In his Reflections On Our Silver Jubilee "A Time To Rejoice In the Lord" Pastoral Letter 1984 (p.9), Bishop Anthony Gogo Nwedo of blessed memory, writing under the caption - Birth of Okigwe Diocese, has this to say "This commendable growth was particularly noticeable in the Okigwe zone of the Diocese where the Catholic population has grown to be more than that of the other two zones (Aba and Bende) put together. It was therefore not surprising to see that, when Umuahia Diocese came of age at 21, Holy See thought it opportune to separate that zone from the mother Diocese, as a ripe fruit is separated from the parent tree, and constitute it into a Diocese of its own. And so, Okigwe Diocese was born. As is evident, it is full of the vitality of youth. We wish it every success. We wish it every progress. May its Pastor and people always work together in harmony for the consolidation and expansion of the kingdom of Christ throughout its confines. May it yield abundant fruit of virtues to the greater glory of God and the honour of God's dear Mother, Mary, unto life everlasting". With this paternal and Episcopal blessing, Bishop Anthony Nwedo let go (even though four years after - in writing) the most vital part of his diocese and prayed for its unity and success.
X- RAYING THE PAST AND PROPOSING THE WAY FORWARD
Historical Survey: Pre-Catholic Diocese of Okigwe
The Diocese of Umuahia to which Okigwe belonged as a zone and from where it was created a diocese had a remarkable impact in the growth of evangelization in the Eastern Region of Nigeria, with priests like Msgr. Nwanegbo, Bishop Nwedo, Msgr. Ahaji, Bishop Unegbu, Msgr. Nwafor, Msgr. Emerenini, Msgr. Eche, Msgr. Ogbonna, Bishop Ochiagha, Msgr. Makolu, Fr. Osuji, Msgr. Abiamiri, Msgr. Ahunanya, Bishop Ilonu, etc. to mention but a few. These are the priests-icons that gave the Umuahia Diocese the splendor and glory in the missionary activities in the entire Eastern Region of Nigeria and from where Okigwe as a diocese inherited her great name, honour, respect, and splendid growth. Okigwe, before it became a diocese, accounted for the high percentage of highly educated, very venerable, revered and pastorally experienced priests in the entire diocese of Umuahia.
In fact, in the then, Onitsha Ecclesiastical province Okigwe recorded memorable impact in the history, spread and growth of the Church in Igbo land and beyond. The truth of this was clear when the Expatriates fled the country because of the civil war, Okigwe and Umuahia gave the church priests who took the mantle of training the indigenous clergy-Msgr. J Ogbonna as the Rector of Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu Very Rev. Fr. G. Ochiagha as Bursar of BMS Enugu and later as the first Rector of Bigard Memorial Seminary Ikot Ekpene.
In a very short space of time, this iconic Diocese gave the church three (3) Bishops; Bishop Unegbu of Owerri diocese, Bishop Ochiagha of Orlu diocese, and Bishop Ilonu of Okigwe diocese, all of them Okigwe indigenes.
The birth of Okigwe diocese
Bishop Nwedo once described Okigwe zone in the then Umuahia diocese as the best part of his diocese, the foregoing survey presents a clue regarding the reason for this positive assessment. That notwithstanding, he was prepared to let go this most fertile section of his territory. The Holy See therefore carved out Okigwe diocese in 1980 and published it in 1981. Bishop Anthony Ekezie Ilonu who was named the first Bishop of the New Diocese was a high classed academic and a man admired and cherished by his students at BMS Enugu for his punctuality and sense of devotion to his responsibilities. He was installed on the 291" of March 1981. Okigwe diocese was respected and even envied for the caliber of Chief Shepherd it received. Joy and excitement greeted the two events of the announcement and the consecration. It was a dream fulfilled. The installation ceremony was unprecedented in glamour. The expectations thereafter were equally high. People looked forward to a deepening in faith, in spirituality and speedy structural growth.
