By Emilie Ng
TWO Nigerian-born men believe the greatest gift God has ever given them is the opportunity to be priests in the Catholic Church.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge ordained Fr Paul Eloagu and Fr Odinaka Nwadike priests for the Brisbane archdiocese on June 29, at St Stephen’s Cathedral, at a Mass attended by hundreds of friends and family.
Both men came to Queensland’s Holy Spirit Provincial Seminary in 2011 to serve as priests for Brisbane after entering the seminary in Nigeria as young men.
Fr Eloagu was originally born into a Methodist family, but when he was four, his mother died and he was adopted into a Catholic family.
He was baptised a Catholic when he was six, after encountering Christ in “a deeper way”.
“There the future was uncertain but there was an inner voice telling me there is hope in the Church,” Fr Eloagu said.
He said his “charitable” high school principal Fr Blaise Igwebe inspired him to become a priest.
“He got me to love God, and I wanted to be like him,” Fr Eloagu said.
With help from Fr Igwebe, Fr Eloagu entered Nigeria’s major seminary after graduating from high school.
“Today is a very significant day in my life,” Fr Eloagu said.
“Words become limited; there are no words to express how my heart feels (on the day of ordination).
“I am grateful to God and very happy and humble.”
Fr Eloagu said his ordination was made more special as he was becoming a priest on the feast of his patron saint, St Paul, who shares the feast with St Peter.
“It is an unforgettable day,” he said.
Fr Nwadike felt both “joy and trepidation” ahead of entering St Stephen’s Cathedral to be ordained a priest.
The 29-year-old entered the seminary when he was 16, but was initially planning to study law.
“But I had so many friends in the seminary and they said I had to come to the seminary to see what it was, what was happening there,” Fr Nwadike said.
He took a chance and entered the seminary and has never looked back.
“This is what I’m called to do,” Fr Nwadike said.
“Because when I sit back to reflect on what I learnt along the way, I see the grace of God just carrying me along.
“When you feel weak, God is always there to bring his strength, mercy and love to you.
“And I think that’s what has been carrying me along all this way.
“I pray that the grace of God will always be there, that it’s not going to stop now, you know.”
Fr Nwadike said the call to the priesthood was “a free gift from God” that he and his brother priest, Fr Eloagu, did not deserve.
“But God in his abundant mercy has decided to shower us with his blessings,” Fr Nwadike said.
He said prayer was the key to discerning the priesthood, and he encouraged young men considering a vocation to “trust in God”.
“Whenever you start to lose that trust in God, whatever thing you are doing will be meaningless,” he said.
“Because without God you can do nothing – God will always lead you through.
“His nature is just to love – He can’t stop loving.”
Archbishop Coleridge said Fr Eloagu and Fr Nwadike’s ordination to the priesthood meant they were to “follow in the footsteps of Peter and Paul, which are the footsteps of Christ”.
“They are ordained not to be self-serving Church functionaries but to be both missionaries and martyrs,” he said.
“If Odinaka and Paul can enter more and more deeply into the life of mission and martyrdom, then they will be servants of the communion which is in Jesus, breaking down walls to build up the Body of Christ in unity and peace.”
Fr Nwadike and Fr Eloagu will return home to Nigeria to celebrate with family and friends before starting their appointments on September 5.
Fr Eloagu will be sent to Surfers Paradise parish while Fr Nwadike will join the Redcliffe parish.
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Photos: Alan Edgecomb