Rev. Fr. Peter Ayangbola has clocked ten years in priesthood. He is the Parish Priest of Blessed Iwenetansi Catholic Church in Magbon, Lagos. In this interview, he tells SULEIMAN IDRIS about his journey so far, as well as other national issues.
Could you take us through the journey of 10 years of priesthood?
I will tell you it’s been just one name, God Almighty, all the way. Right from my inspirations at the beginning, God has a way of doing his things in mysterious ways that we can’t even understand. The first book of Samuel chapter 16 where we saw how God called David, we saw how he sent Samuel to proceed to the house of Jesse to choose the anointed one.
The first son of Jesse came out, very handsome and God told his prophet, I have not chosen him, seven sons of Jesse all came out and none was chosen. We all read what transpired later that led to David being chosen as the anointed one. It has been all through the journey.
What was your inspiration?
Firstly, God again! As a young boy I was a Mass servant in our Catholic church in Surulere and we observed closely how priests live their lives; we admired how they celebrated the Mass and the desire was there to be like one or two of them. One funny inspiration was when Seminarians come on break, they take over the job of the mass servants and we murmured among ourselves that ha, they have come to change us. So, a number of us then decided that we would like to visit their school where they are meticulously trained. Honestly, my aim was to go and see and come back. At that period, I already got admission into the University of Lagos and coupled with the fact that we were required to undergo a series of interviews before you are considered fit for the seminary, suddenly a letter came to our parish in Surulere. I got to the church one day and was told that I had a letter, when I got wind of the content, I told them l was already a student of UniLag. But the parish priest then called me and counselled me that I should give it a trial, that I should go and see and that If I don’t like what I see I should come back. I was glad what I saw and today I am a living testimony of what I saw at the seminary.
Did anyone attempt to dissuade you from becoming a Rev. Fr.?
Yes, when you decide to go to seminary, people will try to discourage you, even family members, they will tell you that we know that you cannot cope with the life of a catholic priest. They said I love birthday parties and other ceremonies, but my father told them to leave me alone to pursue my dream. I was focused on what I wanted for myself and that greatly helped me.
Could you share some memorable moments these past ten years with our readers?
There were times when I felt the journey was over. After my year two at the seminary, I was posted to one SaintMatthew Catholic Church to work as a seminarian. There, I encountered a cook called Luke that I asked myself if he was sent on an errand by forces that wanted to test my resolve. Right from the first day I came to submit my letter, he took on me in a way that left me perplexed. When I told him I came to submit my letter of internship as a seminarian, he asked what the big deal about that was. I was harassed with a barrage of questions and he told me to get out of his sight at the end of the day. On my resumption day also, he kept me outside for hours and I sat on my bag until the Rev. Fr. in charge of the parish came and saw me and ushered me in.
He asked me to leave my bag for the cook to carry; he also asked the same cook to show me to my room, and when he led me to the room, the way he dropped my bag on the floor shocked me. I told him there were breakables in there and he retorted, wetin concern me. Throughout the six weeks I was there, I leant lessons of patience and self-control that helped me in my journey as a priest up to this day. An ugly incident happened two days after completing my seminarian duty. I felt my journey was over because of the way I reacted to the behaviour of this same cook. When the Rev. Fr. came back and saw what happened, he asked me to pack my belongings and leave immediately. When I asked for my report, he said he would get it to the Archbishop himself, there I made up my mind that my dream had come to an abrupt end, but to the glory of God, when I got my report it was an excellent one. It was a life-changing experience for me.
You have shepherded several parishes as a young priest; how do you manage this?
It has been tasking and interesting. This is my fifth parish and the first parish I will be the priest-in-charge. I will clock five years here by July. Leading a parish in a suburb is so wonderful, we have grown together over the years and to the glory of God I am proud of where we are now. When I came here with my mentality of someone coming from an urban area, I knew I had to reset that mindset to enable me to function here and I did and I marvelled at the rate my parishioners picked up that spirit and we have done marvellous things together ever since.