The New Bishop settled down to pilot the affairs of the new diocese entrusted to his care. He doggedly strived to acquire a massive expanse of land under the administration of Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe for the building of the Cathedral, Bishops Court and Secretariat. He vigorously pursued the establishment of a diocesan Seminary at Okigwe. Through his apostolic zeal, the twenty four parishes he inherited in 1981 graduated to one hundred and five parishes in 2005. He also promoted priestly vocations in the young diocese. Within the twenty five years of the existence of the diocese two hundred and ten were ordained priests. It is to his credit that the pastoral concept of Parish in-building was coined taking into consideration the peculiar pastoral situation in the diocese. This concept came to be adopted by other Catholic Bishops and even other denominations who now talk of a Missionary diocese. He gave others for the establishment of Nursery Primary Schools in every Parish and Secondary Schools in some parishes. He nurtured existing Diocesan hospitals and successfully established and approved two Schools of Nursing, the first of its kind east of the Niger. Under him a handsome number of seminarians who later became priests and some priests were sent to study overseas. His kind heartedness was highly reflected by his presence at the funeral of the deceased parents of any of his priests.
As a zone, Okigwe was able to produce three bishops under twenty five years Two of these - in the persons of Bishop Mark Unegbu of blessed memory and Bishop Gregory Ochiagha were "loaned" to Owerri and Orlu dioceses respectively. These two great Okigwe prelates worked tirelessly, relentlessly and selflessly to catapult their dioceses to great heights and at their retirement successfully handed over to indigenous priests of the diocese. For the Owerri people, Bishop Unegbu remains the Patriarch whose footprints will ever be cherished and can never be erased. For Orlu indigenes Bishop Ochiagha remains the great Shepherd of Souls whose legacies will outlive generations yet unborn.
When will this diocese produce another Bishop Unegbu, from the north who would willingly surrender a viable part of his diocese to another Bishop Ochiagha who auspiciously hails from the southern part of the same diocese? Their broadmindedness remains an eternal challenge to each and every one of us.
As a diocese and for over a quarter of a century, one would have naturally thought that this flourishing laud for grooming high ranking and highly revered ecclesiastics would have availed the mother Church, high caliber of priests to serve as Bishops and Apostolic Delegates but this is not to be. In twenty five years the Catholic diocese of Okigwe was unable to produce even a papal chamberlain, no auxiliary bishop not to talk of a Coadjutor or a bishop. All the two hundred and sixty priests as at the time of the diocesan silver jubilee or at least the two hundred and six who must have served as priests for at least five years according to the stipulation of Canon Law, with all their academic, spiritual and canonical accolades, home earned or European and American education and influence were considered unworthy for the exalted and challenging Episcopal nomination. None, from the breeding terrain for bishops like Unegbu and Ochiagha and Ilonu me, the necessary requirements Even those who were considered front liners then have their names already put in the index in the Vatican archive. The disturbing but veritable question therefore remains - what really went wrong?
Our prayer life
Examining critically what transpired during the first quarter of a century of the life of the diocese, the first question that comes to mind is what became of the faith and prayer life of all and sundry during the period? If according to St John (cf Un 5:4) "our faith is the victory which overcomes the world" could it not be that this faith was not strong enough that was why we could not resolve the differences. There seemed to have been too much human intervention instead of total submission to divine guidance and direction. Monthly Recollection seemed optional and was sometimes turned into a social exercise, is prayer not an ascensus mentis in Deum - a raising of the mind and hesst to God. Was this mind directed to God or diverted to finding faults. St Augustine says "He truly knows how to live rightly who rightly knows how to pray." And Abbot Marmion affirms that "Without faith his (the priest's) whole existence is an offence against truth",
When it seemed we were unable to turn our eyes to the Lord which prayer implies, we turned them to one another, pointing accusing fingers at and castigating one another. Instead of using the pulpit "to familiarize the faithful with the whole of the mysteries of the faith and with norms of Christian living" as Pope John Paul II admonished in his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae (no 48) some turned it into a platform for cajoling and ridiculing fellow priests. The consequences for interpersonal priestly relationship and collaborative work were therefore negative.
