'All I Wanted Was to Be a Priest'

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Father Samuel Sakaba of Nigeria served as a visiting priest at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in January 2018. This is his story.

Though he's a Catholic priest today, Nigerian native Fr. Samuel Sakaba did not know anything about Christianity until he was 12 years old.

Samuel grew up in the small village of Zuru in the 1970s. His father was a priest in the African traditional religions and had two legal wives. "It was not a Christian understanding of a family ... [but it was] legally accepted and legally approved," Samuel said. "Traditionalists have the sense and the belief in one supreme God who cannot be approached directly ... [but] through ancestors of a particular tribe and clan."

Though Samuel was one of seven children, no one in his family had ever gone to school. In the 1970s, the people in his village believed that studying wasted the time that should be spent working on the family farm.

One winter evening in 1979, 12-year-old Samuel's life changed forever. He visited his cousin, James, one of the only people he knew who was going to school and who could read and write. He found James in his house reading by the light of a lantern.

"Catechism books were littered around him," Fr. Samuel recalled. "I landed on a book that contained a lot of pictures. My attention was drawn to the portrait of the Last Supper. I asked my cousin, 'Who is the man sitting in the middle of these men?' He told me, 'This is Jesus Christ who came and died for humanity. Whoever believes in Him, he will be saved.'"

"That night, after hearing this, I did not sleep," Samuel said. He kept thinking about the image of the Last Supper. Three days later, Samuel asked his cousin how he could learn more about Christ and become His follower. James told him that he needed to learn how to read so that he could understand the Bible. With a spiritual fire raging inside of him, Samuel decided to defy his family's culture, go to school, and become a Christian. "I did not know if I was going to be attacked because of [my faith], but I was mentally ready and physically ready if it meant I was to be harmed or to be killed," Samuel said.

Samuel found a job building a fence for a local cassava farmer so that he could pay for school supplies. By the spring, he was attending school and walking over 30 miles every Sunday to attend Mass. Instead of neglecting his family's farm, he formed a partnership with his friends so that they could help each other complete their chores.

Since he was the only Christian in his family, Samuel often felt quite alone. After lunch one day in the minor seminary, where Samuel was attending school, he went back to his dormitory to rest. No one else was in the room, but as he lay on his bed he heard a voice saying over and over, "Look at the Blessed Virgin Mary!" He said he sat up to look out the window facing the courtyard, and he saw a heavenly woman passing by dressed in a sparkling white and blue dress. "I felt so happy about that," he said. "I was just watching [the Blessed Virgin Mary] pass. She had some kind of aura. The light was so perfect. Since then I have always directed all my situations, all my difficulties through the Blessed Virgin Mary. I found a lot of consolation in her."

One week before his final examinations in 1987, a religious riot broke out near the school. "Muslims were burning churches, killing Christians," he said. A group of Muslim terrorists broke into the seminary and set it on fire. "All our books, all our clothes — they were all burned. We took nothing," Samuel said.

After the riots settled down and the school was rebuilt, Samuel passed his final examinations and graduated. At the time, he had dreams of becoming a doctor, a lawyer, or a politician. But the rector of the school, a Catholic priest, asked him, "If you become a doctor, who will become a priest in your diocese?"

"That question sparked some kind of fire again in my heart," Samuel said. "My other desires disappeared like a mirage. All I wanted was to be a priest."

In January 1995, Fr. Samuel was ordained to the priesthood in the Minna Diocese of Nigeria. Currently, he is studying moral theology at The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin in Poland, researching the moral implications of Divine Mercy and the Blessed Virgin Mary's role in the plan of God's mercy.

He said, "I always appeal to [Mary's] intercession. God has been granting me so many graces. I have never been disappointed in her."

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MJ Fay J. - Apr 16, 2018

How wonderful to be reminded that God seeks out his lambs wherever they may be. Continued blessings from our holy mother for your undertakings.