Doing Something Important

How God Called the Coadjutor Bishop of Oyo, Nigeria

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By Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo

OYO, Nigeria, AUG. 21, 2009 ( Many priests I know would easily pinpoint an experience or an event through which God called them to be a priest. I do not belong to that elite class. I cannot honestly claim to.

Unlike Moses, Samuel and Paul, how I got called is a multi-dimensional but simple experience which might entail revealing “classified” information about my family. However, I feel the occasion of the Year for Priests and the current challenges of the Church in the face of relativism call for a little declassification of our religious experiences for the benefit of others.

I emerged into a family of seven children, four males and three females. By the age of 4, I understood my family to be a three-dimensional one. For my parents and two oldest siblings, life was home, work and Church. Simple as that! For the rest of us, it was a little varied: home, school and Church. This tripod existence characterized my youth such that only events connected with those three spheres of life ever mattered. In addition, I found that of all three, the Church had the most dominant presence since it loomed quite large in the other two aspects. School and family were just like other Churches. The missionary priests and nuns I grew up to know seemed to me to be members of our household as they came and went, day and night, at will. They seemed to be the only ones outside of the seven of us children for whom there was no family secret in our one-room home. They always helped my family in times of need — and that was often. Their presence spoke to me that the Church was a companion for life. When the missionaries left, the indigenous priests and nuns simply stepped into their shoes.

Prayer was another guiding act for my vocation discovery. My parents made Morning Prayer, prayer before meals and before bed imperative in the family. And there were regular readings of the Bible too. On occasions especially in the evenings when boredom could have caused a breakdown in family morale, my father made us engage in praise worship in its pristine form. All of us, except my mother, were members of the Church choir. My mother’s only reason for staying away from the choir was not to cause too much distress to those who might think that the Church choir had been personalized by her family.

Anyhow in the evenings, my father would bring out the family hymn book and make us sing. The singing went along with the beating of benches, chairs and other objects we could find in our humble home for rhythm and pace. That activity often brought us a small audience even from Muslim families living nearby who came either to join in the singing or simply to listen awhile. My father took maximum advantage of his well trained choir. He not only made us sing regularly in the Church choir and at home, he took us to pray with and sing for the sick and bedridden in the local hospital, especially at Christmas and Easter. Although all members of my family were good singers, my youngest sister and I nearly always got to sing the main solo parts. This gave me a special sense of mission and vocation

At school, life was not very different. Prayer was a central part of school life just as if we were in the Church. In primary school I was chosen for major roles whenever there was singing or acting to do, whether in the school or for the public. Since most of these activities addressed religious or moral themes, I simply saw myself called to carry out a special religious function. One experience that particularly stayed with me in my primary school days was the staging of a particular play presented to the parish. In the said play, I acted the heir of a pagan family who got converted to Catholicism and went on to become a priest. For many months after the presentation of the play, most people called me Reverend Father. That made a deep impression on me at that tender age. Credit goes to my teachers who encouraged me to act the part and to enjoy the sanctimonious admiration which followed. In the minor seminary, the pattern continued. I went from being the youngest leader of the school musical bands to being the seminary choirmaster, facts that reinforced my conviction that I had a special mission.

My father constantly talked to us about the desire of his father — who was a king, (my grandfather was the royal leader, the king, of my people in Ijebu Ode, Nigeria, where I am from) — to have a priest in his family and my mother constantly assured us of the presence of our strong guardian angels. Although they never pointed anyone of us out for the priestly task, they sent us to Mass every day and made it clear that it would be their pleasure to have a priest in the family. Although we were poor, they amply demonstrated their sincerity by their acts of courtesy and generosity to priests and nuns who came to our town and home. Needless to say, this helped me to make up my mind that it was good to become a priest.

My siblings, on their part, having been so used to the presence of priests and religious in the family, made my decision to become a priest very easy. As an altar boy, I would come home and mimic the priest saying Mass. They regarded me more with reverence than with derision, giving me the impression that I was doing something worthwhile. Only my eldest brother ever expressed a little reservation about my becoming a priest. He was, by the time I entered the major seminary, already a renowned artiste. He felt that my other brother, with whom I went to the major seminary, would better fit the priesthood while I could join him in his own trade. Nevertheless he supported us both as much as he could once we both went off to seminary. My seminarian brother eventually left and got married.

These aspects of my life made it quite clear to me that God had a special mission for me. I had no doubt growing up that if I was ever going to do anything important in life it would have to be within the context of this caring and ubiquitous Church.

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Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo was ordained a priest in 1986. In 2007, he was appointed the coadjutor bishop of Oyo. He is the author of various musical and video publications and documentaries.

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