Interview with an SSPX Missionary Priest on the Work and Progress in Nigeria

February 03, 2018
Fr. Peter Chrissement Baptising a Baby

The Priory of St. Michael the Archangel was founded on August 26, 2012, in the city of Enugu, in southern Nigeria.

Since December of 2013, three priests have been collaborating in this magnificent apostolate. The priests currently stationed at the priory are Fr. Pius Nanthambwe, a Malawian missionary, Fr. Benedict Laignelot, and Fr. Peter Chrissement, the prior. He graciously responded to some questions from FSSPX.News.

Father, to begin with, can you tell us about Nigeria?

Nigeria is a tropical country with a population of nearly 170 million, organized as a federation. Over 150 languages and dialects are spoken in the country. English is the official language, and those who are able to go to school learn it there. The Northern States are Muslim – many practice Sharia law – and the Southern States are more Christian – Catholics, Anglicans, and an increasing number of sects. The Ibos are an ethnic group living in southeastern Nigeria. They were converted to Catholicism by the Holy Ghost Fathers and are very active, open, and cheerful despite the great poverty in which most of them live.

When did the SSPX come to Nigeria?

In 1992, at the invitation of different groups of faithful, the SSPX began sending priests to preach retreats. Then a Nigerian priest, a friend of the Society, allowed a priory to be opened in 2012. We rent a house in Enugu, in Ibo country, where we celebrate Sunday Mass outdoors because the chapel is too small. From this priory we regularly service Lagos, the country’s largest city with a population of nearly 20 million; Abuja, the administrative capital; Port Harcourt, and Onitsha, the country’s four most important cities.

And how did things go during your first months in Nigeria?

Not very well! The priory was put on standby almost as soon as it was opened; the priests had to leave the Nigerian Father all by himself because the living conditions were impossible and one of them was sick. So we came back for a second try. We lost a few pounds pretty quickly. I caught some of the region’s specialties: malaria, salmonella poisoning, and various infections… Fortunately, our resistance won out and everything is back to the way it should be now. I should point out that we had to change cooks, because the one we had did not understand the rules of hygiene.

That must have solved most of your problems…

Unfortunately, not completely. The Nigerian Father left us. Then the administration services caused us some trouble. I have to say that the day I arrived in Nigeria, my luggage with all my travel and visa documents disappeared. Fortunately, the welcome we received from the Catholics disoriented by the changes following the conciliar revolution more than made up for our troubles. After all, in a mission, as in any apostolate, it is normal to suffer a little if you want to obtain any fruit.

What were your first tasks?

Surviving! We began with practically nothing. But, with the help of God, we were able to improve our living conditions little by little and start exercising our apostolate.

And are you settled in now?

Although we still lack a base so long as we have not built the priory and church, I would say our ministry is established and is starting to be well-structured.

Speaking of which, how are you organized?

Both at the priory and in the four chapels we service regularly, solid teams on site actively assist the priests who come. Under the responsibility of the local coordinator, several faithful provide catechism classes, excellent altar service, the choir, the sacristy, the distribution of the bulletin, a lending library, religious articles for sale, and transportation and lodging for the priest…Often they have to bring everything, set it up, and then take it all down, even at the priory where Mass is always celebrated outdoors. It is quite an organization.

And is it bearing fruit?

Oh yes! Except for one city, where there are fewer Catholics proportionally speaking, the numbers and conviction of the faithful are increasing everywhere.

Could you describe the different Mass centers?

At the priory of Enugu, we have about thirty faithful at Mass every day. There are 175 on Sundays. In Lagos, the economic capital, we celebrate Sunday Mass for about a hundred faithful.

And how do you get there? Nigeria is a big country…

The priest flies there on a local airline every Saturday for confessions and Mass. Then on Sunday, confessions are at 7:00 a.m. and Mass at 8. This leaves time for conferences and catechism, or to jump on another plane to go say Mass in Abuja or Port Harcourt.

Every Sunday?

We go to Abuja and Port Harcourt every other week. The numbers are steadily rising, and we have about forty faithful in each city despite the makeshift “chapels”.

Is there a Mass center near the priory?

Yes, in the city of Onitsha, where we go by car. It takes two hours in ideal conditions, four or five when the rains turn the road into a river of mud. There are a good fifty faithful, but we are going to have to find another chapel soon, because the owner has kicked us out.

From Nigeria, can you go to other countries?

Yes, absolutely; we go to Ghana and Benin three or four times a year.

Can you tell us about your parishioners? What are they like? What brought them to the SSPX?

Most of them are fervent Catholics scandalized by their parish priest or disappointed with the liturgical emptiness of the New Mass. Some of them are converts from Islam or one of the many sects that continue to multiply. Others discover us “by chance” because we take the time to hear their confession or listen to what they have to say. Afterwards, they come back, and discover the Mass. Their amazement at the Roman liturgy is the most beautiful answer to the stupidity of the inculturation being encouraged today.

Do you have any anecdotes in particular about them? Or about you?

Yes, definitely, dozens and dozens! They would fill a book. But in the evenings, I have neither the time nor the talent and courage to write them down. Our mentalities are so different.

Do you have some memories?

One morning, a little after 6:00, already beginning to sweat, we were in the chapel for our daily meditation. Suddenly we were disturbed by the sound of a shovel. But it didn't last long, and we thought nothing more of it. Later, after breakfast, we saw some smoke near the guard's station. Our guardian, all smiling, was roasting over a tiny fire the prize he had killed with his shovel: an enormous rat!

So, did you taste it?

No, we would not have dreamed of depriving our guard of his prize by sharing it.  I was reminded of the siege of 1870, when poor Parisians had to eat rats to survive. After all…

You mentioned your cook. What was so peculiar about her?

