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The journey of a Catholic priest

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Father Raphael Nwosu stands near an outbuilding at the Immaculate Conception Mission in Dexter. Nwosu, who came to Dexter in July, is the Mission’s first full-time priest in 25 years. (Alex Ross Photo)

In a matter of months, the unwavering faith that Raphael Nwosu has in God and his desire to bring that message to others has brought him from his native Nigeria to the Pecos Valley.

The 36-year-old Catholic priest began his journey in March when he left Nigeria and arrived in Las Cruces.

After a brief stay and some training at St. Albert the Great Newman Parish, Nwosu was dispatched by the Catholic Diocese to the Immaculate Conception Church in Alamogordo to serve as an assistant priest.

In July, Nwosu moved to Dexter to serve as a priest of the Immaculate Conception Mission. He is the Dexter Mission’s first full-time priest in 25 years.

“I see a people that are hungry for God and they needed more than they had. So when I came, their excitement told me that they needed someone here to take care of their spiritual life in the Catholic faith,” Nwosu said.

Sunday is a busy day for Nwosu. In addition to performing mass at the Dexter Mission, he also performs mass in the neighboring communities of Hagerman at Saint Catherine’s Catholic Church, and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Lake Arthur.

So far, he said, Dexter has proven to be a good place with generous people.

Nwosu said he loves to learn new languages, an opportunity that presents itself within the Dexter mission, which has many Spanish speaking members. However, learning that language has been one of his biggest challenges.

Where a priest goes to live and work, though, is not dictated by personal choice, but where the Diocese sends him.

Guided by the dictates of his faith and the will of God, a priest works to meet the spiritual needs of others. Nwosu said those needs exist in large cities, remote villages, lands ravaged by war or communities plagued by the scourges of disease and poverty.

“Where people are does not change who they are. People are people. Human beings are human beings, so we are trained to fit into any mission, or situation or environment where we find ourselves,” he said.

Nwosu said when he first went to the seminary, he did not intend to become a priest. He went to get information and spiritual fulfillment. However, he soon became consumed by a desire to become a priest.

“I couldn’t resist it. I had options. I had options to do other things, I couldn’t resist this passion to become a priest,” Nwosu said.

Since coming to Dexter, Nwosu said there have been several changes at the Immaculate Conception Mission. The church now has services weeknights at 6 p.m.

He also wants to form a choir and reach out to young people. Unlike in Africa, where churches are filled with youth, active churchgoers in Europe and North America tend to skew older.

Secularism and other activities grab the attention and take up the time of young people, Nwosu said, but they, just like everyone else, need God in their lives.

He said in the U.S. and Europe, the low rate of church attendance and the high rate of suicide among that same group are not a coincidence.

Sometimes life is too big for a person to handle on their own and they need to consult with their creator to work through challenges and issues. When someone avoids the church, they stray far from God and his guidance.

“So these young people, because they have gone so far away, when these things happen, they no longer have access. They no longer feel they have access. They feel that they don’t have access to their creator. They can’t handle this situation, so all they can do is destroy the machine,” Nwosu said.

As someone who is young with a passion for music and sports, Nwosu said he hopes to draw young people closer to God, perhaps by starting a youth group within the church. He said what young people want is someone who understands and listens to them.

“So, I want to be the person that understands their fears and their problems and by that, bring them closer to Jesus,” Nwosu said.

Nwosu’s office hours are Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.