Saturday, January 26, 2013

A life of duality: Author, Rev. describes the personality of a priest

Rev. Igwenwanne will be on hand today to sign copies of his new book

Rev. Fidelis Igwenwanne signs a copy of his new book, “A Man of God and for Others” at Hasting Book Store Friday. Jon E. Sterns/News-Herald.
He loves watching the Travel and Food channels. His favorite food is Fufu, a dish from his native home. He is a grandson, a son, and a brother to many. He is welcoming with a humble demeanor of an enlightened man. He understands his fallibleness and embraces it as he moves between two worlds — the world of man and the world of his faith.
Rev. Fidelis Igwenwanne currently serves as the Catholic Priest Chaplin at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix. Before moving to the state’s capital, Rev. Igwenwanne was the priest at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Lake Havasu City.
Tomorrow he will sign copies of his fourth book, “A Man for God and for Others,” at Hastings, 321 N. Lake Havasu Ave., between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
His latest publication gives the reader a unique and broader understanding of the priesthood and, as he puts it, “the personality of the priest, especially his duality as a man of God and an ordinary man.”
Rev. Igwenwanne was born in Nigeria to parents who converted to Catholicism. He is the second eldest of seven brothers and a sister. When Rev. Igwenwanne talks about the duality of a priest’s life, he talks from experience. It is not the first time he has had to wade through two different realms.
“Growing up I was very close to my grandfather,” Rev. Igwenwanne said as he smiled and looked up remembering his grandfather. “He was a good man — a family man — a spiritual man devoted to his traditions.”
Rev. Igwenwanne’s grandfather practiced an African Traditional Religion. Although hard to pinpoint the exact theology and practice, it is believed that at its core the traditionalists believe the general role of humanity is to live in harmony with nature and super-natural forces. Often, regional religions used gods to represent trees, animals, the moon and sun, with a grander or more powerful deity overseeing the small gods.
Rev. Igwenwanne practiced the beliefs of his grandfather and the faith of his parents. He was living in two worlds and it wasn’t until what he calls “the age of reason” that he started making sense of the beliefs which tried to define him.
“At about the age of seven I started making sense about my religion,” Rev. Igwenwanne said. “We had white missionaries that were visiting, and I admired the way they said mass.”
The reverend explains that a priest represents a visible imagine of God.
“I started seeing the difference between the two faiths when I was about 12,” Rev. Igwenwanne said. “So I started focusing more on Christianity.”
Rev. Igwenwanne experienced what is best described as his own individual conversion to faith while he was in high school. “Even though I had my faith from my parents, I had to make my own religious decision to follow my parent’s religion instead of my grandfathers.”
Rev. Igwenwanne said he had to pray secretly because he didn’t want anyone to know. “But I stared to develop a personal relationship with Him,” he said.
His vocation did not come easy; in fact, he didn’t want to become a priest. “After college I felt the calling to become a priest but did not follow it and I became a teacher,” Rev. Igwenwanne said. “I wanted to have a girlfriend and raise a family, but I just couldn’t do it.”
While teaching mathematics and economics for the West African Examination Council, something kept gnawing at the future priest. “Something was driving me to the priesthood,” he said.
The reverend became more involved with church. “I became a lector in church, than an alter server,” he said. “I also joined some societies.”
Unknown to his father, Rev. Igwenwanne had come to a decision. He would put his future in God’s hands – his first act of true faith – Rev. Igwenwanne applied to seminary school. He was accepted, but the conversation with his father would not go as planned.
Like many African families, great prudence is placed on the hierarchy of a family – set up like a monarchy. The father is the king, and it is not the place of a son to question his authority, or defy his request.
“This was the first time, and last time, I have ever challenged my father,” he said.
The scene is easily set up. A young man, Fidelis Igwenwanne, approaches his father.
“Father I am going to seminary school,” Rev. Igwenwanne said.
“Hell no,” his father said.
Igwenwanne stood his ground. “It is your fault,” he told his father.
“Why,” he asked.
“Because you forced me to say the prayer of St. Jude every morning,” he replied and Rev. Igwenwanne’s father left.
“My father returned and looked at me and said, ‘If you are going to seminary school – don’t come back unless you are a priest.’ And that was the end of that,” the future priest said.
His father’s reaction is easy to understand. A priest does not make money and cannot help support the family unit, and with Rev. Igwenwanne’s gift for mathematics and economics he could have earned a good living and help financially with the family.
“I struggled in seminary,” he said, “but I remembered the words of my father and it helped me to refocus.”
Rev. Igwenwanne said many men who come to the seminary do not become ordained. “It took me almost nine years to become a priest,” he said. “So by the time you are ordained, you’re reborn — I have never doubted my vocation.
As Rev. Igwenwanne writes in his book, “a priest is a sympathetic man because he himself lives in fault,” he said. “He is not perfect. He knows sin is hurtful.”
What makes a priest? “His heart,” he said, “a man of courageous heart.
“It is not the physical,” Rev. Igwenwanne continues. “If I dressed in regular clothing, you would not know that I am a priest.” It is his heart, the manner in which he carries himself and how he treats others; his spiritual devotion to God and his devotion to his fellow man and woman that are dead giveaways that this is not an ordinary man, but a man of God.
“The idea of the book is to reintroduce the priesthood to people,” he said. “To give people a deeper understanding and broader appreciation of the nature and the personality of the priest.”
Rev. Igwenwanne holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Theology from Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, and a Doctorate Degree in Philosophy from the same university; he received his United States Citizenship in 2011.
Rev. Igwenwanne also will be holding mass on Jan. 7 at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church, 1975 Daytona Ave., at 7 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Copies of “A Man for God and for Others” can be purchased at the gift store and the reverend will be available to sign copies.
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