The 50th anniversary of Claretian Presence in Nigeria was declared open on the 30th of October 2022 by the Superiors of the East Nigeria Province and the Delegation of West Nigeria. It officially ended on the 4th of November 2023, with the closing declaration made by the Superior General, Fr. Mathew Vattamattam, CMF. The Jubilee year was indeed an activity-packed year that involved every dimension of Claretian life and ministry.
The Jubilee committee was established in 2021 by Msgr. Simeon Nwobi, CMF, who was then the Provincial Superior of the East Nigeria Province. In this Jubilee year, Msgr. Nwobi has been honored by the universal church as the bishop-elect of Ahiara Diocese in the southeast of Nigeria. This is undoubtedly a great Jubilee gift from the mother church.
The committee held its first meeting on August 12, 2021, during which the general outline was created. By June 2022, the committee expanded to include more Claretians from both the East Province and West Delegation, as well as some lay Claretians and Claretian Sisters.
The opening ceremony was scheduled for October 30, 2022, and the Golden Jubilee Week was celebrated from October 29 until the grand finale, November 4, 2023. The Opening ceremony activities included the unveiling of the Jubilee logo, the Jubilee prayer, and the Jubilee anthem. The prayers were to be said in all communities throughout the jubilee year. The lay faithful in various Claretian apostolates joined the Claretian communities actively in this. Other programs that cut across the various dimensions of the Claretian family continued the following year.
In February 2023, many Claretian parishes organized a couple’s night to celebrate Jubilee Valentine’s Day. The event was a wonderful opportunity to share the jubilee dreams with the associates in the pastoral ministry. The event was inclusive of parish youth groups, choirs, and Claretian students. A jubilee music competition was organized from March until May 2023, which included a performance of the Jubilee anthem and a choice Marian hymn by the formation houses. At the grand finale, the winners and participants were recognized for their contribution to the event.
In May, a quiz competition was organized for all our schools that covered bible knowledge as well as the history of the Claretians in Nigeria. It was organized in zones to ease the problem of traveling long distances. Also, seminars were held in many of our parishes by the Claretian youth ministry during the Youth Week held in many parishes between June and July. It was an opportunity to share the life of Claret with the youth and inspire them towards partaking closely in the work of the claretians.
The Lay Claretian Movement in Nigeria was actively involved in the Jubilee year celebrations. They organized conventions in the East Nigeria Province and the West Nigeria Independent Delegation between August and October. Along with their coordinators, they visited prisons, orphanages, and parishes to share the spirit of Jubilee with the less privileged and downtrodden in society. The Claretian formation houses played a vital role in the Jubilee celebrations, with essay competitions and art exhibitions taking place in September and October. All Claretian formation houses in both the East Nigeria Province and the Delegation of West Nigeria participated in these events, and the creativity expressed by the seminarians was truly impressive.
The Jubilee year’s high point was celebrated from October 29th to November 4th, 2023, with events spanning East Nigeria Province and the Delegation of West Nigeria.
Day One (October 29, 2023) – The 7-day Jubilee activities began with the arrival of Fr. Mathew Vattamattam, CMF, Superior General of the Claretian Missionaries, in Lagos, Nigeria. Fr. Augustine Madaiyedu, CMF, Major Superior Delegation of West Nigeria, and some council members received him at the airport in Lagos.
Day Two (October 30, 2023) – Fr. Mathew blessed the newly constructed building of Claretian Academy in Ewu-owa, Ikorodu, Lagos State. Fr. Mathew received a warm welcome from parents, school staff, students, and the Christian community at Ikorodu and Ojodu, Lagos State.
Day Three (October 31, 2023) – Fr. Mathew made his journey to Enugu in the south-east of Nigeria on and was received at the airport by the Provincial Superior of the East Nigeria Province, Fr. Nathaniel Eke, CMF. He was also warmly received that evening by the Enugu Claretian community.
