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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Brother Leo Okonkwo

Gordon: I appreciated meeting with you when you came from Nigeria in the fall of 2015 to do some fundraising which the Archdiocese of Chicago authorized at several of northern suburban parishes for Home To Enhance African Life (HEAL). Having the Archdiocese of Chicago support your important mission must have been very encouraging.

Brother Leo:  Indeed for me and the Nigeria Ministry of Justice (MOJ}, it was a prophecy fulfilled, God said before Blessed Sacrament on July 17, 1997, do something with what I gave you and I will raise-up men and women to follow you. Living to see God act in accordance to his word encourages us greatly and the Archdiocese of Chicago is ultimate in that answer and fulfillment.

Gordon: When I met with you and Nick Costello, you explained that one of your primary needs was to build a safe house for your orphaned children and staff the event that the Boko Haram's violence and abduction spreads from Northern to Southern Nigeria where HEAL is located.

Some of our readers may not be aware of the  he 2015 Baga massacre and that Boko Haram has a history of abducting children .How much more do you have to raise to complete this  project and when do you hope it can be completed?

Brother Leo: We wish to create a safe home for the orphans, the helpless and defenseless. Such a shelter is an assurance of safety.  It will also serve as a mission house for volunteers to come on service trips sponsored by their parish, school, or diocese.  We must raise $140,000 for the construction, electrical installation, plumbing, and furnishing of the building. We hope to raise the funds by end of 1st quarter, 2016. Gordon: How difficult is it for your children in knowing that there is always a threat of deadly violence and potential slavery so close to them?

Brother Leo: Not many are aware of the threat given their age brackets. However, the older ones we endeavor to admonish and assure that God is their safety and guard, and remind them that unless God watches the city the nght guards watch in vain. We practice as a rule the recitation of Psalm 23 daily.

Gordon: The phrase "doing  God's work" has a tendency to be overused,  But in some ways, it may truly have been coined to describe HEAL. I thought that this video by Dr. Greg Kirschner provides the best overview of the challenges that you face and how you have addressed them

What about your friendship with Nick Costello when you were in the seminary together when  he convinced you that he would share your commitment to protecting and educating the orphans in Nigeria?  Many of us are fortunate to have great friends, but having someone quit his job to help create and support HEAL is an extraordinary  commitment.

Brother Leo: I had some sad experiences during seminary days and Nick showed me contrary to what others thought of me that love of God could over-rule anger and hurts. No wonder when he decided to quit his job for Heal, I know it was wisdom—it is easier to quit nothing for something but to quit something for nothing-for-self is indeed heroic. I knew he repeated self-emptying attitude easily when I recall our friendship and support built on Justice and Divine Agape.

Gordon: Could you provide our readers with an overview of your work with widows?

Brother Leo: Orphans and widows are often inseparable especially in a culture where women out-live their husband who often die at 55 years average. HEAL's mission for the widows is fundamental in the services the Ministry of Justice render in Africa. I know that we create support systems and suitable environment for holistic wellbeing and welfare of the widows. This is the rationale behind the corporative and aid for widows.

Gordon: Will you be returning to the US in 2016 to introduce more churches in the Archdiocese to HEAL?

Brother Leo: Certainly yes because the board meeting of HEAL is yearly and I will be glad whenever the Archdiocese in her wisdom decides to expand awareness of HEAL to more churches in the Archdiocese. It will be my pleasure to do so in response to such a benevolent act.

Gordon: I am hoping that all of our readers and their friends will consider supporting HEAL. It is impossible to imagine a more important expression of our belief in a loving and compassionate God who inspires each of us to meet our obligation to helping those in need then joining you in your mission to help the most vulnerable among us.


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