The Powerful Priest

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Growing up, the image of what a powerful priest looks like was given to me by the society I found myself.

In the society I found myself, if you are the type of priest that preaches very slowly and calmly, you will be called Fr “Ogbono” (to mean you are too slow and dull). They don’t matter if your preachings are deep, people switch off once you are the one preaching.

If you are the type of priest that preaches well but doesn’t quote the bible or shout, or “prophesy”, You will be called Monsignor or Vatican One Father (this is to mean that you are old-school).

And there is this other grouping, those priests generally regarded as the “powerful priests”. For most, it is usually because they shout, quote bible verses, give what people term as “prophecy”, speak in tongues, etc.

Upon reflection, I noticed that while growing up, there are things we usually want to hear from preachers. We want to hear that we will pass our exams even when we did not read. That God will destroy our village people. That we will have jobs, spouses, money, and cars. If there is a priest praying for us in this way, we usually tag him “Charismatic” or “Holy Ghost” priest.

As a young boy then, I watched how people usually revere the “powerful priests” more. The charismatic group in the parish will usually invite them for their programs no matter where they are.

People always want the “powerful priests” to bless their cars, houses, and sacramentals. And people even pay tithes directly to them and always go to them for prayers.

If you organize a parish retreat, parishioners will only come in their numbers if they hear that one of those “powerful men of God” is invited. Why?

If you want to raise funds, you must shout and promise things under what is called “prophecy” before you will see people coming to donate. Why?

Even in our harvest and bazaars, church committees in their bid to be creative to make parishioners bring out money, they will sell apples, handkerchiefs, and candles. They will tell people, that if you buy the apple and eat it, you will have the fruit of the womb. One apple goes for 50k. If you light the candle and pray, all your problems will be over. One candle goes for 30k. If you use the handkerchief to clean your face, no devil will recognize you. One handkerchief 20k.

And you will see people rushing to buy those items. And truly, if you don’t use that means, people will not easily come out to donate. Why?

As a seminarian, we were taught that the prosperity gospel is a “feel good” gospel and that it does not build faith. But we were faced with the fact that if we do not preach prosperity, people will leave the church.

Truth be told, many Catholics have left the church for other churches because they feel the priests are either Ogbono or the Vatican one who is not giving them a “financial breakthrough“.

So, right from the seminary, the type of priest the Seminarian want to be is influenced by what society wants.

The African version of Christianity ties everything to the minister. The minister is so powerful that he can condemn you to hell. The minister can do no wrong because he has been elevated to the rank of a God. Even the choice of who to marry, it is the minister that tells you if the man is your “missing rib” or not. That is how powerful Africans made their ministers.

We all need to sit and rethink what we call worship. For many, church services are considered powerful when the preacher makes them shout “Amen” 100 times, jump around killing imaginary devils and preach in ways that excite and make them roll on the floor.

This is why churches are cropping up every day. Some will argue that faith is growing. That is not true. A lot are for the money and fame. And they know what people want, so they give it to them. Unfortunately, there is a way in which people become so used to fake that if you present them with the real thing, they will laugh at you and call you fake. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the real ministers end up copying what the fake ones do so as to remain relevant in a world that sees fake as true.

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Fr. Kelvin Ugwu
Fr. Kelvin Ugwu
Fr Kelvin Ugwu MSP is an influential Nigerian Catholic priest on a mission in The Gambia.

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