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Catholic Nollywood Film Confirms Triumph of Good Over Evil amid Christian Persecution

A section of the cover of The Oratory, a film that portrays the story of St. Don Bosco in a contemporary Nigerian setting/ Credit: Fr. Cyril Odia, SDB/Dublin

Those who have watched “The Oratory”, a film that tells the story of St. Don Bosco, the founder of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB), have spoken about a groundbreaking movie whose happy ending confirms that good always triumphs over evil, especially in the context of persecution against Christians.

The film, the first ever Catholic movie from Nigeria on global cinema, was screened in the capital of the Republic of Ireland, Dublin, on September 10, and is set to premier in over 16 cities on four continents including London, Turin, Rome, Lagos, Abuja, Congo, Paris, and Nairobi.

In an interview with ACI Africa, the Executive Producer of “The Oratory'', Fr. Cyril Odia, said that those behind the film had already received overwhelming feedback, with viewers lauding a film that not only ignites hope among the persecuted Christians but also addresses the challenges in youth ministry today and underlines the important role of women in the Church.

Credit: Fr. Cyril Odia, SDB/Dublin

“The movie has received a very positive and heartwarming response from two categories of viewers.  From Catholic missionaries who have returned home to Europe, the positive ending of the story confirms the desire for good to always overcome evil especially in the light of modern-day Christian persecution,” Fr. Cyril shares with ACI Africa.

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He adds, “For other viewers the movie gives hope about the Catholic mission to young and poor people who often have little or no hope in politicians. Many got a validation of the idea that religion has a lot of capacity to bring about social change.” 

There were also critical remarks from viewers who wondered if the movie is a wakeup call for Priests and Religious leaders to review their pastoral approach to the challenges in youth ministry today, the Nigerian-born SDB Priest says.

Still, Fr. Cyril says, viewers have understood the pivotal role of women in the story, which he says is “cleverly depicted by the female characters and music in the movie.” This way, the Dublin-based Salesian Priest says, the movie supports the female dimension of the Church.

Credit: Fr. Cyril Odia, SDB/Dublin

According to a publication by Agenzia Info Salesiana, the film portrays the story of St. Don Bosco in a contemporary Nigerian setting and is characterized by “a fun loving, stimulating, compelling, formative and educational style.”

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The film, according to the information service of SDB, is a must for anyone interested in the history of St. Don Bosco and committed to the well-being of young people.

The film stars Rich Lowe Ikenna, an American-born actor of Nigerian and Panamanian - Central American descent and Enyinna Nwigwe, a Nigerian actor who has appeared in over 30 cinema films, including Black November, where he played a leading role alongside Hollywood great actors like Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke, Akon, Wyclef Jean, and Anne Heche.

Credit: Fr. Cyril Odia, SDB/Dublin

A synopsis that Fr. Cyril shared with ACI Africa is that of Fr. Michael Simmons, (Rich Lowe Ikenna), an American Catholic priest sent from Turin, Italy, to a posh Catholic Parish in Ikoyi in Nigeria’s Archdiocese of Lagos.

On arrival, the young, stubborn Priest, becomes more interested in the plights of street children from the nearby slum called Makoko.

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However, in order to reach the desperate out-of-school children, he has to step on big toes in his host Parish. He must also confront Shuga, the dangerous Makoko kingpin who has the street boys locked in criminal servitude.

Drawing inspiration from St. John Bosco and the Salesian missionaries, Fr. Michael must put everything, including his own personal safety, on the line in order to set up The Oratory and find his life's purpose in a strange and precarious environment.

Credit: Fr. Cyril Odia, SDB/Dublin

The Salesians, a congregation that St. Don Bosco founded, arrived in Algeria in Northern Africa in 1891. In 1893, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA – Salesian Sisters) also started their apostolate in Africa with a center in Algeria.

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Today, in the Africa-Madagascar region, there are three Provinces and 10 Vice Provinces of the Religious Missionary Institute, five Catholic SDB Bishops, 1,721 professed members and 155 novices of the Congregation in some 40 African countries.

Fr. Cyril told ACI Africa that the theological aspect of the film is based on the Salesian spirituality of mission to the youth.

Credit: Fr. Cyril Odia, SDB/Dublin

“Being a pastoral theologian, Fr. Cyril presents an African inculturation of the Salesian charism in a local context,” the Salesian Priest said of himself, and added, “The collaboration with the Vatican as one of the locations for the movie keeps the universal background of the Catholic mission, but immediately focuses on an African present day reality of young people in poor and dangerous situations in Lagos, one of the most populous cities in Africa.”

The film is produced and directed by the Nigerian director, Obi Emelonye with Rich Lowe Ikenna in the leading role.

Made in English, Italian, Latin, and Nigerian Pidgin, the film that was shot in Rome, Turin, Atlanta, and Lagos runs for one hour and 27 minutes.

Credit: Fr. Cyril Odia, SDB/Dublin

It is the brainchild of Fr. Cyril, the current Rector of St Catherine's, the Salesian House of Theology, Maynooth University in the Archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland.

In the interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Cyril noted that the film, the first Catholic movie from Nigeria on global cinema, introduces the Nollywood movie franchise in a new dimension that has been long awaited.

This culture, he said, is expected to grow into Catholic media ministry keeping with best practice in the sector and the opportunities it offers for catechesis, youth employment and investment possibilities. 

Fr. Cyril, a pastoral theologian and qualified spiritual director, is the youth pastoral delegate for the Salesians in Ireland and chaplain of Maynooth Educational Campus.

Credit: Fr. Cyril Odia, SDB/Dublin

He holds a Master’s degree in Leadership and Pastoral Care from Dublin City University, and a doctorate in Theology and Religious Education from Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick.

The Nigerian Priest is a musician and the author of a book on Christian Religion curriculum and Pastoral Theology in Secondary Schools.

In 2009, Fr. Cyril established the Don Bosco FM radio station in Tonj Parish of South Sudan’s Rumbek Diocese as part of the Sudan Catholic Radio Network (CRN) and the Don Bosco Nigeria Youth Online radio.

Fr. Cyril has also served as Salesian Youth Director for Nigeria, Sudan and South Sudan, and the Youth Chaplain of the Catholic Diocese of Rumbek.

Agenzia Info Salesiana reports that the film’s premiere in Dublin was attended by 200 people, the maximum number allowed due to the pandemic-related restrictions, and included Salesians, friends and many Nigerians residing in Ireland, as well as the Apostolic Nuncio in Ireland Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo who is a native of Nigeria.

Credit: Fr. Cyril Odia, SDB/Dublin

To create more awareness on the Catholic film, two premieres have been arranged on November 20 in Lagos and on November 27 in Abuja, Fr. Cyril tells ACI Africa, and adds that the film’s production company, headed by the movie Director, Obi Emelonye, is in ongoing conversations with distributors and partners who want to engage in the movie.

Further commenting on the envisaged impact of the Catholic-based film, Fr. Cyril notes that the film will be “a new platform for the mission, spiritual interpretation and vocation awareness” for members of SDB who are presently ministering in Africa.

He tells ACI Africa that the Italian and French subtitles of the movie have been completed and that others may follow in due course to facilitate the screening of the movie on the continent.