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Albert Alos, Sowing the Seed. Personal Memories of the First Ten Years of Opus Dei in Nigeria (1965-75)

Reviewer: Diego de Jodar

The African Continent has occupied a very special place in St Josemaría’s heart. The first documented instance of his love for Africa and its people comes from a trip through Southern Spain, on Good Friday, 30th March 1945. That day, near Algeciras, from the top of the Tarifa hills, he saw for the first time the coast of Africa across the straits, and his thoughts turned to the souls waiting in that huge continent. “Can these straits be a barrier to Christianity?” he said with great emotion. “How much there is to do!” (AndresVazquez de Prada, The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. II, 2003, p. 480). As soon as it was feasible,Opus Dei was able to start its apostolic work in Africa: first in Kenya, and then in several other countries.

 

The book under review joins other testimonies about St Josemaría’s interest for Africa. In this case, the writer was a protagonist of the beginnings of the apostolic work in Nigeria. Starting with the story of his vocation to Opus Dei, Prof. Albert Alos guides us through the first ten years of Opus Dei in Nigeria, and St Josemaría’s constant concern for the members of Opus Dei in that country. Just a sample: “We also got a letter from Rome telling us that the Father [J. Escrivá] was praying for Nigeria. Someone had asked St. Josemaría in a get-together in Molinoviejo: how do you live the presence of God?”

 

And our Father replied that he was offering that get-together for Nigeria (p. 202). Thebook ends in 1975, the year of saint Josemaría’s death.

 

Through abundant and juicy stories narrated by the same protagonists, some of themalready deceased; we enter into a better knowledge of a great culture. Nigerian voicesexpress what was for them, their encounter with the spirit of Opus Dei. It is worthy ofmention too the invaluable testimony of the diaries kept during those years, speciallywhen it was written by Jeremy White, a Cambridge graduate who was the first memberof Opus Dei in Africa, though not the first African to join Opus Dei: “I once met him athis desk writing the diary and commended him for the detailed account of the day. Heanswered: “I am a historian; I am writing history”. He knew that these diaries would beread by people interested in the history of the Work in Nigeria” (p. 89).

 

The stories in the book reflect the “madness” of going to a country then falling apart. When the young Albert Alos meets the Dean of the Faculty, in the university where he is going to work, his boss tells him: “Do you know we are in the midst of a civil war? To my positive reply he added, and you still came to Nigeria. You are a man of faith. I think we will work very well together” (p. 110).

 

For the keen watchers of the Catholic Church, Africa is a Continent to follow closely. If the present growth rates in the different continents continue, in 2040 one quarter of the Catholic faithful will be Africans. Almost one hundred years ago,Christianity was still struggling to take roots in Africa, while now we may dare say it holds an important key for the future of the Church. And Nigeria will be a very crucial player in the future of Christianity, as one of every four inhabitants of Africa south of the Sahara desert is a Nigerian, living in the most populated country in Africa.

 

We should also congratulate Feathers and Ink, a young burgeoning Nigerian publishingcompany, for the good care and excellent design in the production of this book.

 

 

Originally published in STUDIA ET DOCUMENTA, Rivista dell’Istituto Storico San Josemaría Escrivá, Vol. 11 – 2017, pp 357-358

Blazing Moon, a Mural with Motifs from the Ordinary to the Extraordinary

A Review of Nwachukwu Egbunike’s BLAZING MOON

ByВ Uchenna Ekweremadu

In a world where very few are increasingly being looked upon to set the pace for the rest to follow, Blazing Moon jumps onto the stage with the intention of doing the very opposite. From the moment the curtains part and light comes up on stage, we are ushered into a strange world altogether. In this surreal world, imagination is unfettered. Nothing is impossible.

One could rightly guess that the poet deliberately placed MY WORLD as the first poem in this collection in order to clear any misconception that the reader might be tempted to entertain. And as such, one only has oneself to blame if one comes out of Blazing Moon feeling disappointed in any way. The first two lines make that point as clear as day: "Let me take you to my world/ my own creation." It is important to get one thing clear from the very beginning. At best it is paradisiacal, at worse it is fantastical. But either way, Blazing Moon is worth the time.

A discerning mind wouldn't miss the politeness in the first line, a politeness which is by no means patronizing nor persuasive. Suffice it to say that this first poem, MY WORLD, is the border at which the reader must pause and decide whether or not he or she really wishes to take that dive into the poet's world:

"Where the sea washes the streets
And little ones swim in the sands
Where mothers wash on sand banks
and fathers till the seas"

Moreover, the warning comes early enough as the poet reminds us it is his "own creation". Perhaps sensing that a few would still be disappointed with this book in one way or another, the poet forewarns us to not expect something of the extraordinary. Simply put, this world of his is one where:

"so much is unknown, unsaid
where there are no mysteries
no boring into the skies
no flight into the earth."

