When Christians gather to sing praises with pentecostal music ministers, the assumption that it is a gathering of Pentecostal worshippers isn’t unlikely. But it’s different with the Catholic Church of Divine Mercy, Lekki, Lagos, which made a radical move most traditional Catholics might not agree with. They started a kind of evangelism in the form of praise, which they termed, Unusual Praise.
Now in its eleventh year, Unusual Praise gathers hundreds of thousands of people from different denominations of Christianity who all have one mission—to praise God. And this year it is a much bigger event.
Editor of THEWILL DOWNTOWN, Onah Nwachukwu, gets insights about this year’s event from the Parish Priest, Monsignor Paschal Nwaezeapu and this year’s Committee chairman, Chike Oruche.
Monsignor Paschal Nwaezapu, Parish Priest Catholic Church Of Divine Mercy, Lekki, Lagos
Good day, Msgr. Pascal. What birthed the idea of Unusual Praise?
In 2011 our parish harvest theme was “Harvest of Praise”. This was inspired by Psalm 50:14, which says, “Let the giving of thanks be your sacrifice to God and give the almighty all that you have promised”.
After recording an incredibly successful harvest season— a level of success that could only be possible with God, it seemed imperative to give more to God through praise and thanksgiving. The leader of the Catholic Charismatic Harvest Committee that year, Obinna Egwudo, then coined the term Unusual Praise and organised a small gathering within the society. And that was the birth of Unusual Praise. Then in 2016, it was adopted as a parish event by the priest and the parish pastoral council and thrown open to parishioners and Catholics from other parishes, Christians, and any other person who wanted to praise God.
It is not quite your typical Catholic event, yet it has gone on for 11 years. Do you think the traditional Catholic community have come to accept this mode of praising God?
It is actually very typical of Catholics to praise God, as praise and worship is a big part of our faith, though we used to do it more through traditional hymns and classical music. But also, we should not forget that the Holy Mass is the greatest act of praise. While we may have faced a little pushback from well-meaning Catholics initially, the overall response has been incredible, which is why, to the glory of God, Unusual Praise has continued to grow from strength to strength.
COVID-19 inspired an online worship mode; another online and physical session was held last year. However, this year sees the largest venue yet. What inspired moving the event to Tafawa Balewa Square?
Because of the growth in numbers, there was a need to find a space big enough, but more importantly, we needed to find an area we could use every year instead of moving the event from one place to the other. This, in turn, allows us to plan appropriately.
Indeed, out of necessity, during the pandemic-induced restriction of movement and certain extents of public gathering, we could not gather physically —as we wanted. Still, it was important to gather, so we introduced online worship. At the same time, this also allowed us to reach a much wider audience via new media platforms; today, our YouTube channel has over 100k subscribers. While it served the purpose of reaching more people who might not be able to attend physically, it also increased awareness about Unusual Praise. The increased interest in the event and improved attendance inspired the move to TBS (Tafawa Balewa Square). Plus, worshippers need space to dance.
Is Unusual Praise for Catholics only? I noticed the line-up of Gospel Ministers is not exclusively Catholic.
Unusual Praise is for anyone who wishes to worship and experience God in a new, special, and unique way—Catholics, Protestants, agnostics, and unbelievers are all welcome. This year’s theme is ‘Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.’ So everyone is invited to partake and enjoy a refreshing time in the presence of God.
Unusual Praise started an Entrepreneur Training programme of sorts. How is that doing?
It is going great! In 2018 we introduced Unusual Entrepreneur, an economic empowerment initiative that combines mentoring and seed funding for small businesses. This initiative has seen about 400(four hundred) people benefit from the mentoring and seed funding exercise. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the harsh economic consequences in our country, the need to drive this initiative has become even more compelling. In the future, we desire to increase that figure with the cooperation of our parishioners and sponsors.
What about the night makes it one that everyone, whether Catholic or Pentecostal, shouldn’t miss?
Everything! The praise, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the joy, the fellowship, prayers and, of course, The Holy Mass. It is an event that needs to be experienced by all.
CHIKE ORUCHE, COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN, 2022
Congratulations on your appointment as Chairman of the Unusual Praise Committee this year. What are you doing differently this year, which is the 11th year of the event?
Thank you very much for your kind words. It is truly an honour to be the chairman of the Unusual Praise Committee this year, although I see myself more as a Servant Leader, humbling working and serving alongside others members of the committee to make this the biggest and most exciting Unusual Praise event yet. Following in the footsteps of my predecessors, I’ll let God take the lead in the planning of the event as it is ultimately for His glory.
This is definitely a much bigger event this year, especially with the Tafawa Balewa Square as the venue. Do you think you are fully prepared to handle the crowd?
We are. We have carefully planned this year’s event to take place in a new, bigger and more central location, with all the necessary logistics in place to ensure that the crowd is properly managed.
What plans have you and your team made to ensure that the event is crime-free and not marred by stampede?
For security reasons I actually can’t share in detail. What I can say is that we have always taken security very seriously and this year is no different. Matter of fact, security is our top priority this year.
Hosting such an event at a location like that must cost a fortune. How easy is it to raise funds for it?
It is not easy raising funds under the present economic realities, but God has made a way and will continue to do so. Having the opportunity to see God in action, touching people’s hearts to be so generous, has been such an humbling experience for me. I also believe that people understand the importance of what it means to give back to God, especially for an event specifically set up to thank and praise Him. A grateful heart is a magnet for miracles.
You have an amazing line-up of music ministers. From Nathaniel Bassey to Ada Jesus and Mercy Chinwo, how easy or difficult was it to convince them to be part of this?
Unusual Praise, to the glory of God, is the biggest Catholic praise concert in Africa. We have a strong brand that is only getting better. As a result, it is not too difficult to get some incredible ministers to key in- or to come back again over the years, such as Nathaniel Bassey and Mercy Chinwo. I also think there is an element of curiosity. People want to see if Catholics can really praise and they are never disappointed by the Unusual Praise experience.
Unusual Praise is a form of evangelism. As the Chairman of Unusual Praise this year, what are your expectations for this year’s event?
My expectations for this year’s event is the same as the command to every Christian (Mark 16:15. ‘GO’), which is to ultimately win souls for Christ. That God may be glorified because He is indeed worthy of our praise and for an outpouring of blessings like we have never seen before.