December 4, 2018, was a milestone for Very Rev. Father Jude Ifeanyichukwu Onyebadi. That day marked his 25th year in priesthood. In his 50s, the resident priest of SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Issele-Azagba, Aniocha North Local Government Area, Delta State, has been a cleric for nearly half of his life. For all who know him, he is the image of a good priest.
Priests are easy embodiments of humanitarian works. Fr Onyebadi is no exception. For him, humanitarian work is practical, everyday engagement, a never-ending assignment. That is why even in his various roles and responsibilities, he is perpetually exploring new ways of rendering further service to humanity. Recently, he was able to achieve that feat with the official launch of Petscholar Onyebadi Foundation “to help children have a great future and take charge of their life.”
The vision and mission of the initiative, as he meekly submits, is helping youths to actualise their future. “It centres on youth and children. This foundation would help them to be focused irrespective of the present security challenge in the country,” he says.
Really, it is something he has been nurturing for some time now. And characteristically, he is forging ahead without any razzmatazz. “The foundation is something I would be doing gradually and quietly,” he avows “that’s why I didn’t want to make much noise about. I kept this close relationship with my parish priest and then he said this kind of thing can’t be kept under the carpet.”
To help people, Fr. Onyebadi believes that is his calling.
He gives a pertinent anecdote: “I remember an incident that happened when I was still in secondary school. That day I was going to the church. Under one bridge around the railway, I heard the cry of a newly-born baby; I went to see what was that and it was a baby girl. Instead of going to church, I took the baby to the police station.”
Similar recurrence over the years that cast him in the role of the Good Samaritan gave him the conviction about his purpose in life. “I am called to save lives,” he reiterates, “to help people rebuild their lives.”
His passion for charity was further strengthened by his appointment to the Justice Development and Peace Commission, an arm of social justice for the church whose purview includes youth development.
When all the facts of his life are fitted together, one can see clearly that he is not an accidental priest.
Born and raised in a Catholic home, he simply followed in the footsteps of other members of his family, as he affirms: “My parents had their convent/seminary relationship; everybody in my family went through the seminary experience.”
Perhaps more influential on the direction his life took was his childhood interaction with reverend fathers. “Particularly an Irish priest, Father O’Hara of St Paul’s Catholic Church, Ebute Metta, Lagos, who was quite close to my family and we followed them to serve mass,” he reminisces. “It was not difficult for me to follow the reverend fathers to continue to pursue the vocation.”
As for his priestly odyssey, his trajectory was a telling story. Admitted in 1978 into the St Theresa’s Minor Seminary, in Ibadan, five years later in 1983, he proceeded to teach in the junior seminary at St Felix Seminary, Ejema Aniogor. In 1984, he entered spiritual year at St Peter and Paul, Ekpoma campus. One year later, he was admitted into the senior seminary where he was until his ordination as a priest on December 4, 1993.
However, like all humans, he has his share of trials, even as a seminarian.
He recounts: “We were in training when I was accused of the things that I wasn’t guilty of, and I tried to defend and I thought no one was listening to me. Little did I know that the authorities knew that I was not guilty of the accusations. They would later reveal to me that they knew I wasn’t guilty.”
The accusation subsequently earned him probation that delayed his ordination for one year.
What exactly was his travail? “When I was being challenged for it and given probation on that. It was enough to say I would leave, knowing that I was being wrongly accused.”
The accusation might at first, sound trivial to the layman, but for a priest in training, it is a big cross to bear: “The implication is that if you were not where others were, you would be held responsible for any bad thing done outside the school compound.”
He recalls with nostalgia, the consequence: “I would have been ordained in 1994, but for the one-year probation. My juniors became my mates. And even four days to the ordination, I was informed that my name wasn’t included in the list. When the good news came that I would be ordained, there was nothing more exciting.”
In retrospect, he considers the episode a normal challenge. “I actually overcame the challenge. If I didn’t overcome it, I wouldn’t be here today,” he says, observing that the trial prepared him for “things I would face in future.”
Then, there was also the kidnap episode whereby he was abducted and held hostage for four days.
The sum of the trials, minor or major, is the increased milk of human kindness in him. Hence, when he flagged off his foundation, he wasn’t venturing into new terrain. He was simply institutionalising a facet of his calling, something he has been doing informally for years.
Already, Father Onyebadi, has a testament, having already raised two boys to become reverend fathers, both of whom are neither blood relations nor related to him.
“Rev Mark finished secondary school; he didn’t have a plan for himself, then I was newly ordained and just appointed into the JDPC; he ran to my house and started living with me. Rev. Martins too also came to live with me. When young boys finish secondary school, they come to live with me and I channel their lives.”
As a priest, he cannot remain aloof from the plethora of purported sexual abuse cases currently rocking the Catholic Church worldwide.
He gives a balanced perspective: “I see it as the devil at work; there is no debate on whether it is true or not true; however, sometimes, it is overblown. It is not actually the way it is being painted if you really go in-depth.”
He, however, also points out: “Evil is evil, no matter how little it is.”
The Catholic priest concurs that the sex scandals are a challenge to the Church. “I believe that if those people involved in this abuse scandal are guided spiritually, they can stop it because nobody is above mistake” But he rejects doomsayers’ forecast of a bleak future for the Catholic institution, saying: “As a matter of fact, the church has passed through more difficult times than this in the past.”
The church, he declares, is doing what it should do in addressing the issues. “These are things that have been done several years ago before the level of awareness came in place. Take, for example, the case of a cardinal who committed the offence when he was a young priest. Now, the church will address the issues as it comes. However, addressing the issue will be done in particular cases. Then, admonition and warnings can be given on general terms.”