“The Lord be with you!” The young priest said in a loud voice.

“And with your spirit”, we chorused.

“And May the Almighty God bless you, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

My ‘Amen’ was probably the loudest that Sunday morning. Don’t get me wrong. I love Church. But that morning, I was in a hurry to get home.

“Go forth the Mass is ended”, the Priest added as he bowed low to kiss the altar.

The “thanks be to God” response met me on one knee.

As our assistant parish priest raised his head from kissing the altar, gun shots pierced the serenity of the Sunday morning.

The impact of the shots sent my second knee to the ground. Rather than the quick genuflection I had initially planned, I was now fully kneeling where I was at the choir stand, up in the Church’s gallery.

Somewhere in my head, I wanted to believe someone’s car tyre had burst. But deep down, I knew I had heard gun shots. But how? In Church?

At this time, people were running in various directions inside the Church. Those at the back of the Church ran towards the sanctuary. Some inside ran outside. There was pandemonium.

The next round of shots rent the air. I couldn’t think. It was as though the Church had been surrounded by trigger happy gunmen.

Next thing I knew, I was dashing down the stairs, towards the sacristy, behind the sanctuary. Anywhere was better than the gallery at that point.

Some of my colleagues had already made it to the sacristy. We wanted to see if we could escape through the sacristy window.

Nothing prepared us for the raging force of the dynamite. It had to be. I felt the ground shake under my feet. My ears reeled from the loud bang. The whole building rattled violently. We thought the Church building would collapse from the impact.

One of us rushed to the sacristy door and locked it. We were trapped. I looked around frantically for a place to hide. I was terrified. As one of the wardrobes seemed like a great hididng place, I rushed into it, and hid behind the vestments.

Another loud bang followed. It sounded so close it must have been another dynamite thrown on the sanctuary.

I remained paralysed for a long time inside the wardrobe after the second explosion. I was completely drained of strength.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally left my hiding place. All my colleagues had left the sacristy by this time.

As I walked into the main Church building from the sacristy, my nostrils picked up the strong smell of gunpowder, rust and metal. People lay on the ground in pools of their own blood.

Those who weren’t crying were screaming. I stood transfixed. As my gaze came back to my feet, I noticed for the first time that there was blood on the sanctuary, and I was standing right on it…

© Oselumhense Anetor, June 2022

Inspired by the account of an eye witness at the Owo Catholic Church Massacre. May the souls of the dead continue to rest in peace, Amen. And may all other victims of this sad experience find fortitude and strength of will to go on. Amen.

Two years on. We will not FORGET!