Interview with Rev. Fr Peter Hillen SAC
The Pallottine: Fr., Welcome. You are 27 years in Africa. You worked in Cameroon, in South Africa and now since five and a half years In Nigeria. How do you feel about your mission?
Fr Peter: Time is running very fast. I feel grateful and full of joy. I can see a lot of fruits of the mission especially in the formation of our African Pallottines. Cameroon, South Africa, Malawi, Nigeria … To see our young priests and brothers and many seminarians makes me proud and gives me hope for a brighter future in Africa. The people in general are very welcoming and generous. I am loved and accepted and received a lot of encouragement in my apostolate.
The Pallottine: What is your mission among the people in Nigeria?
Fr Peter: First of all I came to establish our community, the Society of the Catholic Apostolate of Saint Vincent Pallotti (S.A.C.), the Pallottines, in this part of the world. You know we took the first students from Nigeria in 2002 from St. Augustine Chaplaincy of the Polytechnic in Oko, under the then Chaplain, Rev. Fr. Martin Ezeokoli. And from then on we received every year some three to five students to our seminary in Merrivale, South Africa, where I was the Rector. And as the number was increasing we knew that we had to come to Nigeria to open a house in order to form our students in the country, close to the people. So I came in January 2007 to be in contact with the diocese and to see the possibilities for us to open a formation house. The former Bishop Most Rev Simon Okafor posted me as a vicar to Holy Trinity Parish in Nanka where I worked for 15 months under the parish Priest Rev. Fr Felix Efobi. It was a very good time for me. I was close to the people, I learnt to celebrate mass in Igbo and I met the clergy of the diocese.
The Pallottine: How did you come to Mbaukwu?
Fr. Peter: As I was looking for a possibility to rent a house or to find a place for a Postulancy, a former pre-science student took me to Mbaukwu to see if there was chance for us. A short visit to HRH Igwe Anugwu, Ezeukwu Mbaukwu opened the door for us and even support for our mission. The Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Peter Eche showed me a place where the CWO was planning to build a hostel for students. I found the plan of the building interesting and accepted to invest to finish the house and to begin our program with the first postulants. This was in Mai 2008. Afterwards the community under the generous Igwe offered us land that we accepted with gratitude and joy. I was able to find the money to build our own house that we opened in March 2010.
The Pallottine: Was your mission fulfilled by then?
Fr Peter: Yes and No! Yes, because we had our formation house in Nigeria. No, because the community needed to have much support and structures to be able to live in future without foreign help. First of all laypeople knocked at our door and wanted to know their role and mission in the Pallottine Community. Misses Ngozi Anizoba from Onitsha took the initiative to organize the UAC, the Union of the Catholic Apostolate of St. Vincent Pallotti. She gathered people in parish groups to live the spirituality of our Founder and to be apostles for our time. Today the UAC is well established in the Archdiocese of Onitsha and in some parishes in the diocese of Awka. The UAC is Church in motion, a way of being Church as Priests, religious and laypeople for the deepening of faith and the rekindling of charity among the people of God and to unit all in Christ. This was the idea of V. Pallotti, this is the program of the Pallottines and the UAC.
The Pallottine: But is this not the mission of the whole of the Church
Fr. Peter: Thank you. Vincent Pallotti was ahead of his time. In 1835 he founded the Union of Catholic Apostolate. Lay apostolate was not known and recognized at his time. He had a vision and with the grace of God he succeeded in organizing his Community and somehow his ideas and plans became part of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Pope John XXIII, who called for an aggornamento, an opening of the Church for the reality of the time, canonized Pallotti on the 20th of January 1963 and made him a patron saint of the Council.
So we are in the Jubilee Year of the 50 anniversary of his canonization.
The Pallottine: Pope Benedict XVI called for a year of faith at the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Vatican II and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. How do you see the link and the challenge for the Pallottine Community?
Fr Peter: For us it is a great joy to be part of this celebration. The jubilee year is a time of spiritual renewal. It is a grace to rediscover the Founders vision for the Church in living a more co-responsible relationship between laypeople and the clergy. The laypeople have to play an active part in the Church, in living their charism, their talents and capabilities. The Church is the Body of Christ and each one is a member of this body. We have a share in the task to evangelize, to live the Gospel and to collaborate in the Mission of the Church. The love is the motivating power behind our activity. This love impels us to do what we do. This love needs to be experiences in the small Christian communities for example in the UAC. Not the priest alone is the expert and order giver in all circumstances. Togetherness, collaboration, and union are the key words for a better and more harmonious life in our parishes and communities.
The Pallottine: Do you have a plan for the new evangelization?
Fr. Peter: I feel that the Church needs a special program for adults. We need to awake the joy in believing in God and a formation for adults. The catechism we teach to children and perhaps to the youth is not enough. Adults have to be instructed in a different way, we need a catechism for adults that is based on the teaching for children but more developed and adapted. Many people remain on the level what they learnt as children. Therefore they are not able to answer the challenges of sects and false prophets. How comes that so many Christians are running behind the false promises of wrong doctrines?
The Pallottine: How do you see the ecumenical movement in this regard?
Fr. Peter: This is very important for a more effective witness of the Christians in the world. The Pope just called to acknowledge the Catholic that is outside the Catholic Church. This is a word of St Augustine who said that we need to discover the good, the noble, the pure and authentic in others. Many people are doing good things, noble works and deeds of love in the world, not only Catholics. We need first of all to love and to appreciate our Christian Brothers and Sisters in other communities and all the people of god will. Anglicans and Protestants are our brothers in faith. We need to do together what is common and what binds us together, for example works of charity, efforts for peace and justice, forms of worship and praise. We need to accept each other and not to fight as if we were enemies. Some old prejudices need to be dropped and to be buried. Nobody can discriminate somebody because he/she is born in a family of a different believe. Mix-marriages are recognized by the Catholic Church and can be a real blessing.
The year of faith is there to rediscover the doctrine and riches of our faith, to celebrate the faith in the liturgy, to manifest the faith in our daily life. May we grow deeper in personal relationship with Christ! He is the way, the truth and the life.
The Pallottine: Thank you Father.