Missio England and Wales has a long-standing relationship with five seminaries in five countries. These five seminaries – in India, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Sri Lanka – offer the opportunity to sponsor students studying for the priesthood.
Fr Albert, Rector of Bigard Memorial Seminary in Nigeria, shared their latest news with us:
The year 2020 was indeed a difficult year for the whole of humanity, as the devastating effect of COVID-19 impacted all facets of life worldwide. Our seminary community, like other communities, was caught unawares. Thus, in compliance with the Federal Government lockdown policy and the directives from the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, the seminary was shut down on 27 March.
It must be emphasised that Churches in Nigeria were also shut down and the faithful advised to pray at home.
The lockdown policy adopted by the government brought untold hardship to the people of Nigeria. International and state borders were closed, and prices of staple food tripled in many cases. Unlike other countries, the government had no meaningful provision for assistance to those hardest hit by the economic downturn of the pandemic.
The above conditions notwithstanding, the seminary had to continue to maintain essential services; pay her workers, feed the formators, pay the electricity and other bills at an astronomical rate.
Engaging with students
To continue our academic curriculum, the seminary successfully launched an Online Distant Learning Programme. This enabled the lecturers to interact with our 855 seminarians and deliver their lectures online. However, the lack of or the poor availability of internet facilities in Nigeria made the programme cumbersome.
Following the easing of the lockdown policy, we were able to recall our 180 final year students, for revisions and their Bachelors of Theology and Philosophy degree examinations, from 16 July to 25 August. The rest of the Theology and Philosophy students were recalled in batches, for their own revisions and 2nd semester examinations.
Angst and economics
The #EndSARS protest organised by Nigerian youths against police brutality and its concomitant clamp down by the government, brought more hardship to all. The financial impact of all the above is felt in all facets of life in Nigeria. Today, the prices of basic food stuffs like rice, beans, garri, yam, tomatoes and onions have in many cases doubled or tripled.
Added to these is the decision of the government to increase it tariffs on some goods and services under its direct control. For instance, our electricity bill has jumped from an average of four hundred thousand (N400,000:00) to above eight hundred thousand naira (N 800,000:00) per month. This has placed financial strain on our lean seminary budget.
Hopes for the future
Amidst the pandemic, we are grateful to God that we were able to have both the Priestly and Diaconate ordinations of some of our candidates. In 2020, we had a total number of 54 candidates that were ordained Deacons and 50 candidates that were also ordained Priests.
Churches have in most cases fully reopened and liturgical and pastoral activities have been fully restored, albeit compliance with COVID-19 protocols. This has helped dispel fears that COVID-19 would adversely affect the growth of faith in Nigeria.
The seminary community will continue to follow the COVID-19 protocols and maintain our steadfastness in prayers, for an end to the pandemic. Again, the seminary continues to appeal to her benefactors and benefactresses for financial assistance to cushion the effect of this pandemic.
Finally, the development of COVID-19 vaccine is welcome news. It is hoped that the new vaccine would be made available to all, so as to help shore up confidence and restore hope for humanity.
How you can help
In mission dioceses it costs at least £700 a year to train a student for the priesthood. The local bishops, parishes and families manage to collectively raise £200 annually for each student, but it simply is not enough.