VERY REV. FR. PATRICK TOR ALUMUKU AT 40 A PRIEST.
Saturday 20 June, 2021. St. Louis Catholic Church, Abuja.
By Padre Mike Nsikak Umoh
Fr. Alumuku 40 Years of Grace
“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I desire most, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze at his beauty and seek counsel in his sanctuary.” (Psalm 27:4)
1. Our amiable and pastorally dynamic Chief Shepherd of Abuja Archdiocese, Most Rev. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama; our very vocal voice of the Church and erudite Shepherd of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Hassan Kukah, Rt. & Very Rev. Monsignors and Fathers, dear male and female religious, our Catechists, Papal Knights and Dames, Knights of St John and Knights of St Mulumba and their Ladies, other dignitaries of State and traditional rulers, esteemed friends and guests of the celebrant, the loving parishioners of St Louis Catholic Church and dear people of God. I greet you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal High Priest. Glory to Jesus!
2. I turned 13 years of age a day after our celebrant, Very Rev. Fr. Patrick Tor Alumuku was ordained a priest. So my generation represents those who were Fr’s altar servers in his early years, those who were minor seminarians in formation under him, and later, those who were major seminarians under his tutelage. Choosing me to preach on his 40th Anniversary as a priest is therefore simply a great honor and the fruit of Grace, which I am very grateful for. Thank you my Elder!.
3. I am quite aware that I have neither been chosen because I have any better experience nor am I in a position to tell Fr. Alumuku anything new, but only because, by virtue of our faith, as revealed in the first reading at this Mass, it is the Lord who always speaks through his priests for “the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, Behold , I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jer. 1:9) Through the mouth of every priest, Jesus is both the eternal preacher and the message that is preached. Therefore, it is he, not me, who speaks His words to all hearts including that of the preacher.
4. Forty years in any profession, even for a gateman, is indisputably remarkable and the experience from such long years of service, cannot be brushed aside. It is common saying that “life begins at 40”, probably because within 40 years it is expected that one should have gone through the major process of self-development and be positioned to begin to take advantage of the gains of long years of formation. Biblically, the number 40 is significant: Scripture mentions the number 40 146 times. Moses lived 40 years in Egypt and 40 years in the desert, Jonah warned the Ninevites of destruction in 40 days, Prophet Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to symbolise Judah’s sins (Ezekiel 4:6), Elijah fasted for 40 days, Jesus fasted for 40 days, Noah’s great flood lasted 40 days, Jesus ascended to heaven after 40 days. For some scholars, the number 40 signifies new life, new growth, transformation and a change from one task to a greater task. May the good Lord do newer things in Fr. Alumuku’s life through Christ our Lord. Amen.
5. Fr. Alumuku has invited us to join him in thanking God today for 40 years of faithful service in the Lord’s vineyard. The reason for celebration would be easy to determine for a lay man who has been in a service for 40 years; the indicators for success could be that he has married, has children, built a house or houses, trained his children and they are now independent, maybe he even has some grandchildren, retired from a successful career life, and may be flying about playing golf, with a very fat bank account that is enough for his grand children. But what are all these to a Catholic priest? Can he measure success by these perimeters? Can these be the source of joy for him? Unfortunately No! So, when a priest calls people together after 40 years of work in the vineyard, what does he want us to thank God for in his life?
6. In his homily at the Chrism Mass of 2014, Pope Francis warns that “All (priests) who are called should know that genuine and complete joy does not exist in this world: it is the joy of being taken from the people we love and then being sent back to them as dispensers of the gifts and counsels of Jesus, the one Good Shepherd who has deep compassion for all.”
7. This means that the joy of a priest must come from being faithful to who Jesus called him to be; as a dispenser of the gifts and counsels of Jesus.
8. By the virtue of this primary responsibility, the priest is called to be a witness of Christ to the flock that has been entrusted to him as their shepherd. He is (1) a minister of the sacraments, (2) proclaimer of the word, (3) teacher of the faith, and (4) a steward of the Church. He has the duty to accompany and lead the flock entrusted to his care through this world in such a way that they are able to know God, love God and seek God until they reach the eternal kingdom of heaven.
9. It follows then, that when a priest calls people for a celebration such as this, the real success being celebrated cannot be in houses or academic degrees or cars, but it is to testify to the power and the reality of the resurrection in his life which propels him to abandon all things for the service of the kingdom; it is to give thanks to God in return for his abundant love and mercy in choosing him as an earthenware vessel to be his channel of grace, bringing hope to his people and the world. The real joy and fulfilment of a priest that calls for thanksgiving lies in the lives he has touched through faithful service rendered, in loving obedience to his bishop, as he, like the good shepherd, pours out his own life as a libation for others, that they might live.
