From Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Catholic clergy men and women, organisations together with other well-meaning Nigerians recently gathered at the Madonna Renewal Centre, Nkpor, Anambra State, to celebrate, discuss and honour the longest serving bishop in the Onitsha Archdiocese, Archbishop Charles Heerey, on his 50th memorial anniversary.
Heerey, who was the first Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Province with 40 years of service as Coadjutor Bishop, Bishop and Archbishop, championed the crusade against slavery. He also rescued many slaves, building of schools and promoted girl-child education in the Southeastern part of the country before his death in 1967.
He was a Holy Ghost Missionary priest who left his homeland in Ireland to come to Nigeria on mission in 1922. He built secondary schools and teachers’ colleges, established the All Hallows’ Minor Seminary at Onitsha and the Bigard Memorial Major Seminary at Enugu. He also founded the Catholic Women Organization (CWO) and founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), and Mother of Christ on October 7, 1937.
Recently, the Sisters of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ (IHM) whom Heerey founded organized a three-day event to celebrate the 50th memorial anniversary and the second symposium in his honour.
The second symposium with the theme: “Missionary Strategies for Evangelization and Nation-Building: Sustaining the Legacy of Archbishop Charles Heerey CSSp 50 years after” was held at the Madonna Renewal Centre, Nkpor. It was rounded off at Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, Onitsha, with a holy mass administered by the Archbishop, Most Rev. Dr. Valerian Okeke.
Chairman on the occasion and the Bishop of Nsukka Dioceses, Most Rev. Dr. Godfrey Onah, admonished religious leaders not to be carried away by earthly things, but to be a shining example to others. He urged priests to review their missionary strategy and identify the principles of religion, stressing that religious persons are wasted spiritual resources, pointing out that religious persons can do anything ordinary persons can do and even better:
“This is an opportunity for us to pinpoint our virtue and strategies to live a good life. Archbishop Heerey lived a good life and left good legacy worthy of emulation by all and sundry. If the Christians in Nigeria continue the way they are going, they will not go far. It is Islam that will take over from Christianity. So, we have to review our missionary strategy.”
The Archbishop of Onitsha, Most Rev. Okeke, represented by Rev. Fr. Prof Josephat Obi Oguejiofor, director, School of General Studies, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, said Heerey spent his entire working life in the service of evangelization:
“If any group of labourers in the Lord’s vineyard deserves to be so honoured in this part of our country, Archbishop Heerey most certainly belong to that group due to his contribution to the rescuing of slaves and building of schools.
“The history of our archdiocese and indeed the entire ecclesiastical province cannot be written without an elaborate account of his episcopacy, skill, our point of emphasis should not so much be on the bald longevity of his service as on yen ingenuity he and his co-missionaries displayed in their quick comprehension of the people and their hard work in keying into his comprehension for the benefit of the Catholic faith, East of the Niger.
“Within few decades, they were able to change from rescuing slaves to building of Christian villages and from building Christian villages to building schools for the purpose of catching the young for Christ. We can confidently say that the school apostolate was the main plank of the success of their engagement. And so from being late-comers on the shores of the Niger, the Catholic Church today commands a decisive majority of following in today’s Anambra State, Enugu State, and Imo and to a large extent Ebonyi State.
“It is our view that this is only one of the positive outcrops of the missionary strategies of agents of evangelization like Bishop Heerey. The Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha is doing all within its possibilities to keep alive this evangelic attention to the youth. It has continued to pay due regard to its schools and to build more schools, especially in parishes in remote areas. It has been able to build and to run the holy family youth village as a shining example and as an avenue for enabling the young to live, study and acclimatize in dignified environment and thus acquire the culture of decency.
“The issue of missionary strategy remains a huge challenge to all of us. How far are we in tune with the signs of the time and how far are we adapting our missionary efforts, in the legacy of Bishop Heerey, to suit the ultimate end of brining God’s Kingdom to the ends of the earth?
“Today, greater attention has shifted to charismatic, pentecostal, healing and miracle-seeking centres which have become very detrimental to the development of the Catholic faith. The Catholic Church in our region is today awash with so many cases where unsuspecting, trusting and credulous people are deceived into putting their faith in stage-managed miracles and testimonies of lies.
“Healers and ‘gifted priests’ and increasingly lay people today very easily gain attention and following, popularity and easy money and are ready to trade off the grinding and slow process of evangelization, education, for such quick and superficial benefits.”
The host and Superior General of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother Mary Claude Oguh, said the second symposium was to provide great opportunity for a better understanding of the life and mission of Heerey in spreading the Christian faith in Africa, particularly Nigeria.
She said the theme of the symposium afforded them the opportunity to reflect together and deepen their knowledge of the Christian faith, to appreciate better, the great sacrifices of the revered missionaries with special focus on Heerey.
Oguh noted that it would also afford to showcase the work of handing on the Christian faith, to highlight the contributions of the Christian faith ways of sustaining the work of Christian evangelization and nation-building in this era:
“This symposium thus challenges us to view our strategies for evangelization and nation building in our contemporary society on the backdrop of yesteryears, for our indivisible and corporate information, enlightenment, education and necessary action. It is expected that the fruits of our combined efforts in this regard will shed clearer light on the current situation in our society.”