Most Rev. Dr. Francis Obafemi Adesina is the newest bishop in Nigeria. He is the 3rd Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ijebu-Ode. From being a Rector of the Major Seminary of Saints Peter and Paul in Ibadan; he was appointed a bishop subsequent to the resignation of Most Rev. Albert Ayinde Fasina upon the attainment of the retirement age of 75.
Pope Francis named the 55-year-old priest as successor to the erstwhile bishop after a four-year-long wait in search of an episcopal leader for the diocese. His rich portfolio of academic qualifications and experiences that spans over 29 years of his priestly ordination is worthy of note.
Besides his priestly studies in philosophy and theology at the Major Seminary of Saints Peter and Paul in Ibadan, the scripture scholar subsequently obtained a licentiate in biblical theology at the Pontifical Bible Institute and a doctorate in Sacred Scripture from Pontifical Urban University in Rome, amid other academic qualifications.
As a priest, he has held a number of pastoral and administrative roles including as a Formator, Parish Priest, Chaplain of the Renewal of Spirit, Pastoral Centre Director, Pastoral Planning Diocesan Coordinator, Diocesan Secretary, Director of Arts and Culture, as well as Dean of Students in the diocese of Oyo.
He spoke on his priesthood, experiences, role of the church in governance, as well as other contemporary issues.
What was your growing up like and what attracted you to priesthood?
This question certainly sounds as if everything was pre-prepared. Attraction to the priesthood came much later. The gift of the priesthood comes in with a seed of grace that God himself has seeded in the heart of that person that he calls. I believe that before I was created, and knitted in my mother’s womb, God himself had designed this destiny. However, as I grew up, I discovered this destiny because as I grew up, I made a choice about what I wanted in life. I wanted to be a pharmacist, and I already wrote my JAMB and passed. Suddenly, I went for a recollection; a retreat with youths and I started thinking seriously beyond being a pharmacist; what other thing can I do? Can I give better quality to my life? And so this idea of becoming a priest came; I resisted it. But, one day, I went to my church in Akure, which happens to be the cathedral. There I encountered a long queue for confession, and the priest was so tired; he left because he was the only one and I couldn’t get confession done on that day. I returned the second day, it was the same, at that moment something told me, ‘if you were a priest today, you would have been helpful’. And from that very moment, I knew God was calling me to the priesthood. I only followed the dream until I was ordained a priest. So, that’s what I call a seedling.
How has it been, are you fulfilled, are you happy, do you have any regrets?
Certainly, I don’t have any regrets. It has been a wonderful journey so far. I have had one of what I can call the best ministry in the priesthood. I was ordained on 14th of October, 1989. We were two. The first place I was assigned to work was the cathedral. I worked then with a priest now Monsignor Joseph Faniran, who inspired me so much. Very eloquent, young man then, and he inspired me, and just coming fresh from the seminary, I put all the skills of my education and studies into preparing homilies, seminars and talks. I was busy, and so, I loved giving my life and service; that’s all I wanted to do. After that, I was transferred to another parish, the Pro-cathedral where I was with the Vicar General, now late, Monsignor Joseph Taiwo, may God rest his soul. Under him, I also learnt to be a serious pastor; going to out-stations for Holy Masses, meeting people’s need, and in every of these moments, I saw myself yearning for more. I didn’t feel I was losing anything because I had a company of friends, male and female; people supporting me, praying for me; and so, my journey in the priesthood has been a wonderful blessing to me and many people. This is not to say that I didn’t have times of difficulties and challenges, but with the same faith, I have always overcome, till this very moment.
You are dressed as Bishop of Ijebu-Ode. You have on your zucchetto, your cross is seating elegantly on your chest; you are a two months old bishop. So, how do you feel about it?
Well, I think I’m lost for words because it’s like a great honour that I do not deserve; it’s like a great burden placed upon me. This represents a special calling within the church. As a priest, I couldn’t dress this way, but as soon as I was appointed bishop, I could dress this way. If you look at the dressing from the head to the toe, they symbolize martyrdom; that is the calling for a bishop. A bishop is a pastor who gives his life for his flock, just like Christ gave his life for the whole of humanity, and so, this cross is an emblem of my ministry. There is no cross that is light to carry. If this is fashioned in gold and silver, even if I fashion it in wood, it will still be a cross. Without the cross, there is no crown. The cross is the heart of our salvation, to remind me that though the going may be tough, the mission will be hard. Christ who has carried the cross and who asked me to carry mine after him as a body in the church, will certainly be the one doing it in me and through me. So, that is why the church dresses me in this robe, to remind me. It’s like a physical Sacrament to remind you of what you are and who you are supposed to be for the flock.
You chose the Motto:”Lord make me an instrument of peace”, a famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. Don’t you think that this motto is common? What is the relevance of the motto to your office as a bishop and to your flock in Ijebu-Ode?