Quest for materialism
Every priest makes a life-long commitment to poverty, chastity and obedience. But it seems a contradiction, when one takes the vow of poverty and Christ talks about the one who leaves father and mother and joins his service receiving a hundredfold in this life and life everlasting in the Kingdom of heaven. Some understood the hundredfold reward 10 include acquisition and inordinate ambition for wealth. The quest to acquire money even at the cost of belittling themselves and denting f image became the lot of some priests. The mad rush for flashy car§ establishment of personal business ventures became almost a phenomenon.
The image of the priest as a simple pastor who identified himself with the poor gradually began to wane. He was rather considered a man of affluence and ranked with politicians, top business tycoons and other exploiters of the common man. This partly accounted for many incidents of armed robbery.
According to one author, "The consequence of a life of affluence and materialism is the feeling of insecurity among many priests. The feeling of insecurity has affected the priest so much so that he goes all out in search of security and it does not matter where such security comes from some priests became healers not because of the search for spiritual but economic security. The effect of this is the multiplication of devils and demons in society. Now it seems that the devil and demons have taken over the world, and God has been edged out. The language of deliverance rents the air, but paradoxically, no one seems to be delivered, the devil continued to have a field day. This ugly trend also led to the abuse of Sacraments and Sacramental’s, inflated stole fees and irreverence for the "Sanctissimum."
Random Establishment of Schools
The autonomy exhibited by some priests was extended to the establishment of schools. Some started such institutions without a word to any constituted authority and are therefore unwilling to render account to any person. Nursery/Primary and Secondary Schools sprouted up like fungus every day, entrusted to unqualified teachers that are themselves being exploited by way of very poor remuneration. Given the sub standard and dilapidated structures in some of these schools one wonders if the motive for the establishment is not economic benefit instead of the provision of qualitative education.
THE WAY FORWARD
In order to maintain the splendor, the respect and the glory for which Okigwe Diocese had been known as history attests and perhaps to discover the best means of moving it to a greater height; attention must be given to the crop of the clergy (priests) that would accomplish this task. It is necessary at this point to have a critical look at the type of priests required for the anticipated positive change.
According to the magnificent definition of St. Paul, a priest is a man "Ex homimbus assumptus pro hominibus constituitur in his, quae sunt ad Deum" "taken from among men (yet) ordained for men in things that pertain to God" (Heb. 5:1). In what ways and how does the priest express this splendid definition? One hard thinking priest presents the following categories of priests in our contemporary society.
He says, we have holy, pious and prayerful priests - Priests who may spend the whole day at prayer. We have priest administrator who is a good organizer and good manager. We have book worm priests - These ones can be lost in their books and may have little time for the priestly ministry and prayer. We have degree - conscious priests who would expect and even demand to be addressed as Rev Dr. so and so. We have praise - singing priest whose voice shrills at the pulpit with praises for the wealthy and powerful, the great and highly placed. There are Naira- priests who measure the apostolic success with much money making and such enterprise. There is priest actor who is solely concerned with impressing his congregation and at times extends his drama to a kind hearted Bishop who may be tricked into seeing him for what he is really not. We have priests who take delight in staying in the company of women. There are psychedelic priests who try to keep pace with fashion. And their soutanes are rarely with them. We have conservative priest who prefers the Prevatican Council era. There is the disgruntled priest who feels insecure threatened and persecuted by all, even by the Bishop and so he is always complaining. There is wonder worker priest who shuttles from city to city, parish to parish or station to station trying all conceivable miracles and healing method. We have the almighty priest, the absolute monarchy, the immovable mover who thinks that his opinion must be sought in all matters and would even make the Bishop believe so. And we have the roaming priest who is seen everywhere but in his parish. What amazing variety of priests. But would this kind of priests accomplish what we are talking about in moving our diocese forward? What caliber of priests do we require to take up this task of moving the Diocese Forward?
