The day was Friday, November 2, 2018 and the time was 7pm. The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, His Eminence, John Cardinal Olorunfemi Onaiyekan was scheduled to celebrate an evening Mass in his chapel at the Pope John Paul II Center, Abuja.
In the congregation was a non-Catholic Christian, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs who had requested the Cardinal to celebrate the Mass on his behalf on a day like this. A large retinue of his associates, most of them non-Catholic had also accompanied him.
Friday, November 2, was All Souls’ Day, set aside to honour all Christians who have died. It is a day to remember deceased relatives and is observed a day after the All Saints’ Day. Cardinal Onaiyekan, like most other Catholic faithful, had during the day, celebrated Mass at his parish and this was just another evening Mass at the chapel. It turned out a very special Mass.
The Pope John Paul II Center, Abuja is a sprawling multipurpose edifice situated at the heart of Wuse 2 district, in the beautiful capital city of Nigeria. It was built in honour of the most celebrated Pope in recent history.
It’s an hour to commencement; preparatory activities are noticeable inside the Chapel. Mass servants are seen putting things in place, members of the choir are taking positions, just as the congregation is adding up rapidly.
As the expectation of the arrival of the highly respected Cardinal created anxiety among the seated congregation, distant melodies filtered into the chapel, growing into a crescendo and filling the atmosphere with soul-lifting music. The chapel choir was setting the tone of what was to become a night of unforgettable spiritual experience.
The Catholic Mass is a real celebration in every sense of the word. Music and singing are an integral component, creating the proper ambience of solemnity and beauty. Music and singing give joy and spiritual uplifting to everyone: the priests, the ministers, the congregation.
As Cardinal Onaiyekan went through the order of Mass: the sermon, the Eucharist, the prayer and the Communion, the thought of Dumo Lulu-Briggs celebrating Mass with Catholics on All Souls’ Day welled in the minds of many. Is Dumo a Catholic? Why would a renowned politician remember the dead in an election season when he needs the votes of the living?
This puzzle was resolved in the sermon, when Cardinal Onaiyekan asked the congregation the intriguing question: “What are you doing on earth for God’s sake”?
It was a most ambiguous question which could either mean that we have no business here on earth or that our business on earth is to please God. This question threw light on why Dumo Lulu-Briggs was amidst Catholics celebrating Mass on All Souls’ Day. He was there for God’s sake; to do the bidding of his creator.
What can man do on earth to please God, if not service to humanity? How can man please God, if not to serve the living? For the Rivers State born philanthropist, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, service comes naturally. It is his nature.
“There are two important moments in the life of every human being: the day you were born and the day you discover why you were born. I discovered that I was born to serve people and we don’t have to wait to be elected into any position to do that service”, he is quoted to have said.
Dumo Lulu-Briggs was in Mass with his associates to contribute to the building of the new Abuja Cathedral of the Catholic Church. He was there to once again demonstrate his commitment to the worship of God and service to humanity. He was doing what he knows how to do best. It was a glorious moment.
On another occasion, Dumo Lulu-Briggs said that “We must begin to understand that it is the fundamental principle of life that when God gives you an opportunity, you have to find a way to spread that opportunity. But if you want to be able to do that at a humongous level as I seek to do, then you may wish to have the opportunity of managing state resources in a way that enhances the living standard of the people”.
Right inside the Chapel, I muttered a silent prayer for God to install Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs as the Governor of Rivers State on May 29, 2019 to His glory and the happiness of Rivers people.
Cardinal Onaiyekan reminded the congregation that death is a leveler and we all have a date with death. He admonished that the rich should not live in opulence at the misery of the poor, saying that it is only on this earth that we can work our way to heaven.
“Although my Church and office do not permit me to be partisan or to support any candidate for a political office, nevertheless, I am very much interested in the politics of the country because Nigeria can only achieve greatness under good political leadership” Cardinal Onaiyekan said, enjoining all to pray for Nigeria and emulate the life of Christ.
The Mass ended and we were ushered into another hall of the multipurpose building for a sumptuous dinner and more rendition from the choir that has metamorphosed into a gospel orchestra.
The occasion was attended by friends and associates of Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, among them were High Chief Bekinbo Soberekon; former Deputy Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Iyk Oji; former Rivers State Commissioner of Water Resources, Elder Lolo Ibieneye; MD, Platform Petroleum Ltd, Engr. Osa Oweidollor; DG, Copyright Commission, Afam Verity Ezekude and former member of the Federal House of Representatives, Hon Bernard Mikor.
For me, I was entranced in the infectious personality of Cardinal Onaiyekan, who I was meeting for the first time. I have been his admirer for a very long time, following his activities at the national political and religious scenes. I am captivated by his deepness of thought, forthrightness and his simplicity.
It was a night that shall remain fresh in my memory for a very long time as I spent an hour with Cardinal John Onaiyekan and Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs at Mass.