Nigeria tour shows ‘happiness is not found in material possessions, but in faith and family’

3 Bishops, Cardinal, Fr. Rankin, Fr. Peter

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, 

This year of Our Lord 2024 has gotten off to a rousing start as I attended the SEEK Conference sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) with approximately 20,000 people beginning Jan. 1 at The Dome in St. Louis. On Tuesday evening, Jan. 2, our diocese hosted a gathering attended by about 250 people, including students from Quincy University, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, Eastern Illinois University at Charleston, Millikin University in Decatur, Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield, Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon, and St. Anthony High School in Effingham. Over 40 bishops and 400 to 500 priests concelebrated the Eucharistic liturgies. A large number of religious sisters were also in attendance, including our own Alton Franciscan Sisters. It was truly uplifting and a sign of great hope for the future of the Catholic Church to see so many young people alive with faith in Jesus Christ!


On Thursday, Jan. 4, I flew to Nigeria with Father Dominic Rankin, who serves as our diocesan Promoter of Vocations and my Master of Ceremonies and Priest-Secretary, along with Mrs. Donna Moore, Director our diocesan Office for Missions, and two parishioners from St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Decatur, Mr. David Hilliard and Mr. Christopher Hoffman.

The main purpose of our trip was to visit the family and hometown of Father Peter Chineke, whom I ordained to the priesthood for our diocese in 2020. We were planning to go shortly after his ordination, but COVID restrictions on travel at the time required us to postpone our trip until now. Father Peter, who is now serving as Parochial Administrator of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Parish in Mt. Zion and St. Isidore Parish in Bethany, while taking courses in canon law online from the Catholic University of America, and Father Fredrick (Freddie) Chima Mbiere, who serves as Pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Sherman and Resurrection Parish in Illiopolis, both had gone on to Nigeria a few days ahead of us to prepare for our visit.

Shortly after we arrived, we had dinner with Bishop Jonas Benson, Bishop of Nnewi (Father Freddie’s home diocese). We were welcomed by a group of students and seminarians of the diocese.


On Saturday, Jan. 6, I ordained four deacons for the Holy Family Fathers and Brothers for Youth at Christ the King Church in Okija, Nigeria. That afternoon we visited a home for children with disabilities in Ozubulu, Nigeria. Later that evening, we had dinner with Bishop Augustine Ukwuoma, the Bishop of Orlu (Father Peter’s home diocese).

On Sunday, Jan. 7, I was the main celebrant and homilist at Father Peter’s home parish, St. John’s Church in Umuobom, Nigeria. The Mass lasted three hours! My homily was not that long, but after the homily I baptized Father Peter’s nephew and two other babies. At the time of the Offertory of the Mass, everyone came up to put their donations in the basket. There were also several speeches after Communion. After Mass, we visited Father Peter’s mother, Mrs. Virginia Chineke, and family at their home. We also prayed at the grave of Father Peter’s dad. 

On Monday, Jan. 8, our Mass was an outdoor celebration for the 50th birthday of  Dr. Martin Okpalike at the Okpalike family residence in Akpo, Nigeria. Dr. Okpalike practices pediatric medicine in Decatur, where he lives with his wife and children. That evening, we visited His Eminence, Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke, Bishop of Ekwulobia, Nigeria, who was appointed to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis in 2022.

Mass-Fr. Peter Home Parish-Baptism.5

On Tuesday, Jan. 9, our entourage flew to Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, where we were hosted by His Eminence, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja. I had met Cardinal Onaiyekan in Chicago over 30 years ago when he was a young bishop, and I was Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago. It was good to see him again and renew our friendship. Cardinal Onaiyekan was very gracious and generous with his time as he took us on a whirlwind tour of Abuja over the next two days.

On Wednesday, Jan. 10, I was the main celebrant and homilist for Mass with about 1,200 students, faculty, and staff at the Chapel of Veritas University in Bwari, Nigeria. It was most impressive to see so many students and faculty attending a weekday Mass! Later that afternoon, we had a courtesy visit with the Deputy Grand Imam of Nigeria and toured the National Mosque of Nigeria as well as the National Ecumenical Christian Center of Nigeria, which is next door to the mosque. While the region where Father Peter is from in the south is about 80 percent Catholic, Abjua is about 50 percent Christian and 50 percent Muslim. Cardinal Onaiyekan continues to exercise an important role in promoting Christian-Muslim relations, as he did when he was Archbishop.

Procession for Ordination.1

On Thursday, Jan. 11¸ I was the main celebrant and homilist at Mass for over 100 seminarians of the Missionary Society of St. Paul. Following breakfast at the seminary after Mass, we visited the Spirituality Year Program for the Missionary Society of St. Paul; St. Mary’s Catholic Hospital in Abuja; the Generalate of St. Paul Missionary Society; Christ the King school for over 600 boys (grades 7-12), sponsored by the Marist Brothers; the Executive Director and staff of the Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace; the General Secretary and staff of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Nigeria; the Regina Pacis school for over 700 girls (grades 7-12), sponsored by the Congregation of the Daughters of Divine Love; and Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral in Abuja. Cardinal Onaiyekan also gave us a tour of the site of the new cathedral that is still under construction. For a man who will celebrate his 80th birthday on Jan. 29, he still has a lot of energy as he personally took us to each one of these places! The “last supper” of our trip that evening was at the residence of the current Archbishop of Abuja, Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama.

To sum up my impressions, I would say that Nigeria is a country with much material poverty, but great spiritual wealth. The joy and smiles of the people, both young and old, despite their hardships, were readily apparent. We Americans would do well to learn from their example of finding happiness not in material possessions, but in faith and family.

May God give us this grace. Amen.