Interviews

The Children some of our Colleagues left behind have dropped out of

Children of our late colleagues are out of School due to Abject Poverty – Catechist Zumunta

For 39 years he has been in the vineyard of the Lord as an evangelizer. From the hinterland of Mwari suburb – Bogoro to the rocky plains of Inkil – Bauchi, he transversed to bring the good news to all and sundry. With a Vocational Training background, Catechist John Zumunta like Jesus mastered the art of wood and nail in Jesus’ carpentry workshop. In this exclusive interview with the recently elected Chairman of Bauchi Diocesan Catechist’s Association, Catechist Zumunta who is the Head Catechist of Saint Dominic’s Inkil – Bauchi, our Editor-In-Chief, Rev. Fr. Justine Dyikuk takes him on a plethora of issues surrounding his life, calling and new responsibility. Excepts.

Bauchi Caritas: Can you briefly tell us about yourself?

I was born in Mwari, then under Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area of Bauchi State, now Bogoro L. G.A. I attended Mwari Primary School, the defunct Transferred School from 1973 to 1979. We were the first set to complete primary six in Mwari.

After successfully completion of my primary education in 1979, I proceeded to the Vocational Training Centre, Bauchi where I was trained in carpentry and joinery.

By 1983 I was employed into the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development as a staff. Between 1980 and 1995, I was passionate about singing and served the choir at the then St. John’s Church Bauchi.

I married my wife, Salome in 1987 in St. John’s Parish Bauchi at a wedding assisted by Rev. Simon Kabirat who is now deceased. I am blessed with 6 six children, three boys and three girls.

Bauchi Caritas: Can you tell us when and how you started working as a catechist?

Zumunta: I started working as an evangelist in my village, Mwari, which was under St. Giles parish Gambar, now under Divine Mercy Parish Bio, Bogoro LGA.

As part of doing God’s work, between 1980 and 1995, I was Choir Master, Hausa Section of St. John’s Church as well as Chairman Bauchi Parish Choir while forming the Bauchi deanery choir in 1983.

While I went about my singing business, I remember that Rev. Fr. Benedict Maigari was the first black priest to work in St. John’s Parish Bauchi haven been posted from Azare. It was the only parish in the whole of Bauchi Metropolis.

In 1992, I opened St. Thomas Aquinas Turwin as a pioneer evangelist where I served until 1995 when I was posted to St. Benedict Alkaleri as a trained catechist by Rev. Fr. Stephen Attawal. Meanwhile between 1999 and 2000, Bishop John Moore, SMA of blessed memory sent me to the Catechetical Training Centre in the then Kontagora prefecture, now Kontogora Vicariate where I was fully trained as a catechist.

I spent 13 years in Alkaleri working with Rev. Frs. Matthew Chanshilip, Richard Bwami, Moses Agada under St. Francis Railway. When St. Dominic’s Inkil was carved out of Railway in 2005, I worked with Rev. Frs. Cyril Shua’bu, James Akau, Sebastian Gombe and now Justine Dyikuk.

Bauchi Caritas: What experience since working as an evangelist and now, a catechist have you had that you cannot forget?

In 1994, I returned from presiding at Stations of the Cross in Tirwun and I decided to enter St. John’s Church to be part of the drama presentation that was taking place to mark the end of Laity Week Programme. I parked my brand new Suzuki 100 Motorcycle which I bought from a loan I collected from my work place within the church premises. To my greatest surprise, when I came out, the motorcycle was stolen and till date, there is no news about it.

Bauchi Caritas: Haven being elected as the Bauchi Diocesan Catechist’s Association chairman, how do you feel?

Zumunta: I didn’t expect it. But when election time came, I was chosen. I believe that leadership comes from God. As such, with the help of God, we as the new exco shall carry out our mandate.

Bauchi Caritas: What will you say about the outgoing exco?

Zumunta: Well, they did their best. I salute their courage. However, they had their own challenges which they could not surmount.

Bauchi Caritas: What challenges, can you mention some?

Zumunta: The issue of implementing the payment of 7 thousand naira per month as salary for each fulltime catechist by all parishes and the inability to see to the approval of condition of service for both part time and full time catechists. The out-gone exco did their best in these areas but did not succeed. We hope to continue from where they stopped.

Bauchi Caritas: What are your plans for the association?

Zumunta: My first priority is to seek ways of improving the welfare of catechists by urging them to look inwards so that when challenges like taking care of retired catechists, those that are deceased and those who may be incapacitated arise, we can help ourselves. The old exco tried doing something in terms of mobilizing catechists to contribute something for these courses by getting our members to pay some paltry sums. So, we intend to further seek ways of improving our lot as individuals and as a group.

And secondly, we will try to see if we can bring our wives together. We shall approach the relevant ecclesiastical authority on the need to allow us form Catechists Wives’ Association in the diocese. This will enable our wives to know each other and also assist one another. It will equally position them to be partners in progress with their husbands in this all important task of evangelization.

Bauchi Caritas: Are priests helpful to catechists across the diocese?

Zumunta: Well, from the reports we usually get from all deaneries at our annual conferences, all priests are supportive of their catechists. Some of our members give testimony of the goodwill of some priests in the diocese who sponsor the education of some of their children. We hear that the kids and wives of some deceased catechists receive support from some priests.

I wish to use this medium to thank them immensely for this unflinching support and pray they keep up the good work.

Bauchi Caritas: You were an observer; now you are the chairman. What challenges do you think the association has faced and is still facing?

Zumunta: Firstly, we are faced with the challenge of some of our erring members who are currently out of service but are desirous of being brought back to the group with little success. We have pleaded with their parish priests to reconsider their plight but there seem to be no headway.

Secondly, we are faced with the challenge of literacy. All the sessions of our retreats and workshops are done in Hausa language because whenever a facilitator begins to speak in English, some of our members would complain. I think the challenge is that most of us are not too literate. Perhaps if the diocese helps in the area of ongoing training or formation things will improve.

Bauchi Caritas: If you have the opportunity to meet with the Diocesan Administrator, what would you present him with on behalf of the association you are spearheading?

Zumunta: It will be my pleasure. Our association would beg that a Diocesan Handbook For Catechists be produced which will contain the duties and responsibilities of catechists, a uniform remuneration for catechists in the diocese and what every catechist expects from the faithful.

I would on behalf of the association plead that the diocese trains some of our young and bright catechists to diploma or degree levels. Although our diocese is poor, I think it is a genuine need because most of us are not too educated and when inter-diocesan programmes come up, sometimes it becomes a huge challenge to get people to represent us – it could be embarrassing.

Lastly, I would beg that the diocese helps the children of deceased catechists by either completely or partly funding their education. The children some of our colleagues left behind have dropped out of school because their families are in abject poverty.

Bauchi Caritas: What advice would you give your brothers and the people of God in Bauchi Diocese?

I would advice that every catechist in the diocese does his work to the best of his ability. We should not put our eyes on the things of this world as this would constitute a serious distraction. I urge them to try their hands on what would help them rather than having a sky is the limit kind of expectation from the diocese.

In conclusion, I think the people of God in our diocese are doing well. I beg them to continue supporting their catechists. If the faithful avoid the ugly attitude of looking down on their catechists, we will progress as a diocese. Catechists need your affirmation, not condemnation to deliver on their mandate in the evangelizing mission of the Church.