The two fold reality of the priesthood indicated by (Heb. 5:1) which we have defined above gives us a beautiful picture of the principal characteristics of the kind of priest we need for the job. One chosen from among the members of the priestly people of God; consecrated and sent to evangelize, govern, and sanctify the people of God in hierarchical communion with the bishop. The kind of priest who orientates his live in such a way that both his spiritual and human qualities come into play in his ministry. This implies that he possesses human qualities such as sincerity, loyalty, love of justice, humility, respect for authority and freedom of his flock, and other qualities that are characteristics of Christ- compassion, sympathy, loving, forgiving, friendliness, availability and helpfulness. By these values and virtues the people will come to see him as someone dose to them, a good friend and indeed one of them. This necessary because the kind of pries, our people want this time is one; who resembles Christ, in all dimensions of his life and work, They want a priest who speaks to them like Christ, through whom they can discover, listen, see, and reach Christ. In fact if he fails to do or be this, he can be likened to a fire fighter, who arrives at the scene of fire out break with his tanker empty.
As a Minister of Christ, and dispenser of mysteries of God, the ministry of the word is his primordial, and inalienable right, "Go into the whole world and preach the good news to all creation" (Lk. 16:15). He must preach this good news about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in such a manner that it would strike strong deep root into the hearts and souls of the people and make them like trees planted near the spring and solid as a house built on a solid ground that would stand the widest storms. He would be able to do this by a good "kerygma" and catechesis i.e. the proclamation of the good news pure and simple to arouse faith with a sound and strong prophetic zeal (kerygma); Catechesis, the deepening of the meaning and values of this message by systematic catechetical instructions which help the hearers to total conversion, understanding and adherence to Jesus Christ
He should posses a very strong prophetic zeal and favor in the exercise of his priestly roles. More importantly, in his proclamation of the word he is to preach, what the Church wants the people to hear and not what the people want to hear or what makes them feel good. Indeed what he preaches must often unsettle people and make them uncomfortable and in fact disturb their mind. It is often said that the hallmark of good preaching is that it should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He must be a true witness to what he preaches. People must see / discover Christ in and through him by the way he reflects, witnesses to what he proclaims. This is because if he does not do what he preaches, he can hardly carry the people along in the apostolic journey forward.
He must be ever concerned with the good of the people of God and ready to spend himself for them like Christ and his disciples (Mk. 3:20)
It is evident both from the second and pos, Vatican council documents and general teaching of the church that the vocation of the priesthood is a special call to perfection holiness and sanctity. Therefore any priest who wants to be worth the name, who would be able to sanctify and lead the people to God, must necessarily posses a strong spiritual life and generous apostolic commitment in close union w.th Christ. In other words, his spirituality must be;
i. Christocentric: He has to be a true and concrete extension of Christ among the people of God. This entails much in his entire ministry as a priest.
ii. His spirituality and sanctity must possess the character of ecclesial service; As a minister of the Lord and of the church, he should have the spirit of service (Lk. 22:26- 27; Mk 10 42-45) this spirit of service manifests itself in apostolic zeal, in an ability to endure the fatigue of the work, in a willingness to accept any pastoral charge however humble, without seeking honour and personal reward and above all be ready to sel flessly sacrifice some necessities of life for the sake of the gospels. And be able to endure bow in submission and obedience even when his brilliant and wonderful initiatives are curbed and checked by a seemingly conservative Bishop. As catechist of catechists, he is to zealously sustain and promote catechetical and pastoral programs that ensure the ongoing formation of the lay faithful.
iii. In Eucharistic: His spirituality must be Eucharistic precisely because this is the font, the summit, the apex, indeed the source of our Christian life and sanctity. Therefore he must be scrupulously careful in every aspect of the Eucharist.
iv. Marian Spirituality: yes, because Mary is the mother and associate of Christ, the eternal priest; she is the mother of the church and always close to the life and ministry of the priest.
The code of Canon Law (cans. 273-289) looks at the priestly spirituality from the following perspectives; reverence and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff and local Ordinary, acceptance and faithful fulfillment of the offices committed to him, communion and cooperation with one another in bond of brotherhood and prayer, daily nourishment of his life in the twofold table of the sacred scripture and the Eucharist. Daily fulfillment of the liturgical hours and the annual spiritual exercise, honoring the Virgin Mother of God and Mother of the Church; attending the sacrament of Reconciliation and real devotion to prayer especially the daily mental prayer.
