By Rev. Fr. Patrick Mary Ezeonu
Let us pray and ask the Holy Spirit to give me the grace to be able to reveal the hidden parts of the life of Rev. Fr. Raymond and his roles during the Biafran War in the Refugee Camps; his roles in establishing and spreading Marian Devotions.
Fr. Raymond influenced and still influences my life, my vocation and my spirituality. He has always intervened in my affairs and cases especially when I was severely sick. Through his intercession, I survived serious heart problems and when I had vocational crisis. Thank God I am alive to tell the story today in the land of the living.
Life of Fr. Raymond remains a mystery to me and to so many others.
During his High School days at Mary Knoll Okuku Ogoja, Raymond was a wonderful student. He was very caring and always insisted on and stood for justice. He was always appointed a prefect owing to his excellent and outstanding sterling qualities of leadership. He was firm, disciplined, courageous, pious, humble, respectful, gentle, courteous, polite and responsible. He was also a very good helping hand to his teachers in monitoring and supervising his fellow students. Above all these, eye witnesses mostly his school mates testified he was very prayerful, cheerful and unassuming.
Shortly after his enrolment as a Senior Seminarian at Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu in October 1966, the civil war broke out. When the session closed in June 1967, the Seminary relocated to the Junior Seminary Campus, Afaha Obong. From there, the Philosophy students went to Amakohia, then to Amaimo, and finally to Awomamma between 1968 -69.
As a Refugee Senior Seminarian, Raymond was a Catholic Caritas Relief Worker. He joined the Relief works for the survival of the Biafran people. During this time, he was in charge of relief materials supplied to Ichida Parish. The materials were coming from Germany, Gabon and other countries. The Parish Priest was Fr. Okoli, an Ekwulobia Priest at Enugwu-Ukwu gave him the responsibility of ensuring equitable distribution of the Caritas Relief Materials which included Milk, Garri Gabon, and other food items. Raymond gave the task his best shot using the Legionaries of Mary as instruments. They sought for the worst poor people around affected by the war. Raymond and his Legions of Mary travelled long distances covering many kilometers carrying the relief materials to their final destinations. The Legion of Mary he constituted was very powerful and outstanding in distributing the materials to the war victims. One of the richest men in Nnewi from Ora-Eri called Ogwuawa was one of the people who he recruited and was an eyewitness. Rt. Rev. Msgr. Jerome Mmadueke, a formator at BlessedTansi Seminary, Onitsha, and a lot of other people who later became priests and Religious men and women were also recruited by him.
In Anambra State, he constituted groups of youth who helped in extending charity to the dying Biafran survivors. It could easily be recalled that a lot of people died of Kwashiokor especially children. People were eating lizards. Raymond took it as a duty to ensure that majority survived the Civil War by getting the Caritas relief materials to all the people he could. He worked night and day not minding the long distances. He travelled all the ways from Ora-Eri, Igbo-Ukwu, Ichida, Nnewi, Ekwulobia, etc coordinating the equitable distribution of the Charities. He moved like electrons. Of course, there were no vehicular movements.
At Ora-Eri, the Legion of Mary was extraordinary popular, alive and active. He organized groups of youth who fetched water and fire woods for the elderly and the sick. He streamlined this kind gesture that it spread across other areas of Anambra State. He joined in the fetching of water and firewood for the elderly and the sick. Many were morally bound to imitate and emulate him.
Raymond equally organized drama groups who acted the parables in the Bible especially the Good Samaritan. They also dramatized the reality of heaven and hell and the need, therefore, to avoid and evil and do good; the need to say the rosary daily as requested by Our Lady of Fatima through the little children – Lucy, Francisco and Jacinta. These plays were of great moral encouragement to the victims in the Refugee camps. They put smile, laughter, and meaning to their lives notwithstanding the horrible experiences and meaninglessness they witnessed in the war time.
All these and more, Raymond did as a Senior Seminarian to help humanity. He provided material and spiritual succuor to the people affected by war. He was a machine of war rehabilitation. The greatest thing he did that time was that he was very just in the distribution of the Caritas materials. Even though the relief materials were supplied by Catholic agency, he ensured nobody was excluded in the provisions. The pagans were many that time and the protestants out-numbered the Catholics but Raymond never had recourse to creed, denomination or religion. He extended the charity to everybody in need of it just as the Good Samaritan did. He saw Christ in every hungry person.