On June 3, a native of Nigeria will be ordained alongside three other men at St. Joseph Cathedral, when the Diocese of Buffalo will welcome its newest priests to its fold. Currently serving as a transitional deacon, Robert Agbo, who came to the United States and settled in Buffalo in 2013, said he is looking forward to being able to serve God's people in this diocese and celebrate Mass with them in his ministry.
Deacon Agbo was born in Irabi, a small village in Benue State, Nigeria. Both his father and his mother came from pagan families. He noted that the only reason he is a Christian today is because missionaries from Ireland came to Africa and took his father to school, resulting in his father's status as the only Christian member of his family. When Deacon Agbo's father married his mother, she also became Catholic. He went on to study theology at St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Makurdi, also located in Benue State.
"I studied in Nigeria for 11 years. I studied for a diocese for six years, and I studied for a religious order for four years," Deacon Agbo recalled. "The religious order was from the U.S., so when I finished my theology in June 2012, I wanted to come to the United States to be a diocesan priest."
Deacon Agbo, who knew that there was a need for diocesan priests in the United States, did not come to the Diocese of Buffalo with a religious order, but rather on his own with a student visa. When he got to the U.S., he contacted Father Walter Szczesny, then the vocation director of the Diocese of Buffalo, since Deacon Agbo knew that there were already Nigerian seminarians and priests already living here.
"We had Nigerian people in Buffalo already, so I wanted to be where I could connect with people from my country," he said. When asked what the hardest part of getting used to life in Buffalo was, he said, "The most difficult part of it was the weather, because I came right at the heart of the winter. I came the first week of February. It was very cold, so the winter has been the most difficult part of it, even until now."
Aside from dealing with the colder weather, Deacon Agbo said the U.S. places much greater emphasis on individuality than the culture of Nigeria does, so there was a culture shock and a period of adjustment for him. Since people are more individualistic here, it is harder to get to know people here than it was back in Nigeria.
"Where I come from, everybody belongs to everybody else. But here, everybody belongs to himself," he said. "I was very lonely for a long time, because it is difficult to connect with people."
Before becoming a transitional deacon, Deacon Agbo served at St. Michael Parish in Warsaw in 2014 and completed his pastoral year in two parishes: St. Mark and St. Rose of Lima, both in North Buffalo. After being ordained a transitional deacon in September, he was assigned to serve at Immaculate Conception Parish in East Aurora, which is where he will remain until he is ordained to the priesthood.
"They are very welcoming," Deacon Agbo said of the parishioners he has served thus far. "They have appreciated the fact that I left my country to come here to serve the American Church. They are very friendly and appreciative, and that made it easy for me to blend and relate well with them."
In Warsaw, he engaged in daily preaching, and when he was at St. Mark's and St. Rose of Lima, he was teaching in two grade schools: St. Mark's and Our Lady of Black Rock in Buffalo. He also did ministry for the sick and homebound and started a Bible study group that is still around today. With the help of his pastor, he also did prison and nursing home ministry while serving in Warsaw. While there, his heart went out to the many young people who were in prison, as well as an older man who said he was in jail unjustly.
Once he becomes ordained as a priest, Deacon Agbo said he is most looking forward to preaching and teaching the Bible, both of which he is very passionate about and is eager to share with the other people in his congregation. "One of the things I want to do is, whatever parish I am assigned to, I would like to establish a Bible study group where I can really introduce people to the Scriptures, because my own spirituality was a very Bible-based spirituality, and I have found nothing more fulfilling than the Bible."