Regarding the evangelical counsels, special emphasis must be laid on the strict observance of the obligate of the virtue of chastity and the law of celibacy. This is because of their sensitivity in the cultural context of our people today.
Hence, the pastoral guide for Diocesan priests admonishes priests that in their relation with women, special care should be taken because of the priestly state and the danger of scandalizing the faithful, (cf CIC 277:2)
This holds particularly for Rev. Sisters who are closer to priests through their religious spirit, apostolic ideal and way of life. Priests therefore while they have a duty to have good relationship with all women and to involve them in the apostolate, should avoid preferential attention and anything that might create special bonds and diminish freedom of heart. In this whole matter it is not enough that the priest himself should know that he is not guilty of anything; he should also follow the criterion of St. Paul; "for our part, we avoid giving scandal to anyone so that our ministry may not be brought into discredit" (2 Cor. 6:3 cf 8:21). As for women employed in the Priests houses, the Episcopal conference directives should be observed.
From what has been said so far it is observed that for any effective and fruitful Priestly Ministry, a high degree of spirituality, sanctity and holiness are absolutely required. The Priestly Ministry in our Dioceses and especially our current need to move it forward requires urgently a sort of virtue that can do the "miracle". We need a renewed a superior kind of virtue in line with St Thomas Aquinas who says "for the worthy exercise of Holy orders, ordinary goodness does not suffice, superior virtue is required"
1 Ad idoneani exsecutionem ordinum non sufficit bonitas qualiscumque, sed-requiriiur bonitas excellens (St. Thomas Aquinas Sumn Theol, qu. 35 all)
PASTORAL AND LITURGICAL ORIENTATION PRAXIS
Here it is not necessary to go into the explanation of the rituals and rubrics of the celebrations of the sacraments or other pastoral and liturgical activities. It suffices to say the following;
i There is urgent need to carefully regulate all the pastoral and liturgical activities of the church and more so in this Diocese.
ii There should be strict and faithful observance of and adherence to the approved and prescribed mode and instruction on the celebration of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Baptism and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
iii. There should be serious caveat on our public worship to be able to guard against Pentecostalism and fundamentalism that have radically poisoned the traditional liturgical worship of the church. As we often notice, Adorations, Vigils, Crusades, Conventions, and the use of Sacramental in a clearly unorthodox manner are turning the faithful into superstitious practices, shifting their faith from God to some of these sacramental’s and activities. Some of these are the use of oil-olive popularly called olive-oil, incense grains, cracked stones, mustard seed, holy water, even drinks purported to have been brought from holy land or some monastic home. These have invariably become the matter and form of the proverbial liberation, anointing and cleansing of people, land and community liberation, and all kinds of miracles.
ON-GOING FORMATION OR HIGHER EDUCATION
ON-GOING FORMATION: This is a sine qua non if we want to realize the dynamism and effectiveness of our priestly ministry. St. Paul bore witness to this when he, writing to Timothy exhorted him thus "I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is in you" (2 Tim 1:6). In feet ongoing formation is absolutely necessary for the growth of personal holiness and for the proper execution of the priestly functions. Here again St. Paul tells Timothy (ITim, 4:14-16) 'Do not neglect the gift you have which was given to you by the prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands upon you. Practice these duties; devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Take heed to yourself and to your teaching, hold to that for by so doing, you will save both yourself and your hearers,"
The Seminar of the Rectors and Spiritual Directors of Major Seminaries of West Africa and a Central Africa organized by me Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and held in Yaoundé in July 1988, strongly recommended priestly ongoing formation. And good enough, the Bishops took it up in their synod later.
