After Ordination: Nigerian-born Priest Celebrates Mass and Culture with God’s People

Tags: Currents, Diocese of Brooklyn, Nigeria, Priest Life, Priesthood, Queens, NY

By Tim Harfmann

Father JohnPaul Obiaeri is a perfect fit in the Brooklyn diocese, which is blessed with people of so many different cultures. Now that he’s serving God’s people, he’s relying on his roots. The Nigerian-born priest celebrated Mass Sunday, June 9 at Saint Clement Pope Church in Jamaica, Queens. It is a parish with a large Nigerian community.

“It’s very beautiful and when you look at the people, when you look at their faces, you see that glittering light from their faces,” said Father JohnPaul. “They enjoy hearing it from their own son in their own language.”

That language was Igbo.

Father JohnPaul used his native language at his first regular Sunday Mass since his ordination a week ago, June 1. He presided over the liturgy at the same church he attended after arriving in the diocese.

“I’ve been practicing to celebrate Mass in English, but never in Igbo. So, it was just coming out naturally because I was born with it, I grew up with that,” said Father JohnPaul.

After Mass, the festive celebration of Father JohnPaul’s priesthood continued with Nigerian music, dance and food. Parishioner Patricia Aghanwa wore a traditional headdress for the occasion.

“In our culture, we celebrate everything. We are very flamboyant people. We’re very celebratory. We honor our people, we celebrate with them,” said Aghanwa.

“The most interesting thing and very humbling experience is the way people call you ‘father.’ It’s amazing,” said Father JohnPaul. “People want to have your blessing. I know very well it’s not something I have. I’m not giving them what I have. I’m giving them what was given to me.”

While Father JohnPaul blessed God’s people, parishioners Aghanwa and Rita Anthony gave him their best wishes.

“For him to stay steady fast, be himself, stay prayerful, stay close to God and stay close to us,” said Anthony.

“We support him 100 percent, and we know that he is in the right place, serving God and serving His people,” said Aghanwa.

In a few weeks, Father JohnPaul will be serving at the Queens parish of Holy Child Jesus in Richmond Hill — his new permanent assignment.