(Nigeria: Vice Province of Nigeria) Thousands of Nigerians wearing colorful clothes featuring Our Mother of Perpetual Help inaugurated the Jubilee Year in grand African style during a special event on July 5 at the Trade Fair mini stadium in Lagos. Saints Michael, Raphael and Gabriel (Archangels) Parish in Satellite Town hosted the Perpetual Help feast day celebration, which has been a special event since 2002. Fr. Richard Thiele was the main celebrant and preacher that year, followed by Fr. William Peterson in 2003. Anthony Cardinal Okogie, then Archbishop of Lagos, was invited to preside in 2004. He ushered in the practice of bishops presiding and preaching at the impressive Perpetual Help celebrations hosted by the Redemptorists in the Vice Province of Nigeria.
Devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (primarily women praying for babies), began gathering in novena prayer at the Perpetual Help grotto on June 1. They were among the estimated 18,000 people – men, women, priests, religious and Redemptorist confreres and students – gathered in the stadium for a faith-filled celebration led by Archbishop Mathew Man-Oso Ndagoso of the Archdiocese of Kaduna. Vice Provincial Superior Kingsley Onyekuru and former Vice Provincial Superior Callistus Nwachukwu assisted.
A beautiful statue of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was ushered into the arena in a solemn motorcade procession amidst a dancing crowd waving white handkerchiefs and chanting a variety of praise names for Our Lady. Approaching the altar, the motorcade came to a halt at the edge of a red carpet. Fr. Vincent Ezezue, pastor of Archangels’ Parish, received the statue and passed it to Fr. Kingsley, who handed it to the Archbishop. During the solemn liturgy, Archbishop Matthew enthroned the statue in a rectangular glass box. Honoring the diverse cultures in Nigeria, prayers were offered in various languages. There were plenty of gospel songs from awarding-winning artist Gozie Okeke, and a powerful rendition of the Responsorial Psalm by the famed composer, Jude Nnam. After the Archbishop spoke about the universal motherhood of Mary, Fr. Kingsley welcomed everyone and announced the plenary indulgence Pope Francis granted for the 150th Jubilee of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. He led the gathering in a litany of prayer and officially declared the Jubilee Year in Nigeria. Rain showers fell midway through the ceremony, but worshippers did not budge – in this part of the world, every rain shower is regarded as a shower of blessings from above. In fact, many believed that the rain was a sign of blessing from Our Mother. Veneration of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was eagerly awaited. The faithful believe that when they touch the statue, they leave all their problems at her feet, as well as thanksgiving for Mary’s assistance.
They come with faith and expectation, for they have seen miracles wrought by Our Mother in the lives of their neighbors. At Archangels Parish alone, which hosts ongoing novena prayers at the Perpetual Help grotto, more than 50 mothers have been blessed with babies through her intercession. The faithful have come to trust and believe in her help: because she has helped others, she will help them. After a full six hours of celebrating, it was obvious that those gathered in prayer felt blessed, and that one prayer or another had been answered. A feast is a feast in Nigeria – they party hard and feast well! After Mass, everyone enjoyed drinking and eating various cuisines, and danced with joy. Indeed, a new wave of strong devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is ascending in Nigeria: she is the “Lady of the Moment.”
Closing ceremonies in 2016 for the Jubilee Year are planned at the Redemptorists’ National Shrine ofOur Mother of Perpetual Help in Ugwogo-Nike.
by Fr. Henry Omeike, C.Ss.R