What lessons have you learnt all these periods?
One important lesson I learnt is that God is always there for us; the psalmist will say ‘many are the trails of the just man, but from them all, the Lord will rescue him.’ On the road to success one must not waste time throwing stones at every dog that barks at you. Humility in the sight of God will lead one to greatness everywhere. If you knee down before God, you can stand before anybody anywhere. In all that we do, we should strive to put God first and allow his spirit to direct our thoughts and actions. I have leant to advise my people everywhere that the best prayer you can offer to God is to allow his will to prevail in your life. That was the prayer Jesus Christ prayed at the most trying moment of his earthly ministry in the garden of Gethsemane.
What has been the turning point in your life?
That was the day of my ordination as a deacon in December 2010. During the procession to the church, I looked at myself and said na me be this, is this true? My status was about to change. After six months I would be ordained a priest. It changed my perception because after that I was now addressed as a Rev. Peter. Each time people called me Reverend I found it hard to remember I was the one they were referring to. Some had to come and touch me to let me know they were talking to me. The same happened the day I was ordained a priest, I got home that fateful day and my dad called me Father, I said shooo; my own papa, he knelt down and asked me to pray for him. I say it should be the other way round, but he reminded me that my status had changed and that I am also his father now. It then dawned on me that my story had changed.
I have been transformed to the glory of God and I was so humbled by that encounter. I told God that day that I don’t want anything of my own, but let him do whatever and however he desires and pleases. I said I emptied myself and let him fill me up. That was a serious turning point in my life and God took over and ten years, it’s been from glory to glory.
I can see a gigantic project under construction here; what is your experience here in the past five years?
When I resumed here in July 2016, the church was at the foundation level that my predecessor started. The day I arrived here I went to the chapel in the Rev. Father’s residence and prayed a simple prayer asking God to show me the way to go about my duties and leadership of this great parish. It has been wonderful ever since, but not without challenges. One woman whom nobody thought could do anything stirred up the spirit of the people when she donated half a million naira for the project. God used her and a host of others to bring the project to where it is today.
Who and what have been your greatest influence here?
The number one is God Almighty and the fellow priests who have seen the worst conditions, but keep urging me not to relent in my vision and mission, as well as my parishioners. Time will not allow me to mention names; they have been faithful in all that was required of them.
What is your assessment of the youth of today?
Let me start with those in my church here, there are some of them who have the zeal and dreams to change the future and fortune of this country, but the means are not there for them to achieve their desired goals. While others who are fortunate to have the chance and the means mostly lack the vision to do so, most of them just want to make money easily. Some also actually don’t want to do hard work. While growing up we learnt that you must work before success, most of the youth don’t want to hear about work these days. Some even come around and complain of the lack of jobs and when you find one for them, they return to tell you that job is tedious and they stop. Nigerian youth must put more effort in pursuing their goals and be more responsible.
What is your advice to the govt on the nation’s security situation?
The government at all levels must rise up and perform their roles. The security of lives and property is the fundamental role of the government. Security is paramount in a developing country like ours. Without security, there will be no development in any sphere of the country’s sector. What we hear nowadays is that companies are folding up and relocating to neighbouring countries. The level of insecurity is unacceptable. It is not good for the country. If they are serious about it, they will secure the country in a matter of days. If they can send troops to protect elections for candidates, why don’t they send similar battalions to go after these kidnappers, bandits and insurgents that are threatening the peace and stability of the nation?
Your advice to youth who aspire to be priests like you
Let them be prayerful and focused and not allow anything to derail them from their goals because we have more distractions now than when we were growing up. Anyone who desires to attend the seminary must be determined, dedicated and committed to the salvation of souls and pray for God’s will. Be ready to embrace the virtue of obedience and humility and love for authority of the church. Don’t just embark on the journey just because you see others going there.
You are a busy priest, how do you relax?
Relaxation comes when there is time. I take a rest, listen to good music, I find time to visit the beach, once in a while the cinema too and watch football matches. I play table tennis and basketball and also watch programmes