By Evaristus Offor
For six years now, the Ahiara Catholic Diocese has been in turmoil with the episcopalisation of a headship since the death of her Bishop, Anthony Chikwe, an aboriginal citizen of the place. Upon the demise of Bishop Anthony Chikwe, the immediate past and pioneer Bishop of Ahiara diocese, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI approved and appointed Bishop Peter Okpaleke an indigene of Awka in Anambra State of Nigeria as the substantive Bishop of Ahiara Diocese, to the chagrin of Ahiara indigenes.
The outright rejection of the bishop by both the clergy and lay faithful of Ahiara was naturally based on alleged nepotism, ethnicity and tribal sentiments against them. Hence, the major reason behind the rejection according to the indigenes was that Bishop Okpaleke hails from another Diocese when they have over 700 qualified priests scattered all over the whole world. The kernel point here is the feeling of ethnic bias as well as the inability of the hierarchy to consider their numerical and professional worthiness to serve their own people in their own cultural and linguistic similarity. The Ahiara people were further angered that in spite of their protests and qualifications, the authority went ahead to consecrate and appoint him their bishop.
The rebellion persisted for six solid years until June 8, when Pope Francis instructed the priests to sheathe their sword, and a 30-day ultimatum given to each of them either to accept the bishop or face a suspension ‘a divinis’. As the case may be, it is only in the common nature of human beings to entertain some ethnic interests as well as to preserve and protect such tribal interests when threatened by external forces.
It is everywhere and in every human endeavour, be it political, social, economic or cultural. The trouble with Nigeria, today, is too complex but all boiling down to ethnicity and tribal favoritism. The trouble in the North East is nothing but religious, political and regional interest of the northern hegemonists who feel they were born to rule all of us for eternity; otherwise, everybody must go down the drain including themselves explosively. In the Niger-Delta, bomb throwing, explosive lumbering, hostage taking, are all caused by the same ethnic greed. In the South East, sophisticated armed banditry and kidnapping have held us down for so long now.
Still in the East, the Fulani herders are killing, destroying and raping anybody at sight to tell the world they are in charge. This is the bad side of despotic nepotism and mindless tribal ethnicity in all human endeavours. But in this case of Ahiara, people should not see it as a despotic ethnic attempt to sideline them forever, but to take it as the will of God. Since we all swore an oath at God’s altar, let them accept the bishop as the will of the Holy Spirit, hence, Christ’s Vicar has spoken. They should think of their parents, and siblings who are dying without the sacraments of the Church because of human elements. The bishopric seat is not meant for one particular region or person. It is expirational too, hence, everything concerning Bishop Okpaleke should therefore, be thrown into the dustbin of the past and forge ahead in your pastoral endeavours. You have fought this war for a distant time, hence, the need to encourage your lay faithful to lay down their swords and accept the voice of Christ in the Pope. If for not any other thing, your spirit of service should compel you to avoid a situation where intending converts to our faith will think we are disobedient worshippers.
This is the time to show that the Catholic Church is the true, universal, traditional and apostolic church of our Lord Jesus Christ. You may have fought a good fight as it may be, but even our Lord at the Gethsemane looked unto his Father for instant help, but as destiny child, the will of the former took place. We must not agitate like politicians or ethnic separatists who may be selfishly fighting for their survival, but as the Bible says, if this order is from heaven, it must stay no matter the amount of energy or money you expend, the will of God must prevail.
We Catholics should begin to learn how to obey Gods’ will through the Pope’s directives and leave the rest for him to accomplish on our behalf. Whatever is done out of human sentiments or parochial reasons cannot last, whether political, spiritual or economic. All over the world, our church is known and respected as true, confident, thorough, mystic and harbinger of the common good, including her priesthood that is tough and selfless. Finally, my brothers and sisters in Ahiara, let us consider the gospel of St John chapter two which we preach to others…’’whatever he tells you to do, do it’’, so whatever the Pope tells you to do, do it in the name of Jesus.
It happened in Enugu Diocese where we have abundant talented and qualified priests for the bishopric after the retirement of our holy man of God, late Bishop Michael Ugwu Eneja, but we took it with a pinch of salt. Today, our able and energetic Bishop Callistus Onaga has been on the captainship for over six years now. Please let the storm get over any thoughts of ethnicity or tribal intimidation from any quarters, for God’s time and wish will be best for all of us. However, we must begin to appreciate the growing wind of change as it pertains to peoples’ fundamental rights in our pastoral choices.
The modern Christian now believes so much in his origin, race, social status and most importantly his freedom and fundamental rights more than his beliefs. Every section of the world now has been mobilized towards protecting and ensuring respect for human rights as well as racial dignity. God bless our Catholic Pope.
Fr. Offor is of the Catholic Diocese