Fr. (Eugene) Michael Peters’ Funeral Rites were held in the Cathedral last weekend. Fr. Bernadine Nsom, a priest of Bamenda serving as Parish Priest in Charminster, has kindly allowed us to share the Homily he preached at the Funeral Mass…
One of our Catholic beliefs is faith in angels: – spiritual creatures who are servants and messengers of God (CCC 329-330). Examples of these angels and the messages or deeds God sent them to deliver or accomplish in people abound in scriptures: examples include the three angels sent to Abraham in Mamre Gen 18:1-8), God’s angel visiting Gideon (Judges 6:11-23), Archangel Raphael assists Tobias to get a wife and helps in the healing of Tobit in the Book of Tobit (v.4ff), Archangel Gabriel who visits Mary for the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), to name but a few. We do only profess this faith in the existence of angels, but also celebrate it in the liturgical year on 29th September, Feast of the Archangels and 2nd October, Memorial of the Guardian angels. I wonder how many of us in this liturgical celebration have ever got messages or assistance from an angel as experienced by the above examples.
Apart from angels, God also uses human beings like us to reveal his will to those he has chosen for specific tasks or to humanity as a whole. The call, formation and sending out of the apostles by Jesus was a fulfilment of the call of Israel for the world. This pattern continues today in the Church. By virtue of our Baptism, sealed with the sacraments of Confirmation and for some, Holy Orders, we are all called into the Common or Ministerial priesthood to share in the mission of Christ as priests, prophets and kings to bring the scattered children of God into one-fold. In a word, Bishop Philip always reminds us, we all called to be missionary disciples, called to bring others closer to Jesus. Hence, in order to better appreciate who we are and why were created, all of us need the support of angels and others since by nature we are mysteries in ourselves; mysteries that need to be unravelled gradually like a seed which grows into maturity unnoticed, but whose effects can be seen. In salvation history, God uses more of people than angels to communicate his divine will to humanity. Therefore, when we pray for a favour, to better understand ourselves and to discern our particular Christian vocation, we should not just look up to heavens as if the answers will fall down like snow or rain from heaven. We need also to be attentive to God’s mysterious ways of revealing the answers to our prayers through angels or people in circumstances we may never imagine. Praying and closing our eyes and ears to those around us may be the reason why some of us have not yet discerned their own missionary calling in the salvation of the world.
It is in this light that we can come to understand the life and priestly vocation of Fr. Eugene Michael Peters whose funeral rites we celebrate today. Born and raised as a Catholic around this Cathedral parish, he too had to discover who he was and the purpose of his life. Initially recruited by the Inland Revenue, the security needs of the country later caused him to leave the job and join the Royal Air Force, where he was posted to Germany. It is while on service there that the chaplain (Fr Romauld Wagner) awakened in him a seed God had planted in his person from the moment of conception by when after being with him suggested that he should have a go at the priestly vocation. In Fr Eugene’s own words, ‘it did not appeal, but the thought would not go away’. Although he returned to his former profession as a tax officer after his military service, he finally had an appointment with Bishop King and after two years of waiting, agreed to give it a trial in 1962, though still in doubt. It was during his formative years at the English College in Valladolid that this priestly vocation really took root and further led to his ordination here in this Cathedral in 1968. Another messenger whom God sent to help him figure out how to administer in his newly ordained function was his first parish priest Canon Pat O’Mahony. According to Fr Eugene: ‘From day one he stressed the importance of home-visiting and he set the blue-print which his newly-ordained curate tried to follow for the next 40 years: school, hospital and the like the morning; housebound and nursing homes in the afternoon; everybody else in the evening. With careful planning, everybody would meet the priest one-to-one once a year in his/her home’. The last great influential messenger was Bishop Worlock. Fr Eugene’s wish was to train and become chaplain to the Royal Airforce. However, his bishop, Bishop Worlock had other plans for him – to do a youth training course, which he reluctantly accepted, but which in later years will become vital as over half of his ministry was with children and young people. Later on, he was sent, with Msgr Ron Hishon to Bamenda as the pioneer Fidei Donum priests from this diocese due to the newly creation of the Portsmouth Bamenda Link. Although his time there was cut short due to an ‘African skin disease’ that doctors did not successfully diagnose till his death and whose effects kept returning, within the year and a half that he was there, he formed a vocation group from which three became priests.
In this Mass, I will like us to thank all those who had an influence in the life and ministry of Fr. Eugene, living and dead beginning with his family, Cathedral Parish, the successive bishops of Portsmouth, classmates and colleagues, formators, priests and friends, parishes and educational institutions where he served as priest. He could face most of the challenges he went through life and in the ministry because of your constant support. For all those of you who met him, there is no doubt that his life was lived for others as seen in his family apostolate, youth and vocation apostolate, parish commitments, missionary to an unknow territory that brought him poor health, and finally chaplaincy to schools, especially St. Mary’s where he lived and worked for 33 years.