10. This narrative does not make the priest a perfect person. Not at all! Becoming a priest means submitting one’s mere human, mortal, sinful state, and uniting it with God’s grace and with one’s humble effort, and then witnessing the transformation into an alter Christus.
11. Talking about the frailty of a priest, Pope Francis says that “Our frailties are theological places of encounter with the Lord”, because a “fragile priest”, who knows his weaknesses and talks about them with the Lord, will do well. On the other hand, a “superman” priest ends up badly.”
12. Yes, it is obvious that our dear celebrant understands what the Pope means when he speaks about a fragile priest who knows his weaknesses. The young prophet Jeremiah experienced and lamented the burden of his frailty when the Lord called him, he said “Ah Lord, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” Being ordained a priest at the very tender age of 23, with all the frailties of a youth, Fr Alumuku thanks God today knowing that it is grace that has protected, preserved and led him thus far. The oil of ordination does not immune a priest from his human inclinations, but if he submits to grace, it surely helps him to become master over them. Looking back today, some with whom Fr. Alumuku started life journey from his village in Alumuku, his primary school, the minor seminary and major seminary, have either passed on, some are ill, some could not continue while some got attracted or distracted along the way; none of these is he better than in any way, if not for the grace of God. Every good thing is GRACE! All good things around us, are sent from heaven above, then thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord for all his love.
13. After Bishop Donald Murray, CSSP ordained Fr. Alumuku in 1981, by the time he celebrated his 35th birthday, barely a decade after, he had already been exposed to so many tough ecclesiastical responsibilities, which confirms the saying that the reward for good work, is not just more work, but tougher works. Fr. was appointed the Vocations Director and Youth Chaplain to cater for Catholic students in Makurdi diocese with over 100 Secondary Schools then. It is on record that in his first year as the Vocations Director, about 200 young men applied to enter the Seminary under the diocese of Makurdi, though the diocese could only accept 30 candidates that year. Since he did well with the young, the youthful Fr. Alumuku was immediately appointed the Rector of St. James Junior Seminary at the age of 27 to groom young boys for the Catholic priesthood. Imagine, a young boy/man ordained within 4 years grooming young boys! It is very likely that some students were bigger and taller than their Rector. That was indeed an attestation to a very huge trust deposit the Fr. Alumuku had with the Church authority as an outstanding priest of God. The fact that Fr. Alumuku was soon promoted to join the formation team at the St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos clearly attest to the success he recorded as a rector at the minor seminary. He is the pioneer editor of the Catholic Star newspaper of Makurdi Diocese and one of the first generation of priests from Nigeria who studied real Pastoral Communications under the great Professor Fr. Robert White. Indeed, a golden fish has no hiding place.
14. The events that followed the completion of Fr. Alumuku’s studies in social communications amply show that he did not venture into the study for the sake of owning a degree and being called a doctor or a PhD holder, but he studied it because he needed the knowledge to enhance his work as a priest, to advance the kingdom of God; and he was fully committed to this. After his doctorate in Communications in which he graduated with the highest distinction, Summa Cum Laude, Fr Alumuku worked with the Vatican Radio and one of his programmes “Echo of African Synod” won the first award of the African Service at Vatican Radio. We priests have a lot to learn from this disposition to studies.
15. Addressing some French student priests in Rome, Pope Francis admonished them thus: “The studies you undertake in the various Roman universities prepare you for your future tasks as pastors and enable you to better appreciate the reality in which you are called to proclaim the Gospel of joy”. Yes, studies are meant to enhance our duties as priests. The greatest degree one can ever receive from God is the gift of the priesthood; every other thing comes as secondary and are only relevant as long as they help us in our mission as priests. Any study for self or outside the directive and approval of our bishop falls under vain glory and truly diminishes us, because that solemn moment at ordination, when we placed our folded hands in our Bishop’s and said “I do”, we submitted totally and entirely, our will and intellect to God; we ceased to be our own, but the Church’s. Our plans, our will, our desires are discovered through the assignments and directives given by our bishop, who himself knows that he must give account before the Perfect Master someday. This is how a priest finds true joy and fulfilment. The Church has often been faithful to us, let us constantly renew our love for the Church in return.
16. The more truly educated we are, the more humble we must be. Our studies, if they are authentic and for the kingdom, must bend us more for service and in loving obedience to the Church.
17. A good pastor is one who puts God’s holy people at the centre, thus Pope Francis urges us, “Strip yourselves off your pre-constituted ideas, your dreams of greatness, your self-assertion, in order to put God and people at the centre of your daily concerns.”
18. After his studies, graduating with Summa Cum Laude, Fr Alumuku, the trailblazer, put the knowledge at the service of the Church and the people of God. He served on the African desk in Vatican Radio, served and is still serving in Abuja as the Communications Director, lectured at the Center for Study of African Culture and Communications in CIWA, Port Harcourt where I first met him as professor of Community Radio. Fr. later established the Catholic Television of Nigeria, which is the first TV station in Nigeria owned by the Catholic Church and he is at the verge of launching the Catholic Radio for the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja. He is currently the President of SIGNIS NIGERIA.
