THE APPOINTMENT OF Msgr. Paul Olawoore as Co-Adjutor Bishop of Ilorin brings joy to the hearts of the faithful. While not much is usually made of the home parish of a Bishop, nevertheless, forgive me for celebrating the appointment as being of particular happiness to Itasa, the home parish of the new bishop. Itasa is the Parish that has adopted me as one of its own.

The Church of Itasa, and its outstations at Gbedu, Idiko-Ago, and Ilaji-Ile bear vivid testimony to the power of faith over human impediments. After four visits to Itasa, an irresistible allure of grace still assails me about the land and the faithful who dwell therein.Of my first visit to Itasa Parish on the kind suggestion of Bishop Badejo in 2013, I recorded: “Fr. Fasola was a gracious host who knew what I needed to see. He took me along to Mass at an outstation, St. Patrick’s Idiko-Ago, the little Church in the little town, fertile in vocation. Idiko-Ago has produced two priests; Fr. Olawoore and Fr. Oshin”.

You may not appreciate Itasa Parish if you view it in isolation of the immediate environment of love surrounding the area. St. Joseph, Iwere-Ile, St. Paul, Itasa and St. Theresa, Ijio are three parishes that tell the same tale – a tale of warm accommodationin peace and harmony, providing the right atmosphere for the spread of authentic faith. Travelling the nine mile stretch of road from Iwere-ile to Ijio, one will observe six Catholic Churches. At Iwere-Ile is the cluster of buildings that make up St. Joseph. At the edge of the town is the community of Aiyetoro where St. Mary’s is situated. St. Patrick,idiko-Ago is next followed by St. Francis, Ilaji-Ile and then St. Pius, Idiko-Ile before arriving at St. Theresa, Ijio. Six Churches spread among three parishes form a nine-mile corridor of faith.

Impressive is the support of each Catholic community for the other. For example, Joseph Adetoro who lives in Idiko-Ago is the secretary of the Church at Ilaji-Ile. During the harvest at Ilaji-Ile majority of those in attendance were from Idiko-Ago. You would always hear that members of neighbouring Catholic Churches are all going to one particular Church for some ceremony or another. The Church has reaped a bounteous harvest of vocations from the corridor –Archbishop Gabriel Abegunrin,Bishop Paul Olawoore, Msgr. BolajiYakubu, Fr. Pius Abioje, Fr. Anthony Ogunyale, Fr. Francis Eyinade, Fr. Benjamin Jolasun, Fr. Francis Ogunsola,Fr. Paul Osin, Fr. Philip Onifade,Fr. Joachim Fakorede and Fr. Sylvester Odurinde. Many more are currently in the making.

There is love in the land, one that is not denied to any visitor, such that passing through that corridor is an unforgettable experience. You always wish to return. My cherished attachment to the area pales when compared to those of other men and women of faith who have been more significantly exposed. Before me, they have been bitten by the bug of love.

Of those bitten by that love-bug was a young priest, member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul of Nigeria, MSPN, who the year after his priestly ordination had his first pastoral assignment as a priest with the Diocese of Oyo. He was sent to Iwere-Ile where he lent his youthful vigour and pastoral zeal in the service of the people who loved him so dearly. The love affair has endured ever since, with the priest returning to the community ever so often. Ten years after leaving Iwere-Ile, the faithful of that Parish travelled to Idah in bus loads to witness the episcopal ordination of the priest they love. The new Bishop returned their expression of love by celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving with the faithful of Iwere-Ile. He is Bishop Anthony Adaji of idah Diocese who has adopted Iwere-Ile as his other home.

Not just Bishop Adaji, but another priest who served briefly in Iwere-Ile not long before his elevation to the Bishopric. For the bond of love and pastoral collaboration, Bishop John Oyejola similarly returned to Iwere-Ile for a Thanksgiving Mass. You may conclude that only indigenous priests who become Bishops remember the corridor of love, if you have never heard of Fr. Gilbert Yves (M.Afr). Fr. Yves experiencing the warmth of the people, spared no efforts in advancing the course of their well-being. He invited medical officers to attend to their health needs and agricultural experts to assist with farming. This he continued to do long after he had been posted elsewhere.

 Fr. Yves was back home in Europe when he took ill. The people whom he had served so much did not forget him. They prayed for his recovery, while sending him messages of well wishes. When Fr. Yves  recovered from his illness he returned once more to Nigeria. On a thank you visit, Fr. Yves clad in traditional Yoruba outfit was met by a large crowd at the entry to the town of Iwere-Ile and heralded into town amid drumming and dancing.

The appointment of Bishop Olawoore is a fruit of the deep faith of his people; a testament to genuine faith; a fitting symbol of the vitality of the Church in Nigeria; and a beacon of light to the universal Church. The new Bishop is a gift from the corridor of faith to the land of mouth sweeter than salt.

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