My name is Camillus Chinenye Nwahia. I am from Nigeria in West Africa. I am the fifth son and the sixth child in a family of seven. My parents are both dead and most of my siblings are living in different parts of Africa. As a little boy, I was very much attached to my mother who never tired of attending daily Masses. Due to my attachment to her, I also attended daily Masses, becoming an altar boy in my home parish. Initially my father did not go to church but this changed at a later stage in his life.
As a young boy I had a strong need to be special. This led me to the decision to leave my State high school for a minor seminary, thereby losing two years of high school. Minor seminarians at this time were seen as having a certain status and they were the only ones allowed to serve Sunday Masses. I admit I looked for this respect too; to be honest, there was no thought of becoming a priest at this time. It was during the six years of high school that the idea of becoming a priest was very much considered. I joined the community of the Schoenstatt Fathers where I spent almost nine years, encompassing Philosophy, Theology, Novitiate and Pastoral Year. It was at this time that my father decided to become a practising Catholic as he said he could not be uninvolved while his son was preparing for the priesthood.
After the death of my parents in a space of two years, I felt less committed to becoming a priest. I began having crises with religious life and with making decisions. I finally left the Schoenstatt Fathers community. Later, I was being confronted by my family and friends asking ‘Why?’ At this point I needed to take a break. I needed to move away from everyone, I needed to be on my own to live my own life, make decisions, bear the consequences and become independent for the first time. I took a leap in the dark and found myself in Australia where I would not be under pressure to make decisions. Here I completed my Masters in Educational Studies and at the same time reflected deeply about my past, present and future.
These were most important years as they led to a decision that will continue to shape my life. I allowed myself to be led by divine providence. I missed my family and friends. I struggled, cried, made new friends, lost some old friends and made mistakes. However, I never lost my Catholic faith. In the midst of all these, the desire to serve God and humanity as a priest never left me. As a university student I came to know some Catholic Chaplains; Fr Dom Carrigan CSsR and Kate Bartlett. They were very helpful to me as they were ever ready to listen and talk to me in my confused and lonely moments. Fr Dom, in whom I confided my desire to be a priest, arranged for a meeting with the Vocations Director and Vicar General, Fr Brian Mascord, who encouraged me to pray more and create some time for discernment. He guided me through this period and became like a father to me. He invited me to some diocesan functions and introduced me to Bishop Bill and some of the priests.
At the completion of my studies in 2013, I made the biggest decision of my life; to join the presbyterate of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. Today I am a happy priest. I have been welcomed here with open arms, enjoying the love and support of my bishop, brother priests, parishioners and members of the diocesan community. I am close to the Blessed Virgin Mary as she has taken special care of me since my mother’s death. I believe strongly that “the servant of Mary will never perish”. I was ordained a deacon on 21 November 2015 and a priest on 4 June 2016.
Being in a position to bring people to God and to bring God to the people is a great privilege. Every day I ask for the grace to be able to live a life worthy of my vocation. Celebrating the Eucharist for me has been soul-enriching and unites me always with the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ where he gives us himself as the bread of life and spiritual drink. The sacraments I administer reawaken in me that call to discipleship by Christ: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 28:19).
The sacrament of penance brings to life the mercy of God. Being ordained in the Year of Mercy has been for me a sign that I am called to be the face of God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is exciting to see people go to confession with the courage to acknowledge their sins and ask for God’s mercy, which is always ours.
It gives me great joy to work with young people. As a chaplain at the University of Newcastle, interactions with university students have increased my desire to find a way to bring young hearts to embrace the Catholic faith. My experiences at the Australian Youth Festival in Adelaide last year and World Youth Day in Poland this year have awakened the hunger in me to work with and for young people and to direct them to learn, understand and practise their faith as I see in them great enthusiasm.
To encourage and build a strong multicultural Catholic community which could promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life among young people is one of my hopes.
I intend to study and develop my skills in the area of counselling to be well equipped to help people who need spiritual, psychological and emotional support.
Being a priest is not an end for me, it is the beginning of my mission in life.