The little boy sat in Church, looking straight ahead. It was Wednesday, May 27, 1992. He could not understand most of what was said. But he knew he loved the way the priest moved his hands as he celebrated mass. The bright lights on the sanctuary illuminated the priest’s frame, giving him a somewhat divine appearance. The six year old looked at his Mom’s face yet again. She was smiling back at him.
“Shhhhh! Don’t talk in Church dear”.
“But Mom…”
“Oooo Olus! Can’t this wait?”
“No!” The boy pouted.
“Okay, what is it this time?” She tried her best to speak in a whisper.
“I want to be like that Fada”. Olus pointed emphatically at the sanctuary.
Olus’ Mom looked keenly at her son. “You want to be a priest?”
“Faaadaaa!” Olus stressed. He didn’t trust the new word his Mom had just used.
The woman’s smile enveloped her face. She had almost ended up in the convent herself. She was amazed that her son was revealing an intention she had secretly wished for him since he was born. This was going to be the best Children’s day of her life. She was sure of it.
“Why do you want to be a Fada?”
Olus looked lost for a moment. He hadn’t thought much about that. “Erm…” Olus smiled at his Mom, “… I want to dress like him. And wear that shiny thing on his hand… And give people that white small thing to eat… And pour water on their heads… Ehen!” Olus was getting more excited.
“Shhhhh! Bring your voice down. We’re still in Church.”
“I want to raise that shiny cup. No… The two shiny cups…”
Olus’ mom looked into her son’s eyes. She concluded then that he meant it. Call it a mother’s instinct. She just knew…

Today, as I write these lines I am reminded of how much my life has progressed. There was a time when fun was dancing in the rain with friends, and Church meant burning coals behind the sacristy. There was a time Christmas meant eating, drinking and wearing new clothes, and school was nothing but boring…

Children’s Day March Past, 2019 (St Patrick Catholic Church, Urohi, Edo State, Nigeria)

Through the storms and calm, the consistent theme through childhood has been wrapped around hopes and dreams. I was always a dreamer. Like the average child, I believed I could change the world, even if it meant dressing up in Super Man costumes and flying without wings to Mars. But after so many years, the hardest thing to do has been keeping the dream alive.

May 28, 2017 was the 51st World Day of Communication, and Pope Francis asked us to learn how to look at reality through the lens of hope. To a great extent, this means rediscovering our childhood innocence. Children aren’t afraid to hope. They have no issues trusting and believing in the impossible. This is the same attitude we’re called to cultivate. Today, almost 31 years later, my first dream did come true, but my hope of changing the world still flickers.

I think about St Augustine, and I am encouraged. He too was once an innocent child. Today he is remembered as one of the greatest Saints that ever lived. His life and writings continue to be an inspiration to us. Here, the biblical injunction holds true, “train up a child in the way (s)he should go that when (s)he is old, (s)he would not depart from it” (Prov.22:6).

So, though many kids are constantly trafficked, abused and deprived the right to education (especially in most developing nations like my Nigeria), though innocence has been trampled underfoot and society seems to have lost all sense of God and the sacred, though the economy is in a mess and security of life and property is barely assured, I refuse to stop dreaming.

Like Martin Luther King Junior, I have a DREAM that we shall triumph. Like Whitney Houston, I BELIEVE the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Like Michael Jackson, I know we are the ONES to make a better and brighter day, so let’s start living.

I say to society, “BRING BACK MY INNOCENCE!” Yes! Bring back OUR innocence. Let us learn to look through the lens of our inner child once again, and see a world of HOPE. Let us believe in the power of LOVE, of TRUST and of TOGETHERNESS. Let us make our families work. Let us encourage our children and pray for their parents. The right time is NOW!

Some day, when the trumpet sounds, it will be all over. And in the words of Sunny Okosun, “Soon and very soon, we’re going to meet the KING”. And if you hear the voice of the Lord, what will you say? I will say “Here I am, SEND ME!”

God bless His children everywhere!

Happy Children’s Day!

© Oselumhense Anetor, 2017.