Written by Oritsegbubemi Adrian Edema
Ode-Itsekiri, the birthplace of Christianity in Nigeria affirmed
The affirmation was done by no less than His Lordship, Bishop of Warri Diocese, the Very Rev Dr John Okeoghene at the unveiling of the Madonna grotto. The event also marked the celebration of the first mass at the St Anthony’s Catholic Church Ode-Itsekiri
In the words of the Bishop, the first Church in Nigeria was built in Ode-Itsekiri in the 16th century by the Capuchin priests and not Badagary that we see in contemporary history.
The first church was a monastery called St. Anthony’s Monastery which was later corrupted by the Itsekiris to “Satoni”. It was designed by a monk Rev.Fr. Pattazio and built between 1690 -1692. The extract below from early visitors to Warri in the 16th century confirms this
“There is a church in the city, with an altar and on it a picture of Christ on the Cross with Mary and the Apostles, and beside it two candlesticks. And the negroes enter this church with paternosters in their hands all the while, like true Portuguese people, and they read these as well as other Popish prayers. They appear to be most godly, and can also read and write and are eager for Portuguese books, pens, ink, and paper”.
The event is historic and is a new vista for both evangelisation and affirmation of a historical fact.
I am particularly happy with the pronouncement of the Bishop that the Madonna grotto built at the original site of St Anthony’s Catholic Church will become a special place for pilgrimage for the Catholic faithful.
I am so happy to be part of this epoch-making event and many thanks to my brothers and Sisters in St Michael’s Itsekiri Catholic community. I am also grateful to His Lordship Bishop Afareha for bringing the Catholic Church back to its root in Nigeria.