By Tony Adibe
The drama entitled “The Priest” is set in the rural community called Ekwereazu apparently in Ahiazu Mbaise Local Government Area of Imo State which prides itself as the Eastern Heartland.
The period of the play is perhaps the time in history when so much ignorance and lack of awareness dominated society especially the Christian community; a period when the Bishop, as the sole administrative and spiritual leader of a Catholic diocese could, for a frivolous petition or complaint from a parishioner, pass judgment and sanction a Parish priest without giving him a fair hearing.
Although it’s a work of fiction, it no doubt reflects a lot of Catholic priests in some parishes in those days, maybe to date!
Thematically, “The Priest” is quite an impressive play that portrays the wicked, mischievous, scandalous, and evil conspiracy of a tiny clique led by the notorious Parish Council chairman, Elder Kadurumba. The conspiracy is targeted at Rev Fr Francis Chikadibia, the parish Priest of St Louis Catholic Church Parish in a place called Ekwereazu, Imo State. The idea is simply to pull him down as a way of teaching him the lesson of his life. His “offense” is that he does not succumb to the undue, negative, pressure from the corrupt members of the parish Council of Elders whose stock in trade is to exploit and oppress the poor widows and the helpless in the parish. At a point Kadurumba and his callous cabal dare to confront Fr Chikadibia in his office one-on-one, warning him to stop donating palliatives to the poor widows or else they would let him know that they own the Ekwereazu community and “we would put you, Fr Chikadibia in a sack of pepper!”
But their threat does not move Fr Chikadibia, who never relents in giving material, physical and spiritual assistance and protection to the helpless widows and the needy in the parish. As the devil doesn’t get tired easily, the ‘elders of mischief’, led by their grandmaster of evil, Kadurumba, decide to set a trap for the priest, using Kadurumba’s fair daughter, Oluchi.
Even when the ‘trap’ failed to catch the ‘prey’ because Fr. Chikadibia belongs to the club of morally upright priests, the conspirators still go ahead to submit to the Bishop of the diocese, His Grace Bishop Kizito, a damaging petition which assassinates the character of Fr. Chikadibia, accusing him of having carnal knowledge of Oluchi. “He is ‘touching’ and molesting my daughter; abomination has given birth to twins,” Kadurumba says.
Without setting up any Committee or Panel of Enquiry to investigate the spurious allegation, and without asking questions to the priest, Bishop Kizito suspends Fr Chikadibia “from any participation in the Holy Eucharist.”
Consequently, what follows is wide jubilation by the evil plotters led by Kadurumba as news of the priest’s suspension spreads like wildfire in the entire Ekwereazu community. “We have done it,” Kadurumba said to Ichie Marcellenus, one of his fellow plotters. However, the poor widows and the needy in the community don’t take the news kindly as it provides them with a period of grief.
But the period of jubilation and celebration is cut short by the sudden strange sickness that strikes Kadurumba amid his jubilation which turns to humiliation.
“Help me, what’s happening to me? Kadurumba is dead!,” Kadurumba manages to speak as the weight of the strange illness overpowers him. He develops some revulsion like an epileptic patient. He becomes unconscious and falls, and his daughter, Oluchi places him on a mattress where he remains and begins to confess how he recruits his fellow “elders of mischief” to pull down the priest. “Let me tell you something, my Lordship, I planned it with my elders,” Kadurumba tells Bishop Kizito as the other elder conspirators all fall and faint.
While begging for forgiveness, Kadururmba discloses how innocent the priest is and how he uses his daughter to set him up. Now, it’s as if the law of Karma is an aggressive motion, sparing no one. Few of his co-plotters who come around to see him all fainted, watching as their leader, Kadurumba transits, in a disgraceful manner, from the land of the living to the great beyond.
Meanwhile, Bishop Kizito in his humility has to quickly apologize to and recall Fr. Chikadibia, to his parish. Good deeds, as represented by Fr Chikadibia, have their reward; the same with bad works, as reflected in the likes of Kadurumba and the others. Jesus, The Christ summarized it thus: “You reap what you sow!”
The drama was one of the activities scheduled to mark the passing out of the 53 graduating students (2016-2022 set) of the Mater Ecclesiae Seminary, Nguru, Aboh Mbaise Local Government, Imo State founded over 40 years ago.
Commenting on the drama, the Rector of Mater Ecclesiae Seminary, Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Emmanuel Nwogwugwu said that every movie is an act imitating life or life imitating an act.
He said that the drama “is showing that in some parishes, certain false allegations are made against the parish priest but at the end of the day, the truth comes out.”
He said that though the audience/spectators might see most members of the cast as females (girls) due to their costumes, but the entire artists are made up of boys.
The Rector further explained that the management of the institution keeps a “holistic training not only in academics but also in other areas of knowledge” to make sure that the students develop their best abilities and skills.
Speaking during the thanksgiving mass, the Rector urged the “men in a black suit” as he described the graduating students, never to forget their identity as seminarians, and to beware of prosperity preachers who hardly talk about the salvation of the soul but focus more on prosperity as “that’s not the way the traditional churches did it.”
Dr. Nwogwugwu criticized the random spread of churches in every nook and cranny of Nigeria without a corresponding positive impact on the moral and spiritual lives of the citizens and the country.
He expressed worry about the huge number of 23,000 registered churches in Nigeria, according to the Corporate Affairs Commission, which he said outnumbered the number of schools in the country.
In a comparative analysis, he said that Switzerland has only 23 churches while Finland has less than 30 churches.
He said: “Many churches all over the place have not led us anywhere. From the popular MCC Junction in Owerri to Toronto Junction, Owerri, there are 36 churches. From Owerri to Mgbidi Junction, there are 96 churches. Churches everywhere in Nigeria yet we are the most despicable people on earth. We are cheats, tricksters, and corrupt everywhere in the country. There are killings, armed robbery, banditry, kidnapping, ritual killings, cultism, protests, agitations, and others. He added: “There is a difference between spirituality and religiosity.”
He told the crowd that there’s no easy way out in Christianity, emphasizing that “A cross-less Christianity is Christianity without Christ, hence there must be that commitment to get it right”
The Rector condemned the attitude of some Catholic priests, who he said have derailed from the main mission of their calling and ordination.
“Even among we Catholic priests, some have gone to receive traditional chieftaincy titles which contradict their priestly ordination as Reverend Fathers. At times, when you call them Father they pick offense and tell you to address them with their traditional chieftaincy titles. And I wonder which is greater: is the ordination performed on the priest by the Bishop or the native title performed by a traditional ruler who kneels before a bishop or a priest for blessings and prayers? It baffles me.”