St. Athanasius Church makes anniversary extra sweet for visiting Nigerian priest

Fr. Emem Returns to Bensonhurst Parish Each Summer

August 22, 2016 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Fr. Gerald Emem Umoren shakes hands with a well-wisher. Photos by Arthur DeGaeta
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The people of St. Athanasius Church on Sunday feted a beloved Nigerian priest on the 20th anniversary of his ordination.

Father Gerald Emem Umoren, familiarly known as Fr. Emem, has served the Bensonhurst parish for the past several summers. He marked his 20th year as a priest on Sunday, Aug. 21, by celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving and presenting a pair of Communion chalices to his host congregation.

This special Mass of Thanksgiving, which priests customarily celebrate the day after their ordinations and then on ordination anniversaries, was a planned event. But what Emem didn’t expect was “the extent of the celebration” following the liturgy, he told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday. Recognizing that Emem was far from home, a group of 150 parishioners gathered to present him with a cake and other tributes.

Emem first came to St. Athanasius from the Diocese of Ikot Ekpene in Nigeria a few years ago as a summer priest to relieve the pastor and other priests as they vacationed. He immediately experienced the hospitality extended to him by Monsignor David Cassato and the parish. He has returned to St. Athanasius each summer since, and he will be here until Aug. 29.

Emem then returns to his service in Ikot Ekpene and his teaching profession at St. Joseph Major in that diocese.

He studied in Rome, holds a doctorate and is fluent in several languages, including his native Efik. “My middle name, Emem, means ‘peace,’” he told the Eagle. His other languages are English, Italian, French and some Spanish. Moreover, he teaches Hebrew and Greek at the seminary, and has taught the Old Testament as well.

St. Athanasius Church, which celebrated its centennial in 2013, has always had a significant congregation of Italian-speaking immigrants, predominantly from Southern Italy. The parish also has a Spanish-speaking community. St. Athanasius identifies itself on its weekly bulletins and website as welcoming to people from all economic and cultural backgrounds, and is also handicapped accessible and celiac friendly, meaning that low-gluten Communion is available for those whose medical situation requires this.


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