One of my reasons for this recommendation was for the priests to constancy update his knowledge and skills and be able to contain the social, cultural, economic, moral and pastoral challenges in present day situation. This is indeed very urgent in this Diocese today. The Igbo Bishops put the whole thing this way: "The human spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation received during the formation years in the seminary should be updated to meet with new challenges at different stages of priestly life
As young ordained priests in the old Umuahia Diocese the Presbyterium organized theological Seminars, conferences and lectures and conducted examinations for younger brethren. This helped the priests to internalize the values of their priestly vocation, to attain greater maturity and be well equipped for effective ministry. The examination was compulsory for all young / newly ordained priests for five (5) yearn
Canon law is very vehement on this issue of continuing education of the clergy because of its great relevance in the life of the church, its growth and meaningful and fruitful ministry. Can. 279:1,2 and 3 treated this very clearly. Worthy of note is that even the 1917 code of Canon law laid emphasis on it when it exhorted that priests after ordination should not interrupt their studies especially sacred studies handed down by the Fathers and received by the church (CIC 129 of 1917).
In drawing the Diocesan statutes or what may be called Ratio Institutionis Sarcerdotalis for Okigwe Diocese, that issue of continuing education should be given serious attention.
This is very important and necessary but also very delicate. Therefore caution and diligence are required in the arrangement of Higher Education in the Diocese. There should be an advisory body or board that will help the Bishop to discern and select the candidates for Higher Education. This includes Seminarians. This body will assist the Bishop to;
1. Find out the need of the Diocese with regards to further studies, where and when to send the candidates.
2. Make proper and adequate arrangement for the candidates to stay and study with maximum security and financial support, (we must understand that the "Propaganda Fide" is very slow to give scholarship this time.)
3. Constantly keep in touch with such students wherever they might be studying, to give them sense of belonging and to have first- hand information about them.
Failure to do these might, as it has been recorded in the past, give rise to serious consequences; like some seminarians abandoning their seminary studies and taking to another kind of life and studies abroad. Some have spent so many years and at times not studying at all. Some borrowed money from the bursary for studies which would take them a very long time to repay before returning to the Diocese.
Other serious consequences of inappropriate arrangement for Higher Education are; some disgruntled and frustrated individuals sneaking out of the Diocese often abandoning their flock at the mercy of the Pentecostal and hand clapping churches around. Some get into financial problem while abroad and would stop studies and take to doing any kind of mean job to keep themselves alive. And some in the serious situation of hardship would lose their priestly identity and in some cases lose their vocation to the priesthood and few had got married in such extreme situation of hardship.
Effort should be made in the proper selection process so that no body nurses the idea that he is left out because he is not in the good book of the Bishop or the Advisory Board; no favoritism, those sent for studies any where should face their studies and return to the Diocese at the end of their studies when the Bishops so demands.
No local church or Diocese that desires and loves progress as our Diocese does, would take light the Higher education of her Clergy. Nor does it look likely that such a church or Diocese would make all her priests Karl Rahners, Joseph Ratzingers, Karol Wojtylas, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, Descartes Aristotle etc. Yes we need indeed theologians, Philosophers, Administrators, Lawyers, and Teachers etc to take care of the church in the modern world. And it is not necessary that they are all to be made in Europe or America. Scholarships to study in Europe and America are really becoming history. Where adequate frame work is put in place for higher education and proper arrangements made for people for higher studies anywhere, the nasty phenomena mentioned above will surely stop.
In all these ventures and quest for higher education, the most important thing and result we want is good and faithful pastors of souls who would sanctify and move our Diocese forward.
CHARITY, LOVE AND JUSTICE
The church of which we are members and in which we work is a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind.9
Consequently, one of the primordial tasks of the church and indeed all of us today in the work of Evangelization must consist in a serious commitment to be a sign of communion among men as one people of God. The meaning of this communion is our oneness in Christ in which as many as we are, share the common brotherhood in which "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for we are one in Christ" (Gal 3:27-28). In this Diocese of Okigwe, it is on record that the clergy is made up of people from every parts of the neighboring states and Dioceses.