One day on one of Fr. Alain-Marc Nély’s visits, he explained to her for the umpteenth time that thawed food cannot be refrozen. The next morning in the freezer, we found the meat she had thawed the day before but decided not to cook. “Sorry, Father. Sorry!” she always answered in such circumstances. You understand why there were ups and downs in our health…

And have you had some surprises in your apostolate?

Oh, yes! Near one of our Mass centers, I was informed of a practically abandoned old lady whom the faithful were taking care of as well as they could. She lived in a one-room clay hut on a mat, next to a goat, and ate what people brought her. After the faithful spoke to her, she asked to be baptized, and one evening after Mass, after an accelerated formation, I baptized her according to the rite for adults.

How did the ceremony go?

You have to experience these moments to understand the meaning of Providence! Imagine this village lost in the bush, night falling, the mosquitos, this tiny little old lady who does not understand a word of English, me (I speak it so poorly), the faithful trying to translate, her trying to answer. We had to take a break to answer the call of nature: she was 97! Then we began again, as well as we could. The ceremony finally came to an end, and there she was, a new child of God! A big child! Soon after, God came for her soul. Another worker of the eleventh hour! She was given a beautiful funeral Mass, quite a contrast to her poverty-stricken life, like another Lazarus.

Has the crisis of the Church affected Nigeria?

Yes, it has affected the entire world. But the effects of the conciliar revolution were late in coming to this country which is very attached to its traditions, still not very susceptible to Modernism, and until recently, protected from the major media outlets. I have to admit that the clergy is still solid, despite a few sad exceptions. Many Catholics know their catechism well, which proves that it is still being taught fairly well. The seminaries are overflowing with candidates, even if many are there to escape their misery and obtain a comfortable social status. We have to be very vigilant about this when vocations come to us.

The north of the country is in the hands of Islamists, and the south is in the hands of brigands; do you feel safe?

As our faithful are located in the southern half of the country, we do not go any farther north than Abuja. So for now, Boko Haram, the Muslim terrorist sect, is not an issue. But the increase in thefts, violence, and kidnappings is forcing us to be prudent.

Are there special precautions you have to take in your daily life?

Most expatriates live in ultra-secure camps and only leave the camps with an armed escort. You can imagine that in such conditions our apostolate would be neither possible nor affordable. We avoid any unnecessary risks, we do not put on a show of wealth, we try to be unpredictable in our travels, and we place all our trust in our guardian angels.

How are your relations with the ecclesiastical authorities?

They were rather tense at first. According to a local bishop, even our baptisms were invalid! But after we met a few priests and the bishop of Enugu, His Excellency formed a better opinion of us. He does not understand the reason for our positions, but he seems to admit that our efforts are for the good of souls, even if our ways seem to him “impenetrable”…

What does the SSPX have in mind for Nigeria now?

There is only one plan, but it is important: to build a Mission worthy of the name.

How are you going to proceed?

With the support of our superiors and the generosity of some faithful, Providence has enabled us to purchase land right in the center of Enugu, an easy location for the faithful, most of whom have no car.

And what exactly would you like to build on it?

Based on the experience of the Society in other mission countries, we want to build a priory big enough to house a large team of priests and brothers, and a few postulants and young volunteers, a church large enough for 5 to 600 faithful and beautiful enough to draw the attention of the thousands of Catholics who will pass by it every day, a co-ed elementary school, a high school and boarding house for boys, and a house for the Missionary Sisters of the Society.

And how far advanced is this project today?

Today we are in Phase 1, which has three points. The first step is to build the priory so we can finally have a peaceful refuge where the priests can pray, rest, and prepare for their apostolate. Next we will build a temporary church on the site of the future school big enough for 300 faithful. And lastly we will prepare the land, which means leveling, access work, and a water evacuation system – when the rain comes down it is a flood here – securing walls, etc.

Have you estimated the cost of the construction?

For now, the plans for the priory have been completed, and the cost of the building is estimated at about 200,000 euros.

How can people help you?

Three things.
Let’s begin with the most important…
Pray! Everything I just said is very material and earthly, and missionaries know well, alas, that it is an important part of their activity. But we all know that there is only one goal: to seek out souls and save them. “Spread the Reign of Our Lord,” Archbishop Lefebvre preached incessantly; he was a missionary who knew what he was talking about. In these difficult conditions, we can only persevere with the help of your prayers. More, our efforts and preaching only bear fruit because at the same time there are souls making sacrifices and praying for the Missions. So pray, and especially have the children pray: they are so powerful with God.

And then?

Give! It sounds abrupt, but missionaries are beggars: it keeps us humble. Do you realize that two euros is a day’s wages here? Imagine what we could do with 50 or 100 euros! Is it not worth going without a little something in order to do so much good?

And lastly?

Make the Mission known! Be apostles wherever you are, even with people who seem far from Catholic Tradition and God. Many are touched by the work of these Fathers, brothers, and sisters, who have left all to devote themselves to the most abandoned. Who knows? God can use that to bring them back to Him. A good deed is never lost. Do not hesitate to contact SOS Africa, the association that was created to support us and that regularly provides news from the Mission for those interested.

A final word for our readers, Father?

May Our Lady, Queen of Apostles, intercede with Her Son to bless your generosity!

To help build the Mission:

  • By sending a check made out to “Missions de la Fraternité Saint-Pie X” to the following address: SOS Africa – 5 rue de la Ceinture – Bâtiment B8 – 78000 Versailles
  • By sending a wire transfer with the memo “for Nigeria”
    IBAN: FR76 3000 3008 1400 0372 6218 101 – BIC: SOGEFRPP
  • By making an online donation: (tab DONS)