“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Fr. Aniedi Okure, OP, Executive Director of Africa Faith and Justice Network.
An Unexpected Call
Fr. Aniedi Okure, OP, grew up in Nigeria in a very large Catholic family. While teaching science and hoping to go to medical school, he received a postcard in the mail from his sister who was a nun. On the back of the postcard was an image of St. Dominic. He wrote back and forth with the Dominican Institute a few times before they invited him to come for an interview. He anxiously asked if he would be able to be a Dominican and also become a doctor. He jokes now about how they said yes, though they knew well that as soon as he started to learn theology and philosophy he would forget about becoming a doctor, which is exactly what happened.
Fr. Aniedi went home, resigned from his teaching position, and became a Dominican friar. Since joining the Dominicans, Fr. Aniedi has served as a campus minister, hospital chaplain, as well as in a parish, in the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees office at the USCCB, and now as the Executive Director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network.
Order of St. Dominic
The Dominican Order was approved in 1216 by Pope Honorius III. St. Dominic wanted to form a group of well-educated men who knew theology to preach against heretics, particularly the Albigensian heresy. He decided that rather than living in a monastery, the world would become their monastery, sending men two by two to the big cities and universities to preach the Truth.
The Dominicans focus on Truth—“veritas”—and contemplation, both in praying and in studying the Gospel. Today, there are over 6,000 Dominicans worldwide, including male friars, nuns in monasteries, active sisters in the world, or laity.
Allowing God to Take Over
Fr. Aniedi recalls a story from when he was working in campus ministry at the University of Ife in Nigeria. A nun that he knew wrote and asked if he could help her brother who was attending the law school at the University of Ife, and had left the Church. Fr. Aniedi went to him over and over again, talking and trying to convince him to come back to the Church. But the young man kept arguing. One night, Fr. Aniedi left the young man’s dorm room and said, “Okay, God, I’ve done my best. If you don’t do your own, I’m out of here!” These heated discussions had been going on for months, and he did not know what else he could do.
Weeks went by, and Fr. Aniedi did not visit or talk to the young man. Then one Sunday, Fr. Aniedi was on the altar saying the Introductory Rites for Mass, and the young man walked in. Fr. Aniedi was shocked and started stammering. He recounts now that he learned a valuable lesson from this experience, quoting Isaiah: “It is you, O Lord, who has accomplished what we have done.” He tells us that once he realized his limitations and handed it over to God, God took care of it. Fr. Aniedi states that this was a very humbling, but also an empowering experience: “A humbling one on the one hand, but it also gave me the power to realize that even in our own limitations, God can use us to accomplish great things.”
Fr. Aniedi emphasized the importance of mission: “Mission is very important, far more important than it has ever been.” He explains that because of technology, the whole world is becoming linked. We can now call or Skype someone around the world with just the touch of a button. This allows people to communicate, but as Fr. Aniedi explains, it also allows ideologies, especially stereotypes and biases, to transfer easily between people. Whole cultures are being shaped through this influence of technology, so it is the Church’s duty to minister to these communities worldwide. Fr. Aniedi uses Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi to explain the call to evangelize culture: “The purpose of mission is to evangelize culture. Why? Because culture shapes us. How we’re thinking, how we’re seeing, culture affects how and what we hear. Culture affects how and what we relate to.” For Fr. Aniedi, this means that we must be a constant witness and presence of the Gospel in our world. Mission does not only mean traveling to other parts of the globe, but also to simply live out the Gospel in your everyday life, inviting others to see the truth.
Continuing to Be a Presence
Fr. Aniedi is beginning his fourth year as Director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network, an organization that focuses on advocacy work for Africa and educating people on the truth. He explains that after all of his work between ministries, from being a campus minister, a hospital chaplain, working in a parish, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and now at the Africa Faith and Justice Network, he knows that he cannot solve every problem. As much as he wishes he could change the world, he knows that he can have an impact on small things, one at a time. He emphasizes the fact that he just needs to be a presence, someone who is there for others and accompanies them on their journey. He states that this is at the heart of mission work: “confronting the values of the world with the truth of the Gospel, over and over.”
The United States Catholic Mission Association (USCMA) is the only association of US Catholic mission-sending and mission-minded organizations and individuals. Dedicated to supporting and promoting the domestic and international mission efforts of the Church in the US, USCMA provides a forum in which people with a variety of experiences in mission can find a welcome, celebrate their faith, reflect on the signs of the times, foster leadership within mission organizations, explore emerging trends in mission, stimulate creative mission practices, and challenge one another to live lives more deeply rooted in mission spirituality.
USCMA is a membership-based organization. Our members are involved in establishing the direction of the association and supporting its life. To learn more about the United States Catholic Mission Association and to become a member, please visit us at our website http://www.uscatholicmission.org. Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/uscatholicmission) and Twitter (@USCMA_DC).