by Francis Aziza, SJ, North-West Africa Province (ANW)
It is with the most profound feelings of joy and gratitude that the Hekima University College Jesuit Community gathered in prayer for the Diaconate ordination of 25 Jesuit Scholastics and the Priestly ordination of one member of the Xavierian Missionaries of Yarumal on Saturday, February 13, 2021. The scholastics come from 13 countries and 7 Provinces of the Society in Asia, Africa, and Madagascar.
Despite the limited number of relatives and well-wishers who were physically present, the congregation was supplemented by friends and well-wishers who attended virtually.
At 10:00 am, the procession for the Mass began from the College Chapel to the Ordination Square. The Ordaining Prelate, Rt. Rev. Rodrigo Mejia Saldarriaga, SJ was joined by the JCAM president Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, SJ, JCAM Major Superiors, and concelebrating priests. The Ordaining Prelate, Rt. Rev. Mejia, described the venue for the Mass as an ‘Ecological Cathedral.’ With the clouds as the ceiling, trees as the pillars, grass as the floor, and the heavens as the roof, it was easy to see the reason for this title.
Having rained during the week and with the weather forecast predicting that it would rain on this day, there were serious doubts that the ordination would be held at Hekima’s Ordination Square. The nearby parish had already been secured as an alternative venue in case it rained. Just as the Mass was beginning, the clouds had gathered, casting darkness on the venue. Some feared the worst that the ceiling of our cathedral would cave in, and the rains would fall. However, in faith and trust in God, we began the Mass and, not only did it not rain, but the sun briefly came out to provide light while the breeze brought much-needed ventilation to our cathedral.
In his inspiring words of exhortation, Bishop Mejia told the Ordinandi that the common notion for many in the Church is that the work of a deacon is only during liturgical services. He encouraged them to dispel such notion, stressing that they should not limit their diaconate role to liturgical services only. A deacon is not ordained solely or primarily for the liturgy but for service. He stated that the duty of service bestowed by one’s diaconate ordination does not disappear but is strengthened by his priestly ordination. Furthermore, he referred to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, warning the Ordinandi against ‘Spiritual Worldliness’, which entails applying worldly categories to spiritual matters, especially with regard to power and authority in the Church.
He continued by citing the examples of three deacons who greatly impacted the life of the Church through their lives of service in various ways. St. Stephen, the first martyr, helped in serving the widows of the Greek Christians so that the Apostles would focus on their task of preaching the Gospel. St. Lawrence, a treasurer of one of the Christian communities, was a model of service, exemplifying a preferential option for the poor in. His prophetic and symbolic gesture of presenting the poor and marginalized when asked to submit the treasures of the Church to the authorities resulted in his eventual martyrdom. St. Francis of Assisi was very instrumental in the reformation of the Church at a time of great crisis. He served as a witness to the Gospel through his poverty, entreating his companions to announce the Gospel 24 hours a day and, if necessary, to preach.
Bishop Mejia concluded by telling the Ordinandi that no human condition should be alien to their service. He advised them not to undermine or to look down on any aspect of the work of God or consider any form of service inferior to others. Rather, they ought to consider their service to God’s people as universal and perform it without discrimination, in truth, and in spirit.
After the homily came the moment, we had all been waiting for when the prayers of consecration and other rites were performed. Our brothers were finally adorned, with their stoles and dalmatics and a chasuble for the Xavierian Missionary, to the glory of God and the delightful cheers of the congregation, both physical and virtual.
In giving the vote of thanks, the new deacons expressed their appreciation to God, their formators, family members, friends, relatives, and all who were instrumental in their vocation journeys. They promised to follow the footsteps of the Ordaining Prelate, not as Bishops, but as men of service. The Mass ended around 1:00 pm, after which the new deacons took pictures and were beseeched by countless requests for blessings from members of the congregation.
We are immensely grateful to God for all that happened and for the 25 new deacons of our Conference. We offer them our hearty congratulations as they begin their lives of service, especially by proclaiming the Gospel and preaching during Masses in the various Jesuit communities. We pray that God may continue to be with them and grant them the graces of this ordination as they look forward to their priestly ordination.
Oh, I must not fail to mention that it rained cats and dogs throughout Saturday night and into Sunday morning.
Photos courtesy: Cedric Mouzou, SJ, Hekima University College