Day Four (November 1, 2023) – Fr. Mathew had a concelebrated mass of All-Saints with the worshipping community at St. Peter Parish, Garriki, Enugu. The worshipping community warmly received him. Father Mathew celebrated an All-Saints mass with the worshipping community at St. Peter Parish in Garriki, Enugu. The community warmly welcomed him. After the mass, Fr. Cletus Obasi, CMF, the Parish Priest, led the entourage on a courtesy visit to the Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Most Rev. Callistus Valentine Onaga. The bishop expressed his satisfaction with the work and cooperation of the Claretians in his diocese. Subsequently, the Jubilee schools in Enugu were blessed. The blessing began with Claret Comprehensive Academy, Amurri, followed by Claret Academy Nursery & Primary School, Umuchu-Mount, and ended at Claret Academy Secondary School, Garriki. Parents, staff, and students grandiosely received Fr. General at all the schools. He was given two titles in Enugu – ‘Omeloha’ (the people’s helper) at Claret Comprehensive Academy, Amurri, and ‘Ochioha’ (the people’s leader) at Claret Academy Secondary School, Garriki. The eventful day ended with Fr. General visiting the Claret House of Theology, Attakwu in Enugu, where he had a great session with the Claretian theology students and their formators. Meanwhile, on the same day, radio programs were broadcasted at Ozisa FM Owerri and CUN FM Nekede, where some Claretian brothers were panelists discussing the Claretian history, mission, and apostolate.
Day Five (November 2, 2023) – Father General celebrated the All Souls Mass with the Attakwu Claretian community. Afterward, he proceeded to Owerri where he was warmly welcomed by the provincial community with songs and dancing. He received a third title, setting a new record for the most titled man within 24 hours. The afternoon Mass of All Souls began at 3 pm at the Claretian cemetery located in Maryland, Nekede. Fr. Mathew Vattamattam was the chief celebrant, and it was attended by a good number of seminarians, lay faithful, and Claretian members from both East and West Major Organisms who had begun arriving for the Jubilee activities. It was indeed an opportunity to share the jubilee with our departed brothers. Immediately following the Mass, a novelty football match was held at the Claretian University of Nigeria (CUN) Football Field. Fr. Mathew Vattamattam, Fr. Nathaniel Eke, and Fr. Innocent Edoziem jointly did the kick-off. The match was between the Claretian priests and seminarians, and it ended in a goalless draw. Our priests were still evidently agile and fit.
Day Six (November 3, 2023) – On Friday, the Jubilee Ordination was the main event. The ordaining prelate was Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, who is the Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province and the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria. In his brief homily, he expressed his joy at the calling to the priesthood in the church, where the Claretians played an active part. He encouraged the twelve ordinands, which is a symbolic number of services to the apostolate of Christ, and the entire people of God to draw closer to God, especially through a prayerful life. He also emphasized that we are all missionaries, some by going to the mission field, while others by giving to the mission. After the ordination, the Superior General, along with the Provincial Superior, paid a courtesy call to the ruler of Nekede Kingdom, Eze Agumanu IV (Ede II of Nekede Kingdom). They were accompanied by the parish priest of the Jubilee Day host community, Fr. Obiora Igwe, CMF.
Later that evening, the Claretian family gathered at 5:30 pm for a colloquium and social night. The event began with vespers led by Fr. Charles Amadi, CMF. Following this, a well-prepared historical documentary was presented, outlining the beginnings of the Claretian Missionaries in Nigeria. The colloquium discussion centered around the Nigerian Claretian journey, from the beginning with Fr. Christian Mary Ihedoro, CMF until today, and the dreams for tomorrow. The colloquium panelists included Most Rev. Hilary Dachelem, CMF (Bishop of Bauchi Diocese), Fr. Wenceslaus Madu, CMF (Vice Chancellor of CUN), and Fr. Nathaniel Eke, CMF (Provincial Superior East Nigeria Province), moderated by Fr. Matthew Mmuo, CMF.
During the event, Fr. Jude Langeh (Major Superior of Cameroun Independent Delegation) and Fr. Peter Okonkwo, CMF (Chairman of the Institute of Consecrated Life in Africa located in Abuja) shared the mission and activities of InCLA. Finally, at the close of the event, Fr. Mathew Vattamattam, CMF, had a rare but wonderful moment with Claretian members of both the East Province and the West Independent Delegation. He used the opportunity to encourage everyone to work together, especially in line with the church’s vision at the just-concluded synod on synodality.
