21 August 2017
By Anne Schulte, SHCJ
In rainy Lagos, our first prayer that morning was “Thank God for a beautiful day!”
Over 120 SHCJ sisters and many members from the seven families, had all travelled from different parts of Nigeria and Ghana in order to be present for this special celebration on August 12, 2017. Around 9 am groups of SHCJ, family members and friends began making their way over to St. Gregory’s College and its beautiful school Chapel, for the Celebration Mass.
Promptly at 10 am the long procession into the church began, led by the seven SHCJ celebrants, the sisters, twenty six Monsignors and priests from different parts of Nigeria and Ghana where the sisters worked, and finally the Archbishop of Lagos, Very Rev. Dr. Alfred A. Martins. Inside the Chapel the families of the celebrants were in the front on one side, and the SHCJ sisters on the other side. Each Tertian sat at the end of the bench with her parents, or guardians, who, later would lead them up to the altar to be given to God for His service in Religious Life. The Chapel was full with some Sisters from other religious orders, and friends from different parishes. St. Joseph’s Church, Dodan Barracks, provided a very good choir with some of our sisters singing with them.
Before the Homily, Sr. Veronica Openibo, the Society Leader, went onto the Sanctuary next to the Archbishop, to call the four Tertians. Each was brought up by their parents or family member, and as they knelt at the front, one parent made a prayer on behalf of all, thanking God for their daughters, whom they now willingly give to serve God in the religious life. It was a moving moment in the Church. Then they went into the sanctuary and the Archbishop asked “What do you ask of God and His Holy Church”, the sisters gave their answer and then on behalf of the society, Sr. Veronica presented the four sisters “to all God’s people for the praise of God and service of the Church.”
In his homily, the Archbishop told the moving story about a very sick man in hospital dying of AIDS, who was anti religion and very angry with life, being sometimes violent. On Good Friday a priest who had done the service in the hospital chapel took the cross round the wards, and this man was frantically calling him to his corner, the nurses warned he could be violent and bite. However the priest went and the man kissed the face of Jesus. On Holy Saturday, the nurse called the priest to say the man wanted to be baptised. On arrival he asked the man “Why this change?” He said some sisters always came to the hospital they looked joyful, and looked with compassion in their eyes on him. He asked them why were they always joyful and they said, one word, “Jesus”, he said he wanted this Jesus, so he too, could be joyful! He received Baptism, communion and the sacrament of the sick. He died peacefully on Easter Sunday morning.
After the Homily the new Silver Jubilarians came up and renewed their vows, and were congratulated by the Silver Jubilarians among the sisters, who welcomed them into their group! Next the attention was turned to the Tertians, who were asked further questions as set out in the rite, by the Archbishop, followed by the singing of the Litany of the Saints by one of our sisters. Each Sister then knelt on the steps of the altar to pronounce her vows accompanied by two professed sisters as official witnesses, with Sr. Veronica receiving the vows. This was followed by the receiving of the ring, the symbol of Perpetual Profession, of a life dedicated to God to bring His love to all. The four new Perpetually Professed Sisters turned and greeted the congregation who responded with enthusiastic clapping of hands! Next they faced the Perpetually Professed sisters and sealed their oneness by making a Covenant together, each side promising to be there for one another and to share the God given gifts with each other and in their apostolates in the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, for the rest of their lives. A bit like the commitment a newly married couple make to each other for their life time. With warm greetings the Perpetually Professed welcomed each new member into the group. The joyful singing picked up the mood of all present as the Mass continued, concluding with the procession of smiling faces as it moved out of the church at the end. Outside the Chapel, excited greetings, punctured here and there with people trying to take photos of the different groups, starting with the celebrants beside the Archbishop, together with some of the priests and SHCJ, those taking photos then moved into family groups and friends even SHCJ communities celebrating their new finally professed member!
Meanwhile all were being urged to move to Holy Child College, to continue the celebration in the beautifully decorated hall, while the priests and sisters were invited for refreshments that had been set up for them in the Hall at St. Gregory’s College. Tables had been set up in the Hall at Holy Child College, some were for the families with their sister, who was a celebrant, and others took places as they came in. All admired the beautiful decoration mainly in a light green and cream colour in hangings from the ceiling and for the tables and chairs. Two beautiful cakes awaited the celebrants, one with blue icing for the new Perpetually Professed and the other in a silver colour for the Silver Jubiliarians! Various “cutting ceremonies” took place with the cameras clicking and, for those interested in tasting the cakes, each was given a small price beautifully wrapped with a red ribbon!
Then the beaded calabashes began to be shaken in rhythm with the drums, as a lively troupe from the Youth Group at Dodan Barracks, danced into the hall and onto the stage in colourful traditional costumes, and gave us an amazing display of athletic cultural dances! All were caught up in the exuberance exhibited by this exciting group of young people!
The afternoon ended with everyone taking to the dance floor, families, friends and SHCJ enjoying the Lively music being played by the DJ!, before people began to return home having had an memorable experience of celebrating the Perpetual Profession of Vows and Silver Jubilees of our SHCJ sisters.
In the evening, we all gathered together again in the Hall, the families and the sisters, for the usual evening entertainment, whereby we go on a geographical tour reaching the different states of the sisters and their families! Then the sister and her family members will dance up with their traditional dances and all will join in, with joy and laughter, as some are more expert at picking up new dances than others! Some refreshments were on hand and a few people were still putting their gifts onto the section set aside for each celebrant. Finally gratitude was expressed to all those who had worked so hard to make this celebration such a happy and memorable occasion for everyone, the celebrants themselves, their families, friends and the SHCJ sisters, this was followed by a closing prayer around 10pm, as we were mindful of those getting up to leave early on Sunday morning. A kind priest friend of one of the sisters, said he would say a first Mass at 4.30am for the early leavers, and another at 8am for those not leaving at the crack of dawn! A lively musical CD, with songs composed by Sr. Veronica Ufomba and sung together with the novices and other SHCJ, with music provided by a special group, played us out. as we left the hall in a tired but happy group at the end of a long day, in which we had celebrated the Perpetual Profession of Vows of Srs. Winifred, Itoro, Franca and Elizabeth, and the Silver Jubilees of Srs. Martha, Martina and Meggie.