NIGERIAN priests will stay longer in Brisbane archdiocese under a new memorandum of understanding signed by Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane and Bishop Lucius Ugorji of Umuahia.
They signed the agreement during a recent visit to Brisbane by Bishop Ugorji, from Umuahia, Nigeria.
Bishop Ugorji said there were 12 Umuahia priests and 12 Umuahia seminarians in Brisbane archdiocese and while the new agreement was essentially the same as a 2009 document he signed with Archbishop Emeritus John Bathersby there were several amendments.
He said these included extending the Australian stay from six to nine years for Nigerian priests and from three to six years for seminarians completing formation here.
“We don’t want our priests to lose touch with their Nigerian roots,” he said. “If they stay here too long they … might find it difficult to adjust when they get back home.”
The new agreement allows the Nigerian seminarians to have input into the decision of whether they are ordained for Brisbane or Umuahia at the end of their formation for the priesthood.
He said Nigerian priests ministering in Australia were chosen based on their willingness to leave Nigeria, their flexibility to adapt and their resilience.
“We try to send good priests,” Bishop Ugorji said.
“A good number of them (priests) have also had some pastoral experience. Some who have even worked as parish priests before they were appointed to come to Australia.”
Bishop Ugorji said the vibrancy of home parishes was one of the things some of his priests missed here in Australia.
“The Catholic women’s organisation is a very big force in the (Nigerian) Church, (as is) the Catholic men’s organisation and the youth. They are all organised and they are very active in their contributions to the Church.
“They own the Church.”
Bishop Ugorji said Umuahia had 172 priests ministering to about 220,000 parishioners and about four to five per cent of those clergy were in Australia.
During the week-long visit Bishop Ugorji spent time with each of the Umuahia priests and seminarians and said they had adapted well to their new ministry.
“And they are well received in the different parishes where they are working,” he said.
“It was just a thing of joy for me as I visited this year to listen to many good things they have said about their ministry and how they have helped to build up their parishes and so on.
“I must say I’m very delighted with the stories I’ve heard.”
Bishop Ugorji said the successes in Brisbane also helped parishioners whose clergy were ministering in Australia.
“They take solace in the fact that they are doing good work here, and the Church is the family of God and the work they are doing here is appreciated,” he said.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge said Bishop Ugorji’s visit had given him a greater sense of the vitality and strength of the Church in Nigeria.
He said the agreement between the dioceses was unique.
“There is nothing like it that I know of anywhere.
I think there are immense strengths in this approach because it is grounded in the experience of the communion of the Church,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“That’s the deep exchange of gifts that God has given and that provides a deeper and more secure basis for the practical arrangements covered by the memorandum of understanding.”
Archbishop Coleridge said as the program with Umuahia matured it had become apparent it was “about more than just gap-filling”.
“It’s leading us into a deeper experience of the Church and that is where in a sense God has crept up on us I think,” he said.
“Something that might have started as very pragmatic gap-filling has led us more deeply into the experience of what it means to be the Church.”
Archbishop Coleridge said he doubted the program would cease if priestly vocations increased in Brisbane archdiocese in the future.
“Even if God gives us the increase of vocations that we do not deserve, but we do need, I would still see an arrangement of this kind as being part of the life of the Archdiocese of Brisbane,” he said.
“I like to think that it is working its way deep into the fabric of the life of the archdiocese.”