Day Seven (November 4, 2023) – The high point of the entire Jubilee activities started with a calm and serene morning sunshine. The rains that fell the day before brought in bright weather, putting everyone in high spirits for the grand finale of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Claretian presence in Nigeria. The presiding bishops, priests, and servers were all set well before time, beaming with radiant smiles. The mass began at 10 am, presided over by Most Rev. Wilfred Anagbe, CMF, Bishop of Makurdi Diocese. The other bishops at the mass were Most Rev. Hilary Dachelem, CMF, Bishop of Bauchi Diocese, Most Rev. Moses Chikwe, Auxiliary Bishop of Owerri Archdiocese, and His Grace, Most Rev. Anthony J.V. Obinna, Emeritus Archbishop of Owerri, who arrived later at the mass. Fr. Greg Ezeokeke, CMF, representing the Major Superior of the Delegation of West Nigeria, Fr. Augustine Madaiyedu, CMF, welcomed the entire assembly and prayed for wonderful weather for the Jubilee celebration. The main presider, in his homily, identified the action of the Holy Spirit, motivating the Claretians to do great things within these fifty years. He thanked the formators who have indeed sowed beautiful seeds in the Nigerian Claretian apostolate, such that today, the Nigerian church deemed it fit to raise three Claretians to the episcopal ministry. One of them is the immediate past Provincial Superior, Msgr. Simeon Nwobi, CMF, who is to be consecrated Auxiliary Bishop of Ahiara Diocese in December 2023. The main presider referred to him as the best Golden Jubilee gift the Claretians received in this Jubilee year. He, however, admonished the Claretians that the Jubilee is more a time for re-strategizing and in his words, “resetting our missionary GPS”, just in case some of them have lost their way.
At the end of the Mass, the Claretians introduced their Jubilee publication titled “The History and Mission of the Claretians in Nigeria (1973-2023)” to the congregation. The Provincial Superior, Fr. Nathaniel Eke, CMF, expressed his appreciation to everyone who joined the Claretians in celebrating their Jubilee. After the Mass, the procession moved to Jubilee Avenue where a relaxation park was built around the Silver Jubilee ‘udara’ tree that was planted twenty-five years ago. The chief celebrant then unveiled the park and continued along the avenue to the site where the Golden Jubilee ‘African mango’ tree was to be planted. He was assisted by other bishops and superiors. The procession culminated at the Claretian community house where four other Jubilee trees were planted. Most Rev. Moses Chikwe blessed the Fr. Christian Mary Ihedoro Memorial Library, which is located within the building complex.
Various activities took place at the CUN field, where students and parishioners presented dances and other performances to the admiration of everyone. A tribute was read in honor of the Late Fr. Polycarp Opara, CMF, who was the first Claretian priest to be ordained within the 50 years of the Claretian presence in Nigeria. A hand-sketched portrait of him was unveiled by Father General. Special recognition awards were presented to Lay Claretians and workers who have served the Claretians in Nigeria, especially since the beginning till date. The first group of Claretians who were received in 1973 was also recognized and appreciated. They include Frs. Charles Amadi, Fr. Innocent Edoziem, Fr. Marcel Onyeocha, and Fr. Emmanuel Nnadozie, CMFF. The winners of the various competitions organized for the parish choirs, youth groups, students, and seminarians were also recognized. Fr. Philip Ogbonna, CMF, the chairman of the Jubilee committee, expressed his gratitude to everyone for actively participating in the entire Jubilee activities. At the end of the program, the Superior General blessed everyone and wished them a safe journey to their respective destinations. He then declared the Jubilee year ended.
The 12-month Jubilee year, celebrating 50 years of Claretian presence in Nigeria, has come to a close. The final mass of the Jubilee was attended by four bishops, 129 priests, and 19 religious sisters. Representatives from all Claretian schools and at least 18 parishes, some from as far as Ekiti and Adamawa States, came with a delegation of their parishioners, bringing the estimated total number of attendees to 1300.
“As we look back on this past year, we celebrate our accomplishments and look forward to another 50 years of fulfilling the mission of Christ and His church, guided by the spirit of our Father Founder, St. Anthony Mary Claret.”
Long live the Claretian Missionaries in Nigeria!
Source: Fr. Matthew Mmuo, CMF, Secretary, Jubilee Committee