drying grass towards the rivers for grazing, who could ever have envisaged his phone and a radio accompanying the small bundle of possessions strapped to one of the animals?

In the past 30 years, Islamisation has become an increasingly important factor for the Church to consider in any of its activities. Yet, in spite of visiting churches in the process of rebuilding after their destruction by ‘activists’, there was also the memorable visit, escorted by Bishop Matthew Audu of Lafia, to the Emir where, within the palace, we prayed over the Emir and his court. In return, one of his entourage prayed over us. It was a 2008 re-enactment of the visit of St Francis of Assisi to the Sultan 800 years ago, precious and full of hope for the future.

There was Mass offered in the prison in Lafia, where the innocent and great criminals were herded together and, outside the chapel, a man was shackled, naked, in the hot sun, as punishment for his escape attempt. Yet that Liturgy followed a steady stream of inmates going to Confession and was filled with a deeply-moving mixture of joy and pain. One man wore a light blue t-shirt with a line-drawing of Jesus carrying the Cross. It said it all. Many of the prisoners were there only because they had no money to pay a lawyer. How many years will it be before they come to trial…if ever?

Yet there were also the children, full of smiles, showing off their ability to read, too young to realise that, since time began, they are the first from their villages ever to enjoy that skill…

God bless,
Sr Janet