Catholic Church of Divine Mercy, Lagos
Benson was born into a Pentecostal family, and he was taught not to take Church Services lightly. As a boy who grew up in Nigeria, one of the most religious countries in the world, Ben also had a good time going to Church. But according to him, it was more of a ritual, “you need to go because you want to be good before God”.
His life was what could be termed “cool”, girls, smoking and drinking was just a normal way of life, “I didn’t see myself as bad, because I wasn’t into extreme, no stealing, killing or involved with other extreme stuffs like that, but girls, drugs, alcohol and smoking were some of the things I saw as life then. It kept me feeling normal according to worldly standards. I felt I was normal as I fit in with the crowd.”
The first time he had been to a catholic church, which happened to be in was 1999 during his sister’s wedding at Corpus Christi Cathedral, in Port Harcourt, he was so thrilled by the orderliness and calm of the Service that he immediately fell in love with the Catholic Church. As he moved higher in his education, getting to his university days, he preferred to worship with the Catholics over there.
However, there was one thing he noticed, there was a part of the Mass he had been told he couldn’t engage in – Holy Communion. There was some sense of need in the Holy Eucharist, some sort of curiosity that had spurred up within him and every time he had asked what the Holy Communion was about, he was told he had to become Catholic to understand, thus, the longing to become one begun. Most of his friends were Catholics at the time and seeing other people engage in this aspect of the Mass only kept him wanting to be a part of the Holy Communion. As time passed, Benson decided to go through the due processes to becoming a Catholic, even though, he wasn’t as prepared as he thought. It was only for a short while before all of his distractions pulled him back into being with the crowd again.
At the end of his first-degree program, he travelled down to Lagos for the National Youth Service. And while staying with his sister and her family, the one whose wedding had been the first time he had worshipped with Catholics, he joined them in attending the Catholic Church within the area. Yet again, that little nudge in his mind to engage in the Holy Communion arose. Upon inquiry, he realized he had to go through a two-year period, in which he would be prepared for Christian initiation into the Catholic Church. And he agreed to this.
When he had become a Catholic, his life had begun to turn around. The definition of being “cool” began to collapse, as he began to realize what life was really about. His interest in the Catholic Church increased and he made his way into different Church Societies.
Shortly after, he heard of the upcoming Alpha Course. He decided to attend the course, and he was asked to be a helper and he agreed.
“I began to find the program very spiritually enlightening and in a really gentle way too. Soon enough I began to meet and engage with more parishioners in a different way than I had done before due to the small group discussion after every session. The atmosphere was always warm at Alpha and there was this welcoming aura around even though I was a helper as well for my first enrolment.”
Then the Holy Spirit Day Away arrived, it was held in another venue not the regular place that was being used for the other sessions of the Alpha course. When he got there, he got this feeling that something special was going to happen that day. Soon enough everyone was settled in and the day kicked off. After the talk and confession by a Priest, they went into the Prayer, asking for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Not too long, manifestations began to occur. He felt himself drawn to the different things happening around him. At this point, a thought came to him, one that didn’t seem like his own, asking him to shut out the distractions and open up. He knelt down and opened his arms wide. Gradually he began to feel a sensation build up inside of him.
“It rose steadily and I tried to hold back what I was feeling, clenching my fists. I was curious to understand what was happening so I opened my eyes, being that they had been closed all this time, and found myself really clenching my fists hard. I also wanted to be sure what I was feeling was real and it was! I could only hold back for a little more before an outburst of tears. In a moment while battling with the feeling I had a glimpse of Jesus’ trip to Golgotha carrying the Cross with the Blessed Virgin Mary watching Him. It felt as though I stood next to her and I could somehow feel her emotions. The sadness at watching her only Son go through such suffering. It was like a memory to me – a memory from over two thousand years ago.”
He spent most of the time crying as the experience of the passion of Christ was so heavy on him “This was a personal conviction for me that Christ suffered for me, because he love me. This further deepened my relationship with God. It further deepened the Faith for me. Up until the Alpha course, I hadn’t had quite the experience I had with the Holy Spirit as I did that very day.”
The very wrongs that had appeared normal became obvious for what they really were. The Holy Spirit had made a major impact in his life. According to him, he’s beginning to understand the role and the importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. He realized that man is empty without the Holy Spirit. “The Mass has a deeper meaning for me now. Life has become completely different – not all rosy but there’s a certain peace that keeps me going in the Journey of Faith, a certain hope, unlike anything else.”