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Mon, Dec. 09

Nigerian native<br>serving El Cristo Rey

GC VILLAGE — Born in a small village in Nigeria, attending a university in Rome, living for six months in Germany, spending a year in Jerusalem and now serving the Catholic Church in the United States at Grand Canyon.

Cyprian Okoronkwo arrived at the El Cristo Rey Catholic Church on July 29 and plans to stay until the end of October before going to his native Nigeria.

Cyprian Okoronkwo has seen a lot of the world. It’s all part of his mission to gain knowledge while reaching goals in his Biblical studies.

"I know much about Europe and the Middle East," said Okoronkwo, who is now serving the El Cristo Rey Catholic Church as priest. "What I have is no pastoral or cultural experience in the United States.

"I want to get used to how things are here culturally and the mentality of the church," he added. "It’s helping me understand what the situation is like generally in the United States."

Okoronkwo, 32, arrived at Grand Canyon July 29 and will stay until the end of October.

He first visited the U.S. on a spiritual retreat to Phoenix. He enjoyed Arizona so much that he asked for the opportunity to come back. In response, things were organized so he could spend time at Grand Canyon.

"I like this place, it’s great," Okoronkwo said. "I noticed the people here are nice, the residents but also the tourists. The residents call to find out what they can do ... and it’s great meeting people from all over the world."

After Mass, Okoronkwo often finds himself conversing with folks from Italy or Germany, places where he’s lived in the past. Okoronkwo lived in Rome for 11 years, getting his doctorate in Biblical theology from a university there.

Okoronkwo was born in Nigeria and lived in his native country until the age of 20. He plans to return after leaving Grand Canyon.

"I belong to the Nigerian diocese," he said. "We already have a small church. They’re waiting for me at the end of October."

Okoronkwo is alone at Grand Canyon, but has family in Nigeria — his mother, two brothers and four sisters.

At Grand Canyon, Okoronkwo has found his energy zapped since he’s been here, mainly because of the higher elevation. Before doing anything like hiking, Okoronkwo said he needs to build up his energy.

Okoronkwo hopes to make trips to Grand Canyon an annual event.

"I plan to come back next summer," Okoronkwo said. "I made my intentions known to come back every summer as long as my bishop permits me."

Outgoing priest Don Felix Mary Benedict left the United States for the Philippine Islands, where he formerly worked and lived.

Okoronkwo holds Mass weekdays except Thursdays at 7 a.m. in the El Cristo Rey chapel. On Saturdays, Mass is said at 5 p.m. at the Shrine of the Ages.

On Sundays, Mass is held at 7 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. at the chapel and at 8:30 a.m. at the Shrine.

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