19. Though always placed in very tough terrain and conditions, Fr. Alumuku’s tenacity, dedication and passion is enigmatic.
20. We are thanking God that Fr. Alumuku is quintessential of a Catholic Priest. A fine gentleman, loving and kind, filled with the aura of a simple shepherd whose primary desire is to serve in the house of the Lord all the days of his life.
21. Of course Pope Francis often admonished that each priest must learn to smell like his people by being with them and close to them. He says: “Get close to the people, get to know the people, share their pains and challenges, be there with them.” By this, the Holy father challenges us that “priesthood isolated from the people of God, is neither a Catholic priesthood nor a Christian one.” Thus the ministry of Pastors must reflect the way God has cared and continues to care for his people in a “style of closeness, a style of compassion and a style of tenderness.”
22. This urgent need for closeness by pastors to their flock definitely informed the current laudable pastoral initiative in Abuja Archdiocese which has given birth to the 51 new pastoral areas of which St. Louis Catholic Church is one.
23. Dear friends, humanly speaking, would a priest of 40 years be placed in a pastoral area in the midst of all the established parishes in Abuja Archdiocese? In secular world, people with even 20 years of service would have said “I have paid my dues.” St. Louis is a Church which began with less than 200 people, in a make shift structure? Fr. Alumuku did not grudge his bishop for putting him in a small parish, because he had no reason to grudge since there is nothing like a small or big parish, by the way. All that must matter to a priest is to go wherever there are souls that need to be fed because the Catholic priesthood is not a career, it is a service. In loving obedience, he applied himself fully to the task, not minding the enormous responsibility of the communications office. St. Louis parish community and Fr. Alumuku are testimonies to the spirit at work through the pastoral areas in Abuja Archdiocese, and the wisdom and beauty of our Catholic Church manifested in our Chief Shepherd Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama. Fr. Alumuku is a man of the people who is close to his parishioners. The parishioners of St. Louis can testify to this. As a man who is used to facing the battle where it is fiercest, it is not surprising that St. Louis community has grown from less than 200 to over 400 parishioners in about 10 months. Indeed, “The priest is a man who, in the light of the Gospel, spreads the taste of God around him and transmits hope to restless hearts”. Closeness is key in the life of a priest, the Pope said. First, they must be close to God in prayer, then, close to their bishop, close to one another and close to their people.
24. As we celebrate with Fr. Alumuku today, we cease the opportunity to thank all the many people of God who have been pillars of support to him. We thank his dear parents and pray that God grants their loving and generous souls eternal reward in his bosom. We thank you our dear and loving lay faithful for your care and support for your priest and for all of us. All the achievements mentioned here today would not have been possible without your love and support. One can say that behind every successful priests are loving, caring and praying parishioners. Please continue to love your priests and pray for them. Talk to your priests, don’t talk about them. The Church cannot grow where the sheep turn around to stage an attack against their shepherd.
25. My dear brothers and sisters, the call to holiness of life is not for priests and sisters alone. By virtue of your baptism, you too are called to seek and live a life of holiness in the midst of your struggles in the society. We must never forget this whether we are within the Church or in our homes, offices or market places; wherever we find ourselves. Like Christ, we are called to live a selfless life of service. While in the world, we must struggle never to be consumed by materialism and the glamour of the world. We must never lose sight of the reality that we are God’s steward and heaven is our final destination.
26. We recall that trending post on social media on FEMI OTEDOLA: To the question, Sir, what can you remember made you a happy man in life? His answer: The wheelchairs I bought for 200 children and the glow of happiness on the faces of the children as they moved around on them having fun as if they had arrived at a picnic spot. “I felt real joy inside me.”
27. Real and lasting joy comes from what we give, not from what we accumulate. That is what we celebrate today in our celebrant, VERY REV. FR. PATRICK TOR ALUMUKU.
28. My dear elder, our dear Parish Priest, our dear brother and friend, on behalf of all of us gathered here with you, and on behalf of many more who could not make it, I pray that God will grant you this one wish to find joy in the lives you touch and to touch even more. But remember though you are blessed with good health, you are not getting younger. Please do not relent in your plans to delegate some of your duties and to shed some responsibilities you bear, since more are being added to you every day.
29. Through the powerful intercession of our mother Mary, the Queen of Apostles, may God grant you the grace of final perseverance in this holy vocation. May the years ahead be better than the past years. Happy anniversary our dear priest.
Tu es sacerdos! Ad multos annos!!
(Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Mike Nsikak Umoh is the National Director of Social Communications of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and a priest of the Archdiocese of Lagos)