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(Interview by Chukwudi Abiandu)
Just some years after your ordination, you went to Canada. What did you go there to do?
Fr. Dennis: I went there on Mission assignment. The mission was to join other brothers of the Redemptorists to work in the Catholic Church. It is a missionary group to work in different parts of that country.
When you talk of Redemptorists, perhaps the Catholics will understand what is talked about. But specifically, what kind of work in specific terms did you do?
Fr. Dennis: I went to the Grand Prairie; this area is actually very cold; and there you have mostly the Germans, and others in that church. It is the only Catholic Church in that town, and in that Parish, we have about 2,000 Catholics. My main duty? I was an Associate Pastor; I was a Chaplain in one of the schools, St. Joseph Catholic School. I was assisting the main Chaplain. I worked with the youth ministry, where we have the young boys and girls. I was assisting the lady in charge of the Youth Ministry in the parish. As time went on, I also formed the other young adults’ body called the Young Catholic Adults. I went to Canada in 2010, and in 2011 I left the Grand Prairie to another place, Toronto, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church to serve also as Associate Pastor. This is where we have the shrine of the Mother Mary, the Mother of Perpetual Help, where people come for pilgrimage. While there I also took time to work as a chaplain in some of the hospitals, visiting the sick, and also going for adorations by being invited to different churches to talk to them about the word of God in different areas.
You handled youths beyond boys and girls and also adults. But let’s talk about the youths. When you say work with the youths, what was the main engagement?
Fr. Dennis: It was to assist the woman who was working with the youths in the parish. The work was to bring the youths together, and also to let them understand more about the word of God, especially teachings on the Catholic Church doctrine, the Catholic Faith, knowing your faith. Also, we had time for them for their recreation. It was not basically for spiritual growth only, but in other aspects of life, socially. So, we made out time for them to have recreation. It is to bring them together to know more about God, and also to understand themselves, by knowing how to go about their lives in the society they live in.
When you talk about adult youths, what do you mean?
Fr. Dennis: We call them the young adults because they are between the ages of 25 to 35 years; because the youth is between the age of seven years and 18 years. From 18 you are a young adult to ages 35 and 39. Based on this, the group of young adults is formed, and they have their different functions. What they do mainly is to be able to use their life experiences to lead the youths. Also, there was a time I had a three-day outing with them, the young adults. I gave them a topic, and to which they added their own life experiences in order to teach the younger ones who are coming behind.
What were the challenges you faced while in Canada?
Fr. Dennis: Of course, there were obvious challenges. First, going to a country you did not know; you don’t know people there; the cultural difference is a big challenge because at first, when I arrived, I had to study the culture there so as to blend with the system. It was quite difficult, unlike the African culture, which is a communal culture. But in the Canadian culture, sometimes you find yourself so lonely; nobody is coming close to you. I had to fight off that challenge by trying to bring myself closer to people so I can understand the people, and they understand me. The culture there is not the same with the African culture where we can easily blend with one another. Again, another challenge was the weather. It is a completely different climate from what we have here in Nigeria. There, the temperature of a place will run between 0 down to 50. It is cold, and that hindered my ability to be able to move fast in blending with the system. Apart from that, because I came from a different culture, our method of worship is different from theirs. They are more solemn in their style of worship. They move so slowly. But in our African system we worship and praise God in a lively way.
But, what about spirituality?
Fr. Dennis: What I noticed is that some people are very serious with their Christian life. These people are very good. But another problem is what we are battling with, especially the life of the young ones in the present generation. The church is becoming empty because many do no longer believe in the Christian faith. Some don’t just believe in the existence of God, and they say what are you coming to worship. This is a big problem there, and for which efforts are being made to revive the church so that people can come to serve God. But the few that are coming are very, very strong.
What impact would you say you made in that mission?
Fr. Dennis? There is a difference in the way we the African priests perform when we come to Canada to work. We make the work real; that the work we are doing is a task from God. So they see that we work passionately, that this is our duty from God, and so we try to make it real to the people there. With that many people were able to embrace the faith, having understood that we did not come there just to give stories but they saw that it is real. And so, many, through prayers have been able to receive their blessings. A lot of them came with testimonies of what God has done for them.
Were you able to win souls for Christ?
Fr. Dennis: Yes, many of them, especially the young ones. There is the experience of a young lady who felt that she couldn’t marry; she lost her job; life for her was turning upside down. To the extent that her friends mocked her, saying: “Look, with all your church going, you are not married, and all of us are married, and you don’t have a job.” But after my counseling and going into prayer, she found herself a happy woman again, and began preparing for her wedding. She got a new job and a new house, and bought a car. She eventually got married, and now has a new baby. Apart from that, there were others who left the Catholic Church. In particular, I encountered a man who left the Catholic Church and embraced Buddhism. And when he could no longer stand the situation there, he ran; someone directed him to me, and after going through prayers for several days, he was delivered, and he came out of it. He told me later: “Look, I am going to surrender everything.” And he brought everything he had in the Buddhist Temple; because he had his own Buddhist altar in his house. He brought out everything and surrendered them on the altar, and after deliverance work, he was blessed and those things were burnt. So, not only those who are Catholics embraced God, but non-Catholics also were delivered, and they came back to the faith.
Since your return, have you been relating with those you left back in Canada?
Fr. Dennis: Sure, I have been relating with them, in particular the young lady that I encountered through counseling and prayer; she called me and I have been relating with many of them, both Nigerians and non-Nigerians, asking for prayers.
How has it been since your return to Nigeria?
Fr. Dennis: It has kind of been a great relief for me because, first, coming back to my home country, I have been able to connect with old friends and colleagues again, and my family. And I am very, very happy that I am alive having gone to a foreign land to work for two years. It was not an easy thing. I missed my home, and again I am happy that I am back.
Where is your new posting now?
Fr. Dennis: My new posting is at St. Augustine Catholic Church, Oba, near Onitsha, Anambra State. It is a small village Church, but the Redemptorists, we have our permanent property there, and we are developing the shrine of Mary, mother of the perpetual, and it is under the title, “Mary, Mother of the Perpetual.” The place is being prepared to be a big pilgrimage centre for people to come and have quiet time with God through the intercession of Mary, who is the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Know that since Mary said “Yes” to God, God will not say “No” to her in anything she requests, because Jesus entrusted all His children, all His followers into her hands as her own children. And so, she is still working with Jesus in saving the world. That place will become a pilgrimage centre for people to come and have interaction with God, call on the Lord through the intercession of His blessed Mother, Mary.
We at banneronlinenews.com welcome you back to Nigeria. But let’s ask, were you fulfilled as a missionary in Canada?
Fr. Dennis: Very well! I was fulfilled as a missionary. Apart from the difficulties and the challenges, I was fulfilled because I was very well received by the people. It was a nice time, despite the cultural differences. The people are nice; they are receptive and very welcoming. It was a great time I had.
• Editor’s note: This interview was had with Fr. Dennis in 2015.