Deacon Denning Achidi has wanted to be a part of the long and rich history of the Catholic Church, ever since he realized the depth of the faith at age 12.
Born in Cameroon, Deacon Achidi was raised in his father's Presbyterian church. He admits it had little effect on him.
"I just went to church on Sunday as a Presbyterian because that's the thing we did," he said. "We just went to church to obey our parents. If you didn't go to church you would be called a pagan and wouldn't be able to eat breakfast or lunch."
During his vacation time, he would visit his maternal grandmother, who took the lad to her Catholic parish for daily Mass. She even had him pray the rosary and sing hymns, which he did out of love for his grandmother.
"As it kept happening for a while, I realized I was having some connection to the new-found faith - the Catholic Church. I knew there was something in this Church that was deeper, that was at least 2,000 years old. This seems to be the longest (denomination) that has existed in the time of Christ. There has got to be something more to it," he thought.
He decided to attend Catholic Mass with his mother one Sunday. That's when the prayers and hymns and traditions started to click with him. "The sight of it just sort of moved me. I saw kids my age going up to receive Communion. I was like, 'They're receiving Jesus.' The reverence that I saw in the Church signaled to me that someone and not something has been consumed.
I told my mom right after Mass I want to become Catholic."
After joining a catechesis program and being received into the Church, he became active as an altar server. He found the group of teens who helped at the church to be a very fraternal group who encouraged each other in the faith. It brought him closer to the Church and closer to the altar. Spending time in a vocations group at the parish helped him decide to become a diocesan priest.
He spent time in a high school seminary in Cameroon, until his family relocated to Washington, D.C. After earning an associate's degree Montgomery College in Maryland. Deacon Achidi, moved by the Oblate charism of service to the poor, came to Buffalo in 2012 to do his pre-novitiate studies at D'Youville while living at Oblate-run Holy Angels Parish. A year of discernment brought him to Christ the King Seminary in January 2015, where he once again decided to pursue the life of a diocesan priest.
During his five years of studying for his master of divinity degree, Deacon Achidi realized the complexities of the Catholic faith.
"I've learned that my faith is not black or white," he said. "It's complex. I think seminary studies stretches your mind to think beyond and not just limit yourself to one possibility."
Seminarians take classes in theology, philosophy, Scripture, Church history and Canon Law. They also learn where their gifts and talents lie.
"I've learned this about myself. That I'm a good speaker. People appreciated my homilies. I've learned that I have some affinity for theology and canon law. I've also learned that I can be very sociable, being friendly with people. But I also learned that there is a lot that I need to learn," he said.
During his seminary life, Deacon Achidi saw the worldwide Church, as well as the Diocese of Buffalo and the seminary itself, come under scrutiny due to abuse accusations. He never turned away, instead he turned to Christ Himself with a 'what would Jesus do' attitude.
"I think Jesus would say, 'Where else would I be.' He didn't come at a time when everything was just plain sailing. He came at a time when the Jews themselves were experiencing Roman oppression. Crucifixion was normal during this time. There were things that were horrible in this time," he said. "Amid the chaos is when Jesus comes. I'm not saying I'm Jesus, but if I'm going to act persona Christi, this is the time to come. This is the time to be here. This is time to be a good witness. And this is the time to encourage people that there is hope."
Now, just days before his ordination, he is proud to not only be a member of the faith, but an active servant of the Lord and His people.
"I hope to be a true servant, to serve people. Not be there boss, per se," he explained. "I believe, which is a theological truth, that ministerial priesthood, which is what we're being ordained to, is at the service of the common priesthood. There is no minister of priesthood if there is no common priesthood in the first place. So, when we gather on Sunday at Mass it is God's chosen people who gather to offer a sacrifice."