I think I need to read something out to you. (Reaches for his phone). Before I chose this motto, I reflected so much on the Diocese of Ijebu-Ode, and I reached the conclusion that they had waited for a bishop for a very long time, and in the process of waiting, they composed this prayer; if you will allow me to read it, you will see why I chose that motto. This is the prayer for the new bishop in Ijebu-Ode, and it goes thus: “God the father, we thank you for the gift of our Diocese; for all the blessings we have received from your hands, for your bountiful mercy and love. We thank you for our bishop, Most Rev. (Dr.) Albert Ayinde Fashina, our priests, religious and laity of this Diocese whom you have chosen and are contributing in no small measure to its growth. We ask that you renew with eternal life all our fore-bearers, especially, our pioneer bishop, late Anthony Sanusi who has laboured for the growth of our Diocese, and has returned to you. At the twilight of our bishop’s tenure, we beg you dear Lord that you guide with your Holy Spirit the appointment of a new bishop, through the counsel of the Holy Spirit, choose for us a bishop after your own heart to shepherd this flock you have raised in this land. Give him strength when he is weak, courage when he is afraid, hope when uncertain, and faith in doubt. Shower him with your love and divine wisdom so that he will govern your people according to your mind. May we be open to the one you appoint for us and ready to collaborate with him, for the greater glory of your holy name. Make him a good father, pastor and manager of persons and resources. Make him a selfless leader who will lead our Diocese to greater heights in every way through his ministry. Make us a people whose goal will be you alone, our God. Let the light of your face shine on him, so that he will seek your face in, and through us, whom you have entrusted to him.” (This is the root of the motto). Now, when I read this prayer, I was moved that this Diocese is in peace, and longs to continue to be sustained in the peace of Christ, and my name being Francis, I thought I should take after my Patron Saint who is the emblem of peace in the world, because it works well with the mission that I have in this Diocese.
According to Bishop Emmanuel Badejo’s homily at your episcopal ordination, Bishop Albert Ayinde Fashina, handed over 66 priests, one deacon, spread across 38 parishes and quasi-parishes, as well as 37 seminarians, 10 men and 14 women religious congregations, seven secondary schools, three nursery and primary schools, four community health centers and hospitals to you. Now you have been an animator, formator, scripture scholar, rector, sportsman. How do you intend to bring these experiences to bear in managing the diocese with a collection of parishes when you have only been a parish priest for only two years, and also oversee the supervision of the hospitals, schools and the congregation?
It’s very simple. The church is a continuum. Bishop Fashina, who handed over to me has all these structures put in place; he received from his own ancestors and it worked together. It is my duty to come in with my own God-given graces to oversee what is there and consolidate them. The mission will be defined according to the needs of God’s people. Thank God I have those experiences; one as pastor, and as one-time administrator of the seminary. I think this will come to bear from the time I am beginning to visit all these institutions and parishes and we will be able to discuss together.
How would you rate the first term of office of President Buhari?
The first term of Buhari’s Presidency is scored low by me. I believe like many other Nigerians that we voted him into power hoping that he is a man of integrity that he is; no doubt about it, but when a man claims that he is a superstar of integrity, and he is not able to keep his household in order. We have so many allegations of stealing going on under his watch, and he is not communicating effectively with Nigerians on these matters. So, it will be very hard to free him from the allegations of the people. On the issue of security, we are doing abysmally terribly; it’s not what we expect. Nigeria has never been this insecure. On the economy, maybe 50-50 because I am not an economist; I can’t give a judgment, but all I can hear people say is that times are hard. We feel that in the church, we feel it in the streets. I wish President Buhari can be more open because there are lots of intelligentsias in this country. There are lots of people who can help him run his government. But, he seems to be running some exclusive government, trusting only and believing only people from his clan or perhaps the North that he knew in the past. So, that lack of openness has also denied us the growth we deserved in his first term.
So, what message do you have for him in his second term?
Well, my hope and my desire for him is that in this second term, he should be more inclusive in his government. He should be more open-minded. Knowing full well that he cannot come back to rule this country ever again. He should use the second term as a great opportunity to do those things to leave us a legacy on the part of unity, on the part of security and on the part of an inclusive government. He should communicate effectively with Nigerians. A leader who is not able to effectively communicate loses even those he governs, and he is losing people every day. But, I wish he can communicate. Let him have broadcast, let him enter into dialogue with people; and then, we are able to assess him on whether he is fit to rule us or he is not fit to rule us. I think generally, if he’s not just a secluded man, he must be hiding something for not discussing with Nigerians. So, we hope that he will listen to the cries of Nigerians and he will bring in all their requests into his governance and make Nigeria a better place for all of us to live.
What role can the church play in enhancing governance in Nigeria?
The church can play a very good role. The church is not in politics, but the church is part of the political movements. We can do this by not only praying for our government, but by also encouraging and challenging our political leaders. I, on my part have taken it up to engage the governor of this state, challenge him publicly and privately. If the Catholic bishops in Nigeria do same in their own area, and make sure that we are speaking on behalf of the poor, not just on behalf of ourselves. Again, we would be speaking not just on behalf of the Catholic Church; but we shall be engaging them on the entire social order. Even though this has to be done prudently and perhaps maybe in a palliative manner. The bishops will also use all their conferences to address the state of the nation; that is the social engagement to some extent.
In your ministry, you have had the first order as a deacon, a second order as a priest, a third order as a bishop; are you hoping for the fourth order?
Nothing! (Laughter). There is no fourth order. This is the last order in the Catholic Church, and I am pleased and I am blessed that God has called me to share in the fullness of the priesthood.