Tolerance, friendship for Nigerian priest at St. Gregory’s

St. Gregory’s pastor, Rev. Vincent Daily, and his Nigerian associate and friend, Rev. Peter Gengar. 	Bill Forry photoSt. Gregory’s pastor, Rev. Vincent Daily, and his Nigerian associate and friend, Rev. Peter Gengar. Bill Forry photo

Fr. Peter Gengar came to Boston last year to continue his religious education at Boston College. Ordained in 1998 in his native Nigeria, the 40 year-old clergyman focused his course of studies on building a more constructive dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

When he was not hitting the books at Chestnut Hill, Gengar has lived and worked here in Dorchester since last October. As a priest in residence at St. Gregory’s parish in Lower Mills, he has split the Mass schedule with Rev. Vincent Daily, St. Gregory’s pastor. The two have shared nightly meals together at the rectory and have become fast friends. Like the faithful in the pews, Daily at first found it tough to understand Gengar through his thick accent, a relatively easy hurdle that both parties have by now cleared. Gengar has cheerily endured his housemate’s fixation on the Boston Bruins and Daily’s more recent obsession: the electric guitar.

“I really admire his determination,” laughs Gengar. “Sometimes when I hear it blaring, Vin comes to my door, apologizing. It’s been a pleasure in recent times to hear him play it.”

Fr. Peter, as he likes to be called, will leave Boston soon to begin a final course of study in Manitoba. His eventual destination will be back home in Central Nigeria, where Gengar intends to launch a center for Muslim-Christian Dialogue near his hometown of Ikpayongo. Gengar hopes that he can help ease tensions between the rival religious groups, which has led to a spasm of violence in recent years. One of the most recent atrocities happened this past Christmas when Islamic extremists attacked churches and killed worshippers during Christmas Masses. Fr. Gengar shared his grief on the altar with St. Gregory’s parishioners hours later as he celebrated Christmas Mass here in Dorchester.

Gengar says he has learned a lot about co-existence during his time here in the States and, in particular, in Dorchester. It was a welcome surprise, as some had warned him about Dot’s “reputation.”

“When I was coming to Dorchester I was made to be afraid of it,” he recalled. “People told me that it was a dangerous community. I was taking a leap of faith. But there is beauty, life and happiness here. People live as a community. It’s lovely ”

Gengar says he’s been impressed with the multi-cultural nature of the parish.

“When I first had my Mass I was impressed with the make up. The people are very happy with each other. They blend quite well.”

Gengar’s anxious to go home, but has been asked to complete a degree in conflict resolution, another skill he will likely need in Nigeria. The northern part of the country, he says, is predominently Muslim, while the southern half is majority Christian. As the Muslim population has surged in recent years, the country has struggled with a changing identity and political strife, some of it manifested by religious violence.

Gengar says the country has been more peaceful since the Christmas attacks, but “there is still fear of extremism and violent attacks.”

His own hometown in the Lafia region of the country has long been known as a place where both religions co-exist in peace, Gengar says. He hopes to base his center- which he devised during his time at BC- in that part of the country and spawn “ambassadors” who will teach tolerance across the nation.

“I can’t say there is anything like that now,” Gengar says. “There’s a national interreligious council and it’s supposed to exist in every state. It’s a failure because Christian and Muslims who are leaders of communities and are supposed to form the leadership are suspicious of one another because it’s government sponsored.”

“I appreciate the religious atmosphere in this country, the freedom to worship and respect the law of the land.”