And to buttress that fact, the poem, PAINT YOURS, reminds us that the creator is at liberty to use paint on his canvas according to his discretion. If you are dissatisfied with the end product, instead of "staring and moping" and loving neither "the brush nor canvas", there is only one thing you can do: "Paint yours" (pp 14).

MY WEAPON is a plot to do mischief; a deliberate scheme to undo certain persons by simply drowning them in their vanities. This poem reminds me of Decius, one of the murderers of Julius Caesar. At the peak of their plot, the schemers begin to fear that their target might not show up at the Capitol on the D day. Decius steps in claiming to know just how to lure Caesar to the Capitol, assuring his colleagues that he can

...ersway him; for he loves to hear
That unicorns may be betrayed with trees,
And bears with glasses, elephants with holes;
But when I tell him he hates flatterers,
He says he does, being the most flattered.
Let me work;
For I can give his humour the true bent,
And I will bring him to the Capitol

The schemer in MY WEAPON is as much a gamesman as Decius. He will "make them think:
They do better
They say better
They are the best

I'll make them:
Want their way
Seek their way
Get their way"

Argue when they're wrong
Argue when they're right
Argue when they're neither right nor wrong"

He intends to fly them too close to the sun until their wings of wax melts and send them crashing down on hard rocks after which he will

"make news of their failure
I'll be the megaphone of their defects
I'll enslave them with my lies." (pp 41)

SMOTHERED TO ASHES is a requiem specifically for Baga but also for all the other war ravaged towns that don't make it to the news as would Boston or Paris or London. The poem shines light on human (and media) hypocrisy of treating "third world" tragedies differently from that of the "first world".

"When news broke in Boston
Theirs was an instant reprisal
No speeches made
Justice was served with no appetizer

Yours was otherwise
Lost in the Savannah of Borno
None to sing of you...

And while both government and rebel forces keep trading blames and claiming victimhood, Baga is "Tossed in the middle/ as the sacrifice to the gory god of blood." We learn that even when it makes the news; it is only for a day before some other news upturns it. But it is the resignation to fate, the learned helplessness in the last stanza that shatters the heart:

"One more
Who cares?
Numbers only create numbness."

As Joseph Stalin would say: the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.

THE TWEET OVERLORD is a beautiful poem. It is a mockery of blind worship and followership; the deification of the 1% by the 99%. The poem mirrors the asymmetrical relationship between idols of the social realm and their fanatical worshipers. This poem makes you wonder: what makes one a god? Is it the ability to stand apart out of the sea of humans? Is it the ability to acquire certain degree of notoriety irrespective of whether it is in a good or a bad way? Otherwise, why would these blind followers be:

Amplifying my uncommon sense
Applauding my gaffes
Admiring my imprudence
? (Pp 99)

That has become the trend in this age of hero-worship. I am reminded of Edgar Allan Poe who holds that "No hero-worshiper can possess anything within himself; that man is no man who stands in awe of his fellow-man". In general, the very smallest of mankind are the class of men worshipers. Not one out of this class has ever accomplished anything beyond a very contemptible mediocrity.


In another way, THE TWEET OVERLORD touches the core of human nature. The unanimous majority who lacks the courage to differ cannot help but notice and even revere whichever individual that has the effrontery to upset the norm. But why admire someone else's imprudence if not that we are implicitly imprudent despite society's continuous efforts to ensure we don't fall out of line? Understand this, and you will no longer wonder why good girls fall for bad guys. Might it be more prudent if "followers" took up their own voice rather than wanting to hop on their idols wings even to the irritation of the latter? Maybe, maybe not.

I tweet
They retweet

I tweet
They follow

I tweet
They hashtag

I tweet
They tweetfight

I eat
They starve

Perhaps it is necessary to make it clear that the persona in Blazing Moon is not a total sadist who is only bent on shaming and ridiculing others. As a matter of fact, it might be more accurate to speak of "personas" rather than a "persona" since the voice in Blazing Moon switches between that of a male and a female's and between the first person and second person. These personas are also interested in the environment, the society, geopolitics, ethics and religion.

Blazing Moon looks like a mural with motifs drawn from the ordinary to the extraordinary; from the natural to the supernatural. With hardly any room for frivolity, the world it intends to depict is so orderly it seems dangerous. And that, for me, is a cause for concern.

 

"Blazing Moon" was the Joint 2nd Place Winner of the 2015 ANA Prize for Poetry