Augustinians Celebrate 75 Years in Nigeria

The Order of St. Augustine Remembers Its Continued Presence at a Difficult Moment in Country’s History

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The Order of St. Augustine, in the liturgical memorial of its spiritual father,August 28,remembers with particular attention its continued presence in Nigeria for 75 years and does so with a Eucharistic celebration in Jos, Plateau State,presided by the Archbishop of Jos, Mgr. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, President of the Episcopal Conference of Nigeria.

Among the concelebrants are other bishops of the country including the Augustinian bishop of Kaduna, the Nigerian Prior  Provincial  Fr. John Abubakar, OSA, the Priors Provincial of Italy, Ireland, England, Congo, and the Assistant General for Africa, Fr. Edward Daleng, OSA.After the Holy Mass the new secondary school, St. Monica’s Academy, will be inaugurated by Archbishop Monsignor Kaigama.

«The Augustinians are in Nigeria since 1938 when three Anglo-Saxon Augustinians, two Irishmen and one Englishman, started to evangelize the area of Adamawa, where today there is Boko Haram,» said the Nigerian Prior Provincial, Fr. John Abubakar, OSA. The foundation of the Augustinian province, which extends beyond the territory of Nigeria, took place in the seventies of the last century and the process started by the Augustinian friars in Europe to grow more local vocations has paid off:  «Before there were about 50 Irish friars who worked in Nigeria, today their presence is minimal compared to eighty Nigerian Augustinian friars. As a province we have 25 houses, three houses of formation and a great school, about 20 communities where we work». The activity of the Augustinian friars also affects the formation of the local clergy, especially in northern Nigeria where they founded the seminary, the management of parishes and teaching.

The presence in Nigeria today is particularly difficult: «In some areas the contact with the population is difficult, for example, in an area very dear to us, Maiduguri, where there is a strong presence of Boko Haram which was born there. At Maiduguri, in our church of St. Augustine, it is difficult to celebrate the Mass without security, without the presence of soldiers. The church burned twice, but thanks to assistance, we have rebuilt our church. In Kaduna, a terrorist in a car tried to enter the church of St. Rita, another Augustinian church, and about a dozen people were killed. In Kano, where the bishop is Monsignor John Augustine Niyiring, we have a church … They are placed just difficult because you can’t move, travel or preach. In these places, there are few now who have the courage to go to church. These are difficult times for the pastoral work «.

About  these problems, there are several explanations. Fr. John continues: «I am Nigerian with Muslim roots, I grew up in Kaduna, a place that is predominantly Muslim. My experience with Muslims was good before Boko Haram. There are many good Muslims in Nigeria. We live together in peace, but I think that the Government must do more to protect the people and buy things needed for the north, where we have this problem: it is the poorest area of the country where there are no schools … there are social and economic roots to this problem, and politically motivated: leverage the discontent to achieve a result.  It’s not just a matter of sending soldiers to fight that group, we must do more in terms of human development «.

The Augustinian presence in Nigeria is seamless even though the reality in certain areas is not easy for the Augustinians who can’t even wear the habit. «In Jos, where I live,it is not a problem because there are more Christians but in Kano and Maiduguri it’s  not easy,» says Fr. Abumakar who remembers the strong link with the population that derives from the Augustinian charism: «We, Augustinians, are in strong relationship with the population in all the parishes where we are, thanks to our spirituality, which relies heavily on community life. It is the great gift that St. Augustine has given us, an African quality in my opinion because it is very easy for us to share problems as well as gifts. Nigeria is a very religious country: we have churches as in Abuja where there are more than 10,000 people every Sunday … the churches are still full of people».

Finally, a consideration of the Prior Provincial of Nigeria about the relations between Christians and Muslims: «We need to work together because we have to try to understand what these terrorists want to achieve. They want to create problems for dividing the country between north and south, but this is impossible because even in the North there are Christians and cannot move. They are terrorists who are trying to create problems, it is possible that they have killed more Muslims than Christians … we must try to understand the mindset of these terrorists. It is not a question of a religious nature. This is a new reality that does not belong to Nigerian Muslims. In Kaduna, Kano, Maiduguri, we live in peace with Muslims always”.

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