This heteregenous nature of our Presbyterium must be consciously accepted in mutual respect and with the feeling that all of us are involved in one and the same task- the proclamation of the gospel. We all must strive to eliminate every trace of discrimination and racialism. No one should encourage sectionalism by his works or attitudes. Instead of adding petrol to tire by stressing the defects of others or any Song past or recent antagonism, we all must preach love and affection. We must find joy in stressing the qualities and talents which every person contributes to the good and promotion of mutual enrichment and common brotherhood. Happy enough today the Diocese is making a great progress and effort in discovering hidden talents, qualities and facilitators at different levels of the Diocesan administration. May all strive and take part in this effort without letting ourselves be guided by any kind of pettiness or feelings of jealousy which may prevent us from taking these officers when they exercise their responsibilities. Sad too there is a very wide spread of attitude whereby some of our lay folk create some problems for the pastors of souls for one reason or the other and at least symbolically refuse to see or recognize the leadership status of the authorities in such areas. This is often caused by sectionalism, ethnicity or a kind of discrimination. It is not difficult to see the extremes such attitude and feeling can cause to the life of the church if it is not purified through openness to one another, thanks to common brotherhood and love.
In Justice and Peace
We have really touched in different ways the whole body of this paper, actions towards Justice and Peace, but we have got to translate them into concrete and tangible action, more importantly in what is known as preferential option for the poor in the Diocese. We must pay particular attention to the poor and the underprivileged in our midst. Let us however understand that preferential option for the poor does not mean or imply rejection of the privileged or the wealthy; by no means, since every child of God is included in the "bene essere " with the world's goods but the poor is to be sought for and given special attention because of their need. In fact this is the magic wound that many a priest have used in most of the places they have worked, so well that when they returned there on a visit or so the people would feel like crowning them for the good they have done for them.
We must remember that when the poor and the needy are taken care of in the society, there is always joy, happiness and peace. And in such atmosphere, the work of evangelization spreads and takes roots quickly and becomes very effective, for unless our missionary activities in the spread of the good news are done together with action that takes care of the poor in our midst certainly the credibility of those action will be diminished.11
THE NEED TO BE A FATHER TO ALL
The bishop is a father to all and all who assist him should help him to actualize this apostolic responsibility. It is not proper for a priest to bias the mind of the bishop against any priest or group of priests thereby diminishing the bond of solidarity that should exist between him and his priests. In the General Audience of Wednesday August 4, 1 *993, Pope John Paul II said - "A priest's self-denial finds expression in what he does to preserve the communion existing between himself, the Bishop and his fellow priests."
Continuing the Pope further said - ... the Bishop should treat his coworkers, the priests, as brothers and friends, without diminishing his authority as their Pastor and ecclesiastical superior. An atmosphere of brotherhood and friendship fosters the presbyters' trust and their willingness to cooperate and work harmoniously in friendship and in fraternal and filial charity toward their Bishops. Priests on their part the Pope concluded "should therefore be attached to their Bishop with sincere charity and obedience."
THE CHOICE OF CO-WORKERS
In order to ensure that the pastoral welfare of that portion of the people of God entrusted to the Bishop may be most effectively promoted, there is need for co workers. It is advisable to select these close collaborators of the bishop on the basis of competence and outstanding moral and spiritual qualities not on grounds of place of provenience. Such persons who according to Canon 469 "assist the Bishop in governing the entire diocese, especially in directing pastoral action, in providing for the administration of the diocese, and in exercising judicial power" must be men of proven integrity not those who are to serve clannish and parochial interests.
They have the responsibility to build bridges between the bishop and his priests. They have to realize that they are at the service of the presbyterium and are therefore not authorities to be feared and worshiped. The privilege given to them should not be misconstrued as a means for personal aggrandizement or a channel to boost their ego.
These close co-operators are on the other hand not to be regarded as ceremonial functionaries. Though they have only a consultative role it would not be out of place to take to heart their suggestions. The temptation to entrust an exalted position to a person and exclude him when important decisions were to be taken is not only ludicrous but counterproductive. Division of labour did not begin with Adam Smith the renowned economist; it has rather a Trinitarian origin. In spite of his omniscience and omnipotence, God the Father has special roles for God the Son and the Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation. We have to learn from the triune God me need to share labour so as to enhance maximum productivity,
■ Efforts should be made to tell the bishop the truth. He is a human being and should not be misled. Any priest bringing any report against a fellow priest should be prepared to voice the allegation or accusation in the presence of the priest concerned.