It is not a surprise that for his funeral Mass, the first reading he chose is related to family life, particularly the role of children towards their parents. For all those who met and knew him, the domestic church was very foundational and important in his ministry. He was so meticulous and dedicated to this part of his ministry that he built a very large and caring family around his person. He not only knew them. Borrowing the words of Pope Francis, he ‘knew the smell of the sheep’ and yearly got in touch with them. He immortalised all the families he administered to in photographs, a hubby he was so passionate about. He also took time to write to them, make phone calls and even reminding them on the anniversaries of their first encounter, e.g. last December he wrote to me: ‘My Dear Bern, the 47th anniversary of our first meeting has just passed; and, as always, I spend some time viewing all my photographs of those wonderful days in Mankon. My visits to the post office and your home were always ‘special’. Yes, my family and myself have always held you special all these years!’.
On the other hand, many of these families kept in touch with him long after his transfers; an example he mentioned to me in his last note to me on 11th February, 2022: ‘I continue to get Christmas cards from Charminster parishioners; and that after 45 years. A wonderful down-to-earth group. You will surely miss them-as they will miss you. Please, assure them that they remain in my grateful prayers. They helped eased me back to health when I returned suddenly from Mankon’.
In these families, he influenced lots of young people in their faith journey, some of whom are priests today, myself inclusive. At the same time, he confessed that these families also moulded him to be the person he was. In his own words: ‘later in life, he continually realised how important were the help, understanding and courage, the gentleness and wisdom his Family and so many parishioners gave him. These men, women and children entered into his life and became powers within him’. The presence of children and youth in his daily life was a constant reminded him to develop those childlike qualities Jesus expects from his followers. One cannot work with children without growing in gentleness, kindness, forgiveness, tolerance and patience; qualities this priest of Christ showed in his pastoral ministry. Though sick and tired, he still found it very difficult to part from St. Mary’s, now Charlton House. In his last letter to me, he wrote: ‘My one piece of sad news is that I am standing down this week as school chaplain after 33 years, I have a small bungalow awaiting me a mile away (alongside the convent)’. Unfortunately for him, he was never chanced to enter this bungalow considering that the Good Lord called him home on 17th March, 2022. One thing that comes out clearly from this reflection is that he was a real missionary disciple, using the method he had come to discover his vocation towards others.
In the gospel, Jesus tells his apostles not to be troubled. This admonition was given to the apostles at the time of his imminent departure. He was about to leave this world through a painful and tortuous death; an experience that would shaken the core of their faith as we would later see in Gethsemane where they all abandon him, in Peter who denied him three times or the two disappointed disciples on the way to Emmaus. Despite these challenges, Christ assured them to trust in God and to trust in him because his passion and death, with its subsequent separation, won’t last forever. Like a Jewish bridegroom who, after intending a wife would go back and prepare a home for her and then return to bring her into it with great celebration, so he, Jesus, was going to his Father to prepare a room for each and everyone of us, who is his bride by virtue of baptism; after this preparation he would then come back and take each of us into the many rooms in his Father’s house, where we will dwell in peace and serenity with the Father who gives peace.
Like the apostles and each of us, Fr. Eugene had his own faith challenges: health challenges, especially the ‘mysterious skin disease’ he contracted back in Bamenda, which was never really diagnosed and whose effects constantly returned, that shortened his stay in Bamenda. He also had challenges with in the respective appointments given him; and challenges in relationships. However, these did not deter him from being a devoted and passionate person in the exercise of his ministry. His trust in God, also expressed in the responsorial psalm (Ps. 23) gave him that zeal and single-purpose of mind to serve as best as he could in all appointments given him. Furthermore, he never wanted to burden anyone with his problems. He was the type of person who would love listening to others’ problems and work hard to resolve them, but would not want others to know what he is going through. I am sure his death came as a surprise to many as well as myself. All he told me about on 11th February this year was: ‘I am sure we shall meet again sometime. I can never make firm dates in my diary because I need regular hospital treatment and everything has to give way to that!’
I will conclude this reflection by thanking you Fr. Eugene Michael Peters, on behalf of all the categories of the people of God both here in Portsmouth and Bamenda, for who you were; for giving your life to the Church and faithfully serving her all these 53 years; for your missionary zeal especially to families and youths in particular; for Bringing God in their lives and helping them to become better persons. Thanks for your simplicity of heart, soft spoken nature, compassion and care for others, generosity and gentleness. Yes, you fought the fight. You have won the race. May the Good Lord grant you the eternal peace and happiness you brought to his people as priest. May the Angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs come to welcome you and take you to the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem. We believe that, after receiving the last rites of the Church, you are now enjoying that beatific vision of the transfiguration Peter, James and John experienced on Mount Tabor. Remember to keep on praying for us as we look forward meeting you to celebrate with all the angels and saints forever and ever. Amen!