◗ Church, doctor react as miracle seekers besiege priest
FELIX IKEM, Nsukka
In the remote village of Ogbodu Enugu-Ezike, Igbo Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State, it was recently discovered that a rare phenomenon known as stigmata among Catholics has been happening to a reverend sister unpublicized for a number years.
Reverend Sister Martina Offorka, a Catholic nun and member of the Religious Order of Virgins, bleeds mysteriously not only on the feet and palms––locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ––but also in her eyes.
Not only is she afflicted with the “marks of Jesus,” Sister Martina Offorka’s passion is also accompanied by the mysterious appearance of the Host––the Communion bread––in her mouth.
Saturday Sun’s findings indicate that Offorka, a native of Ifite in Anambra State, has been stigmatic for more than half a decade, and her bleeding usually occurs in the Lenten period. “Since I started hearing about the sister, I have been hearing about her bleeding mysteriously during Lent,” an eyewitness, Mrs Jane Ugwu asserts.
A visit to Rev. Sister Martina Offorka
Determined to get to the bottom of the mysterious happening, Saturday Sun pays a visit to The Divine Wound Motherless Babies Home in Ogbodu Enugu- Ezike, where the reverend sister is overseer alongside running a nursery/primary school. She also runs a prayer group devoted to praying for priests and the religious. Her bleeding reportedly happens during the group’s prayer service.
The reporter arrives in Ogbodu to discover that seeing Offorka one-on-one is as difficult as a camel passing through the eye of a needle. The sober, five-foot Sister barely has time for herself let alone time to talk to a newshound. She was in a prayer mood and all efforts to see her that evening proved abortive.
Determined not to leave without getting his facts, the reporter traces the leader of the prayer group, Evangelist Elisha Ayogu, to his house in Amaobe village, Ibagwa Aka community, Igbo Eze South Local Government Area.
Ayogu, leader of the prayer group since the last two years, narrates to Saturday Sun what he knows about the diminutive Catholic nun.
Referring to her bleeding experience as “Passion,” he says: “I’ve known Sister Martina Offorka for some years. Since I’ve known her, she has been experiencing this Passion. I came to know her well when I finished my school of Evangelism at Issieluku in Edo State. After my graduation, I went for prayer in her prayer group and continued attending prayers with them, until the group had a change of leadership and I was made their leader. Since then, I have been coordinating the activities of the group.”
Asked about the timings of the Passion, Evangelist Ayogu says: “It happens every Tuesday and Thursday during Lent. That of last year, which was my first experience of being physically present, took us by surprise. We were singing and praying when suddenly she handed over the microphone to me. She rushed into her room and shouted, writhing in pain. Blood started gushing out of her feet, eyes and palms. I rushed to clean the blood from her body but was prevented by other older members of the group on the grounds that it is not everybody that cleans the blood. According to them, the blood is not that of a human being or Sister Martina. But it is the blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
On the issue of blood loss, the leader of the group claims he cannot estimate the quantity of juice of life that seeps out of her during the painful experience.
“I cannot explain how much blood she loses during this painful experience. All I know is [during the Passion] Sister Offorka proclaims spiritual revelations that border mainly on repentance. She usually tells people that doubt the reality of the blood to test it clinically. What surprises me is that when you sniff the blood, it scents like the altar wine. Another mysterious thing about the Passion of Sister Martina is that she does not take blood transfusion thereafter to make up for the lost blood, neither does she take any medication for the pains she undergoes.”
Of the Eucharistic Host (Holy Communion wafer) in her mouth during the Passion, Evangelist Ayogu explains: “The Holy Communion comes into her mouth on its own. Some people thought that it was the Holy Communion that was given to her during Holy Mass before the Passion that is inside her mouth; but, I tell you, it is not. For instance, during last year’s Lenten period, on a Wednesday, there was no priest to celebrate Holy Mass for us. The priests invited couldn’t make it and when we went to the parish priest that night, he told us he couldn’t make it that night but would come in the morning by six o’clock for the Holy Mass. By midnight, Sister Martina started experiencing her Passion. By 5 am, when I went to see her in her room, before the arrival of the parish priest, I heard her saying ‘amen’ like we usually say when the Holy Communion is being given to us.
“Lo and behold, I saw the Host in her mouth, even though no priest was inside the room with her. In fact, she was the only one inside her room that early morning. Usually, a priest removes the Host from her mouth, especially the ones I have witnessed. Last year, after the Passion, the priest who removed the Holy Communion from her mouth told us that it looked exactly like the one we receive and that everything written on the one we receive is also written on that one too.”
Evangelist Ayogu refrains from commenting on what happens to the sacramental wafer. Is it kept inside the tabernacle? Is it later given back to the nun? Is it shared among the communicants? Does the priest receive it? To these critical questions, the leader of the prayer group declines to answer.
Miracle seekers besiege mysterious Nun
The prayer group has continued to grow in leaps and bounds, so much so that it now hosts thousands of Catholic faithful and Christians of other denominations who appear every week to ask for God’s favour through prayers.
Asked if the nun has at any time told him why she has been having the experience, Evangelist Ayogu answers in the negative. He has tried to find out through prayer the authenticity of the Passion, and the spiritual messages he has gotten so far confirmed to him that Sister Martina is a true child of God, he says.
Nsukka Catholic Diocese reacts
Reacting to the development, the administrator, Nsukka Catholic Diocese, Very Rev. Fr. Eugene Odo tells Saturday Sun that, the church is aware of the incident. “We have heard about the case of Sister Martina Offorka. The church is still watching and praying about the claim,” says Fr. Oddo. “One thing about the Stigmata is that it is not the claim that makes one stigmatic. Some who had such experience were declared stigmatic years after their death. Even Jesus Christ, Our Saviour, people started recognizing him after his resurrection. We are looking at a good life, not miracles; a miracle is not an attestation to the good life of the person.”
While confirming the validity of such experience in Catholicism, he explains it as a replay of the suffering of Jesus Christ on individuals, especially during Lent. He gave examples of Catholic faithful who have physically manifested the Stigmata the likes of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina and, more famously, St. Frances of Assisi.
Medical expert reacts
A medical doctor, Gabriel Omonaiye based in Lagos who speaks to Saturday Sun, warns that what Offorka is going through will have an after effect on her health. “The phenomenon is known as stigmata. There are a number of theories to it. There are different schools of thought. Some scientists believe it is a make-belief, that is, fraud. Some think it is due to painful bruising syndrome. While some attribute it to post-traumatic stress, self-mutilation and auto suggestion are the other possible explanations. Other explanations are self inflicted injury (harm), hysteria and anorexia.
“As to being harmful or not, will depend on what caused the bleeding, the amount of blood loss etc. If the blood loss is much, it could be dangerous. If the person is suffering from hysteria, post traumatic stress disorder, certainly, medical treatment will be very necessary. Medicine does not believe that it is real”, Dr. Omonaiye states.