Having grown up in a region where Catholics are a minority, Richard is no stranger to hostility and misunderstanding. As a priest he hopes to change hearts and minds, starting with his own people.
Life was good when Alewa Richard Luka was a child. The village where he lived, in Plateau State, central Nigeria, enjoyed nice weather, and the people were close and hospitable.
But those friendly relations were tested when, years later, Richard announced that he was going to the seminary. “Some people thought I had lost my mind, some people thought I was possessed, some thought I needed help. It was like the whole village was against me. Only a few individuals, apart from my immediate family members, encouraged me. What bothered me most was my friends. These are people who grew up with me, only sleep used to separate us. But they all ran away.”
His uncles, although they tolerated Richard’s Catholic family, they were horrified at the idea of him becoming a celibate priest. “My coming to the seminary led some of my relatives to shun us. I can remember one of them saying to my father that if anything happened to any of us, we should not call him.”
Being the eldest of six, Richard was expected to marry and have children, to extend and care for the family. “Their main concern is that if I took this step there was the possibility that I would influence my younger brothers to follow me”, he explains to ACN.
The family schism
The result of this “family schism” was dramatic. As Richard’s father, who he describes affectionately as a confidant and best friend, lay dying in the hospital, relatives still gave them the cold shoulder, and during his funeral they drove up the pressure.
“They sat me down and said ‘you will not go back to the seminary. You are staying with us here. We are going to look for a wife for you. Your father is dead, so you need to stay and take care of the family, since you are the oldest child.’”
When they realised his mind was made up, they dropped the subject. But only for a while. When another uncle died, again during the funeral, they brought it up again. The situation is a source of suffering for Richard: “I am hoping and praying that someday they will change their minds. Sometimes I don’t feel like going home, and I have more peace in the seminary, because nobody tries to change my life.”
The priesthood is not the only thing Richard hopes to open minds and hearts about, there is a general misunderstanding of Catholicism among his people, the Mwaghavul, who mostly attend Protestant or independent Christian churches. In fact, he sees this as part of his mission when he is ordained.
Hope for his people
“I want to serve the people with everything that God has given me. I want to be a mouthpiece of God, especially for my people. If you go to my village, you will see that they will insult the Catholic Church. They say it is the church of drunkards.” This fact used to upset Richard, but after researching he discovered the reason behind the animosity:
“When I was going through the history of Catholicism there, I realised that actually those who accepted the Catholic missionaries were the ones that had been rejected by other churches. Those with two wives, and those who drank alcohol, for example. One of my reasons for wanting to serve these people is to let them know that they have the wrong impression about the Catholic Church. It is a Church that is open to everyone. And that goes back to Christ, because when Christ came, he did not die only for the Good, but for everybody, and that is the mission of the Church.”
Nigeria is a country beset by violence, crime, kidnappings, and interethnic and interreligious violence, so he knows he will have his work cut out for him. Providing his people with hope will be high on the list.
With poverty rampant in the country, however, financial aid is the only thing that allows Richard’s singing to continue to ring out within the seminary walls. Aid to the Church in Need continues to provide much needed assistance for the necessities of the seminarians and the upkeep of the building. “I am pleading to benefactors not to get tired of us, but to keep on, because if they don’t there is a possibility that tomorrow there will be nobody left in the seminary”, says Richard.