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Love is everything, thanks to Father Bob




HIS intellect is as sharp as razor, just as his wit has enough flare to start a Harmattan fire, or stop a sandstorm in this season. These are dwarfed by the warmth of his personality and ease with which he blends. Yet all of these beggar the sacrificial nature of his heroic disposition to service.

The laboratories of The Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT) where he conducted research for his PhD in the 1960s may have seemed closer to the Stockholm Halls where people who did such work were honoured with the Nobel Prize, than his hometown of Pittsburg, in Pennsylvania, was from the Cambridge/Boston corner of the American North East. But a force greater than the dignity of the Nobel drove him on.

The force drew him down a bush track through a vocation that made him serve others through on Apostolate of friendship, and more formation after, to the priestly society of the Holy Cross, and to heart of Africa. The Scientist from MIT has managed the miracle of using his PhD, in a Harvest of Love, to help men and women of Nigeria find meaning in a world challenged by forces so uncertain that the need to form the conscience, continuously, lest the cobwebs that can gather, dim the sunshine. It has meant that half his life has been lived in Nigeria.

He has spent about half of this robust life, the quota allotted in scripture to the strong, in Nigeria. During that period he has lived in Enugu and learnt to manipulate the Igbo language in ways incredible; then lived in a village near Ijebu Ode, for many years, playing with Yoruba Idioms and engaging the various (Baba Shushee) church elder, in the neighborhood.

This remarkable Priest, Fr. Robert Yoest is 80 today. And he does it all for love. Fr. Bob as all call him, has lived and still lives the generosity of care for neighbour. For reminding me, with his life, the value of the simple life I can never be grateful enough, Happy Birthday.

He is so usually self-effacing that but for the silver crown on his head and the failure of his skin to respond the sun’s tan after so many years in the tropics, he would go unnoticed. This is why I am glad I will be six hours of flying away from Lagos when this is published. It would have been had to look him in the face after bringing him into the spotlight. I trust that love which fuels his many deeds, will earn me pardon.

When I look at Father Bob and those he helps see the world more clearly, I am often reminded about how often we fail to see the concrete form, in action, of ideas that are grandly postulated but seem sort of far-fetched, esoteric or even apparently Utopian. As I have been speaking quite a bit recently about Jurgen Habermas on Utopia, in giving a lecture on the state of the public sphere, I am brought home with lives like the one being lived by Father Bob, of the concrete form of ideas about a Civilization of Love espoused by Pope John Paul II of blessed memory. It is in fact in much the same way that in looking at him, and those like him, that I picture the grandeur of ordinary life and the call of the Spanish Priest JeseMaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, that ordinary people can be contemplatives in the middle of the world, placing Christ at the zenith of all human activity, from the Board room to the Beer parlour.

There is much to be thankful to Father Bob for, besides meditations and other forms of formation he has given every day for half his life in Nigeria, but particularly for the example that man is a gift, one to the other, many say cheers.
Every time I drive past the Lagos Business School in Ajah I remember Father Bob. Many years ago when the place was thick bush and we drove past there, he would say a prayer. With what it has turned out to be, I remember his prayer and say a prayer for the power of prayer.

The self-giving of Father Bob and those driven on the same fuel, Love, is how it overcomes everything and climbs mountains, travels across cultures and continents, and makes one at home in distant climes. To the Nigerian called Rev. Fr Bob Yoest; Ese, dalu, mungode.
Love is everything and we thank Father Bob for teaching us that.
•Utomi, political economist, and professor of Entrepreneurship is founder of the CVL

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