Yarrawonga welcomes Fr Onyirioha

Fr Henry 350Fr Henry Onyirioha, who is visiting from the Diocese of Enugu in Nigeria, says he already feels at home in Yarrawonga. “The people here have been very warm and welcoming,” he said.  He commenced his 10-week appointment at Yarrawonga on 3 September, celebrating the vigil Mass within hours of arrival.  His first introduction to the Parish was a week earlier on a day visit when he concelebrated Mass with Fr Mike Morley, before he had met anyone in the parish.  
 
 
“I’m assimilating,” said Fr Henry.  “Over the last two weeks I’ve been working with the flow of parish activities, learning and observing,” he said. 
 
One of the biggest differences Fr Henry has noticed about parishes in Nigeria and parishes in Australia is the size and age of the congregations at Mass.  “In the Diocese of Egundu, we have thousands of people in attendance at Mass, and many parishes celebrate four Masses on a Sunday.  Masses are lively and full of participation; there is a lot of singing and sometimes even clapping of hands,” he said.  “In time, I hope to convince parishioners here that singing is part of the Liturgy; it’s a form of worship.  I would like to introduce some simple hymns to uplift the spirit.  Something everyone can feel part of, and I hope I can encourage younger people to attend Mass.”
 
 
The demographic contrast between Yarrawonga and Fr Henry’s hometown of Ubomiriri in the State of Imo is dramatic.  Nigeria has a population of over 216 million people, over 29 million of which are Catholics – making Nigeria the twelfth largest population of Catholics in the world. The average age of Nigerians is just over 18, while the average age of Australians is closer to 40 and the average age of regional Australians and the average Australian Mass goer − as we well know − is much older than that. 
 
There are nine Ecclesiastical Provinces in Nigeria and 44 Suffrage Dioceses.  The Diocese of Enugu, is seen as a stronghold of Catholicism; it is in the Ecclesiastical Province of Onitsha in the central-south of the country where over 360 priests serve 150 parishes.  
 
Fr Henry said he grew up in a “staunch Catholic family”, the third of six children.  “My family was religious, very religious.  I grew up in the Church – I heard the Word of God as a child at Mass and we participated in church activities.  I became an altar server and from there I got the call for the priesthood and entered the minor seminary.”  Fr Henry was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Egundu in 2006.  Since becoming a priest, Fr Henry has visited various parishes in Europe and the United States.  His interest in Australia was piqued when his younger brother, Anthony, was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Hobart.
 
“When I said I wanted to come to Australia, there were people in my community who worried that Australia is too far away. They tried to discourage me from coming,” he said. “I had already made up my mind to come to this place, to witness what is happening here, learn from diversified cultures and these people here.  I appreciate this opportunity; the people of Yarrawonga are lovely people, very hospitable, they cherish my presence, and I am very happy to be here.”