■ Priests who persistently flaunt diocesan rules and regulations, including absenting themselves from common liturgical celebrations, meetings and recollections without cogent reasons may be queried and where need be sanctioned.
§ There is need for the diocese to devote attention to specialapostolate like: appointing full time chaplains to public schools and hospitals, grooming of politicians spiritually and the establishment of a school of evangelization
§ In accordance with the recommendation of the Post Synodal Document on the Church in Africa, the diocese has to invest in projects that will yield revenue in future.
■ Since Isiala Mbano zone, Etiti zone and Ehime Mbano zone are still integral parts of the diocese; some diocesan projects should be sited in such places.
There could have been no better time to hold this Summit than this period when the Universal Church celebrates the Year for priests. It is a time to reexamine ourselves and our life style and see how far the later conforms to the priestly life and ethic. It is time to strengthen the bond of our brotherhood, opting for things that unite us and eschewing those others that divide us. Certainly, this bond of fraternity and communion should have been fully realized and cemented if we had a facility where all of us could spend these three glorious days together, sharing ideas and pleasantries thereby bridging our differences. Did the Psalmist not say — Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum We pray' and hope that such a facility would be available before it pleases the Lord for us to come together again in this magnitude.
Dear brothers, we are challenged to deepen our prayer life and our faith in God. If all our actions are motivated, inspired and governed by this faith, we shall never discriminate against one another but rather work together in unity and love in the promotion of justice and peace. We should strive to come closer to Christ for the closer we come to Christ, the closer we come to one another.
The required positive change will begin, the way forward will be paved* and the required objective achieved, when we take to heart and reflect seriously on the middle name of our Local Ordinary which we almost pronounce at Mass every day. The name has a dual pronunciation one is interrogative - Amamchukwu? The other is affirmative - Amamchukwu. If we choose the first may our answers be - Eh Amamchukwu. If we opt for the second - May we begin or if we have already started, continue to act like those who know God, those who do not bear grudges, those who have forgiving spirit. Our Bishop is a gift to the diocese and we thank him for bringing us together to examine whatever hitches unwholesome differences that may constitute a cog in the wheel of progress in this diocese. Let us in all sincerity and openness to God and to one another resolve to bury such differences for the praise and greater glory of God and for a sustained growth of Okigwe diocese. Mary Patroness of Okigwe Diocese - Pray for us.
1 St. Thomas Aquinas Q 35 and 1
2 Cf CBCN guidelines for the healing ministry in the Catholic Church in Nigeria Lagos 1997 no. 33
3 Cf The Igbo Catholic Priest; A t the Threshold of the Third Millennium no. 31
4 Cf The Leader vol. L no. 34, October 18, 2009 P. 1
5 Cf The Igbo Catholic Priest, op cit no. 28
6 1 Tim. 4: 14 -16
7. Cf Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops-Instrumentum LaborisWatican
City 1993 no. 28
8. Cf The Igbo Catholic Priest, op cit no. 52
9. John Paul II; Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christi fideles Laici 61 62 AAS 81 (1989) 512-517
10 Acts of the sixth plenary Assembly of the Symposium of the Episcopal conference of Africa of Madagascar (SECAM) Yaounde 1981 Eng. Ed. 71
11 Cf The Synod of Bishops; Justice in the World, the gospel message of the mission of the church Rome 1971.
12 Seventh General Assembly of the Synod of Bishop; Proposition 40
13 Cf I' Osservatore Romano, Weekly Eng. Ed 21 August 1989.5.
14 John Paul II op cit
15 Vatican II; Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum 25.
16. S. Anyanwu, Igbo Catholicism on the Move: Pangs of Growth and Signs of Vitality, Whytem Prints Nigeria, Okigwe, 2006