By Emilie Ng
BRISBANE’S latest intake of Nigerian priests were surprised to find Mass rarely stretched past one hour in Australia.
Fr Chukwuemeka “Emeka” Onwubiko and Fr Kevin Njoku arrived in Brisbane this month after a long journey from Umuahia diocese, Nigeria, where Mass can take up to two hours on any given Sunday.
“There are slight differences with the Catholics in Nigeria, in particularly, there is the singing aspect, dancing, and you can spend two hours in Masses,” Fr Njoku said.
Both priests were ordained in Mater Dei Cathedral, Nigeria, on July 23, 2005, and are in Brisbane as part of the archdiocese’s overseas priest program.
They will be in Brisbane for the next six to nine years to minister in the archdiocese, beginning in the Aspley parish with fellow Nigerian priest Fr Gabriel Kalu.
Fr Njoku, 42, was midway through cooking a Nigerian chicken dish when asked to talk about his recent appointment to Australia.
“I learned to cook from my mother,” he said.
After entering Nigeria’s minor seminary at just 12 years old and doing a one-year internship for the seminary, Fr Njoku completed a degree in economics.
“But I was not happy, and I love the seminary, so I said, ‘Let me go back’,” he said.
Before arriving in Australia, Fr Njoku had travelled to the United States on holidays and thought it a perfect backdrop for his next phase as a priest.
“I was thinking of going to the US, as I have been going there for my vacation, and have lots of friends there,” he said.
“To my greatest surprise, instead my Bishop (Lucius Ugorji) called me and said, ‘Kevin, would you like to go on mission to Australia?’”
Fr Njoku said his mission in Australia was “the same as everywhere else”.
“My mission is to help save souls and win souls for God, and mine,” he said.
He left behind three siblings but has “no regrets”.
“My calling as a priest is that I am bound to be ready to be away from my people,” he said.
Fr Njoku said his early observation was the number of Catholics in Australia was lower than in Nigeria.
His fellow travelling companion had similar observations.
“I would say that there are a good number of youth who attend church over there in Nigeria, more than I have seen here in Brisbane,” Fr Onwubiko said.
He said his calling to the priesthood was “a continuation of the work of evangelisation which Christ left in the hands of the Church”.
When he was in the seminary, Fr Onwubiko said he tried to encourage “the young minds to embrace the vocation”.
“My joy today is that some of those seminarians are priests today,” he said.
“Some of them are even here in Brisbane.”
Fr Onwubiko comes from Amankwo Uzuakoli, Abia, a state of Nigeria, born to the late Thomas Onwubiko and Felicia Onwubiko.
He said being in Australia had opened his eyes to the “universality of the Church”.
“When my bishop sent me here, I was happy too,” he said.
“It is also an opportunity to appreciate other people’s culture.
“There in Nigeria our liturgy takes a longer time, about one hour thirty minutes, sometimes two hours, but here in Brisbane, it is forty-five to fifty minutes on Sundays.
“Distance is another factor.
“Coming here from Nigeria is a long journey.
“Nevertheless, I am happy.
“My people are happy too.”