Foreign priest from Nigeria adjusts to new life in WNY

Wed, Nov 21st 2018 11:00 am
Staff Reporter
Father Robert Agbo.
Father Robert Agbo.

The Diocese of Buffalo takes pride in its rich cultural heritage. Masses are celebrated in 10 different languages throughout the eight counties, as well as signed English and the traditional Latin.

Christ the King Seminary welcomes foreign-born men who wish to study for the priesthood, with a number of current students coming from Poland, Colombia, the Phillipines and nations of Africa. Although trained to celebrate an American Mass in English and encultured to the American way of life, it can be difficult for these men to adjust to a church different from the church where they first experienced Mass.

Seminarians are often invited to study and serve the American Church due to an abundance of priestly vocations in their homeland that shadows the States. That's what brought Father Robert Agbo from his home in Nigeria to Buffalo.

"The reason I chose Buffalo was I already had Nigerian people here. I wanted to be where I would not be completely a stranger," he said.

The hardest part of coming here was dealing with the cold weather. "The weather is the opposite of where I came from, because Buffalo is very cold and Nigeria is such a tropical area."

He deals with it by abiding by the Serenity Prayer and accepts what he cannot change.

"If you find yourself in a place, you've got to learn to accept where you are," he said. "So, I accepted it mentally and psychologically. So, that prepared me inwardly to face whatever challenges would come. Then, realistically, I learned from people to dress warm and to make sure that you put the right heat in your room. So, that is what I did."

Looking out at a congregation during Sunday sermon is a lot different from what he saw in the pew as a boy.

"In Nigeria, you have more people in the church at one time than here, and the liturgy in Nigeria is longer and more lively than here. You have a lot of music and dancing, clapping of hands. But that is not the situation here," he said. "Then administratively, the priests in Nigeria are more in number than here. So, you have many priests in one parish. Some parishes have five priests, some have four, some have three, some have two. But here, you have one priests combining sometimes three or four churches under one priest, or many parishes are linked."

He realizes he cannot bring the Nigerian Church into an American parish, where the congregation is used to a homily of 10 minutes or less. But, he tries to bring the liveliness that attracted him to the Church to his parishioners.

"I try to bring some of the flavor into areas. In America, priests don't preach too much by quoting chapters and verses from the Bible. But, in Nigeria there is a lot of cross referencing of quoting the chapters and verses that will back up your point. I do a lot of that. And there is not a lot of singing here by priests, but occasionally I sing during Mass, not too much, but a reflection song that leads us into the homily," he explained. "These are two areas where I try to inject something from where I come from."

Father Agbo serves as parochial vicar of five parishes in Allegany County, with a predominately white congregation.

"They are very interested in the fact that I am from Nigeria. They try to ask me questions, ask me what it's like in Nigeria. Sometimes they say, 'Why don't you bring someone back? Maybe some day you could sing us a Nigerian song or cook us some Nigerian food.'" Someone asked him to make a video of his village, so he did that on Facebook. "A lot of parishioners are excited about it. They ask me about it all the time."  

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