We’ve reduced our services due to bomb attacks in Borno —Catholic priest
In the heat of insurgency, the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, Borno State, suffered two bomb attacks, which destroyed the entire church. However, the church braved the odd and recently built a more befitting edifice. Reverend Father John Bakeni, who oversees the reconstruction of the church, in this interview with KAYODE BODUNRIN, speaks about the challenges and the new St Patrick Cathedral.
The bombed Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri obviously is wearing a new look, what is your take on the development the church has experienced in recent time?
It has not been easy, but I believe God has taken control. The new edifice is a product of great sacrifice of my co-workers, my brothers and the parishioners. There were difficult moments, such as running out of funds and making efforts to make things work. Sometimes, it’s not just about the building, you have other things to take care of. So it has been quite a challenge. But right from the beginning, God took control, He provided the means using us as instruments, but I am happy for the development we recorded and that it has been successfully dedicated. It is the seat of the Bishop and as I said during the service, in 2001, we had two bomb attacks here. If you look at some of the buildings, you can still see the destruction and this particular church has been the focus of attention, everybody looks at it because it is in the centre of the town. In terms of challenges, we try to be proactive and do what we can do in terms of security, but I think beyond everything, God has been watching over us. Again, in terms of challenges, we are ever alert and vigilant. You know that if you are living in the North-East, you must be alert.
Despite the development, the church seems to have the challenges of capacity. How have you been able to address this?
The building has a capacity of 3,500 people. In the past, we used to have five masses every Sunday, but we are down to two now because of the experience we had. So, if the population increases in the future, we may go back to three or four masses again so that people can worship with convenience. Also, cathedrals are not just about sizes, it is the seat of the bishop and the smaller it is, the easier to be maintained. So it depends on the resources available. But it is not easy to maintain such cathedrals. It comes with a lot of responsibility and maintenance.
What are the qualities that stand the church out among its peers?
The first structure was actually built in 1945. But the diocese was established in 1966. It used to be an out station of Jos Diocese. Then later in Yola, then it became a vicarage and independent at the end. The church has produced four bishops so far.
The previous government said it released cash to ameliorate the effect of the insurgency. How will you react to this?
No. With due respect to the last government, when we celebrated our golden jubilee, the governor supported us in cash and kind. I am aware; he hosted and accommodated all the visiting bishops. He supported us with ten air conditioners and generating sets.