An interview with Brother Emmanuel, a Salesian religious from Nigeria
Brother Emmanuel has been a member of the Salesian order since he was eighteen years old. He served in Ghana, in Liberia and for the last three years has been exercising his ministry in Hungary while finishing his theological studies at the Sapientia College of Theology for Religious Orders in Budapest.
Some days ago, he talked to S4C about his memories from Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria, and about the situation of Christians in these two countries. Despite the bad news that we have heard lately about the persecutions and massacres in Nigeria, Brother Emmanuel told us that, there are still strong Christian communities in the country.
Can you tell us where were you born and how much time you spent in each country?
I was born in Nigeria into a religious Christian family. From the outset, my vocation came from my family. Later, when I turned eighteen, I decided to join the Salesian Order, because I had some friends who were serving there, and because I wanted to serve God, and help young people. Because of my vocation, when I turned twenty, I had to travel to the English speaking country of Ghana. I spent my one-year-long noviciate there, after I went back to Nigeria for three years to learn philosophy, and went to Liberia for another year. After that, I came to Hungary.
How is the situation of Christians in these African countries?
There is a strong Christian community in the town where I came from in Nigeria. I lived in peace in the southern part of the country, which is predominantly Catholic. In the Western Region, people are mainly Protestant.
Unfortunately, most of the Christians in the north are in a difficult situation. They are living in constant fear of the Boko Haram terrorist group and the Fulani herdsmen.
Have you ever been to the northern part? Have you ever been in a dangerous situation?
I went to the Northern Region to visit some relatives and friends. But I have never been in Maiduguri where Boko Haram is terrorising the inhabitants.
It is important to highlight that the whole Northern Territory is not under pressure. There are numerous peaceful communities.
What is the real aim of Boko Haram? Is it killing every Christian?
The aim is to eliminate the Western lifestyle. They are not only persecuting Christians but everyone involved in the Western lifestyle from Northern-Nigeria. Their targets are mainly churches, schools, Christian communities and those that represent Western religion. They want to introduce Sharia law. Boko Haram does not discriminate. If they attack a village, they mean to occupy the whole settlement, so everybody needs to escape, both Christians and Muslims.
I, personally, do not know what they want. What we can do is pray for the innocent people who suffer from their raids.
Where can the people go who have to flee? Do your family receive refugee families from the North?
Yes, of course.
Fortunately, they can go anywhere: to the South, to the East or to the West. There are no refugee camps in Nigeria; people simply move to another town. They look for a new home, look for a new job. Of course, it is not easy at all. People, who worked in the Northern part had to move back to the south because they were in danger.
Is there a similar situation in Ghana and in Liberia?
In Ghana, and in Liberia, there are rather substantial difficulties. The settlements usually do not have money to build churches or to support the priests. There are both rich and poor people but we, the Salesians, care for the poor.
When and why did you come to Hungary? Was it your choice?
I came to Hungary in 2016. The General Councilor of the Salesian Missions (whom we call the mission superior) can send anyone to a mission area, but we are not forced. We have a conversation with him, and he listens to our views.
When I applied to go in a mission, I did not indicate if I wanted to go to Europe, Asia, Africa or America. It was the mission superior who decided where to send me where I was most needed.
What is your function in Hungary?
I am involved with young adolescents. My job is organising and participating in spiritual events, and caring about young people’s souls.
I worked in a technical school belonging to my order, as a spiritual leader, because it is important to have at least two spiritual leaders in each of our establishments.
This year, I started to go to the Sapientia College of Theology for Religious Orders, in Budapest, so I do not have much time to go to the school.
In the Hungarian Province, there are ten missionary brothers; four priests from India, four from Vietnam, one from Poland, and me, a religious studying for the priesthood, from Nigeria.
You have cared for Christian adolescents in Nigeria, Ghana, and now, in Hungary. Is there any difference in the spiritual life of young people, given that in Europe they can exercise their Faith without restrictions?
In my home, in Nigeria, we inherit our Christian religion from our parents.
The parents encourage the children to follow God, to participate in the Mass and to pray. They do not oblige them but they want to show them that God, and religion can make them happy.
Here, in Hungary, children have too much “liberty.” If a child does not want to go to the church or does not want to pray, parents would not insist. It is incomprehensible for me. In my home, the children have not got this kind of liberty.
It is like when a child says that he does not want to drink water. The parents cannot let him not drink water because he needs to drink. They know that the child would die without water. It is similar to our relationship with God. We need him, even if we are not conscious of it.
Many families say they do not take their children to church before their eighteenth birthday because they have the right to choose their religion. But if we do not show them our religion they will not know what they are deciding, be it for or against.
This excess of liberty lets many adolescents drift away from God because they do not learn what is really important. If we do not help them with their choices, it will be easier for them to make a bad choice.
Of course, I have many religious families here, in Hungary too, who try to lead their children to God. There is a problem in the families, where children are baptized but do not get religious education.