Lagos to Rome
I travelled to Rome with a couple of others from Nigeria for the Extraordinary Congress in Rome. We left the house early enough, counting with the Public Holiday of Easter Monday which meant that there would be less traffic on the road. We got to the airport in 25 minutes, a trip that could last up to 2 hours or more, depending on the flow of cars on any given day.
At the airport, we began the usual checking in process, following the serpentine queues that are to be seen in every airport. I got talking with a priest that was also travelling. We could only speak when our paths crossed in the s-shaped queue. We were eventually able to talk a bit more when we checked in. We exchanged numbers and I hope to continue our interaction when I get back.
A couple of incidents occurred at Murtala Muhammed Airport that could only have taken place in Nigeria. As we approached an official who was checking the passports, I could see that he was upset about something. Possibly, an authorized personnel had tried to enter into the immigration area. He wasn’t too happy about it and was complaining as he attended to the person in front of me. When it was my turn, I put up a smile to encourage him and after a cursory glance at my passport, he asked, “Man of God, what do you have for me?” When I explained that I didn’t actually have anything special for him, he said, “at least you can pray for me.” I happily obliged him and right there, in front of others who were waiting, I said some prayer for him. Nobody raised an eyebrow (I guess others would have been happy to join in receiving a blessing).
Something similar happened at the point of being allowed to enter the departure lounge. The young man who was doing a body search whispered to me as he was doing his job: “Father, could you please give me at least 30 seconds of blessing?” That was a first for me: having a time limit given to me for imparting a blessing! Who was I to refuse him? I did so without looking at any time piece: I don’t know if I took more than 30 seconds or not but the impressive thing is the faith people have in the power of prayer and blessings. It reinforces my belief that dressing in a way that allows people recognize that I am a priest is always a silent witness to what my mission is and an informal invitation for them to ask me for anything.
After a reasonable time waiting, we eventually boarded the plane and the flight started as planned. I was able to take some aerial pictures of Lagos as we took off. The flight was quite uneventful; I had asked for a window seat and used the opportunity to capture some interesting cloud formations. We got to Addis Ababa around 9pm local time. An interesting thing while we were about to touch down was to see the flickering lights from the houses as the plane descended. They gave an idea of the power supply to the city. It wasn’t difficult comparing it with what you get in Lagos. You obviously know the answer to the comparison…
We had a 3-hour stopover in Addis Ababa. There we met Denis who was also going to Rome for the Congress. He has spent almost 40 years living in Kinshasa and had a very good knowledge of the Democratic Republic of Congo and we shared perspectives on what was going on in our countries.
The flight to Rome took off as scheduled. I was able to grab some sleep in the midst of all the going-ons during the flight – people talking (especially children asking their parents infinite number of questions), the air hostesses checking to make sure that people were comfortable enough, etc. Just before we landed, the pilot informed us that the temperature in Rome at the time of arrival was 5 degrees Celsius! Leaving a place that had a temperature in the 30s to enter Rome was going to be challenging. Nevertheless, I had prepared for the worst and was suitably covered up when we got there.
While waiting to collect our luggage, we started seeing people from different parts of the world who were arriving for the Congress. Some of my companions had met them on other occasions and so there were a lot of handshakes and hugs with people also trying to catch up with one another. Somehow, they all seemed to leave us behind as they moved on to the exit zone. Our luggage, however, refused to make an appearance. After waiting for almost half an hour, we went to lodge a complaint: it seemed that more than 30 people were facing the same issue. Just when it was our turn to register our complaint, an official of the airport informed us that there was a container with luggage from the flight that had been sent to another part of the airport and it would take almost 20 minutes for its content to be brought to us. That was how we had to spend more than 3 hours between getting to the airport and leaving it.
Luckily for us, a taxi service had been contracted to take us to the Roman College of the Holy Cross, venue of the Congress. It is the international seminary for the Prelature of Opus Dei and I had lived there for 3 years while studying at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. After my ordination in 2011, I left for Spain and had only gone back in 2012 to defend my doctoral thesis. Coincidentally, I had been assigned a room in the same zone where I had lived more than a decade ago thus so many memories kept flooding into my mind with every turn I made in the house. After settling in and having a shower, I was able to celebrate Holy Mass.
It is indeed good to be back in Rome!