Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Representatives of 2,000 families left the centenary field of the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, Onitsha, Anambra State, with joy recently, each clutching a bag of rice, courtesy of the Metropolitan Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha, Most Rev. Valerian Okeke.
Speaking during the exercise, Archbishop Okeke said the gesture, now in its third phase, was to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and would continue as long as the Archdiocese could carry the burden of reaching the unreached within this period. He thanked those who have supported the Archdiocese in carrying out palliative measures, especially the Afreka Humanitarian Foundation, Hungary, led by Dr. Reka Fodor and Chief Tony Ezenna of Orange Drugs.
The Archbishop noted that those who received help were called to share for them to realise that the church was aware of what they were passing through in the COVID-19 era. He prayed that God would replenish their stock just like the widow of Zarephath the Bible whose stock God continually replenished while the famine lasted.
He said the main reason for embarking on the palliative distribution was because man, an embodiment of body and soul, needed to be fed in order to remain healthy.
Recalling his Episcopal motto embodied in John 10:10, where Jesus said that He came that the world might have life and have it in abundance, Okeke recalled that Christ fed the multitude after they might have eaten the spiritual food all day, which was His word. He said the message of salvation could not be complete when the people were hungry. In his words, the hungry body should be fed first, after which the soul in the body could also be taken care of through spiritual food.
“Coronavirus pandemic is a challenge to the whole world. It is something unplanned for and the effects are ravaging through Europe, America, South America and other parts of the globe. Ordinarily, every man or woman of goodwill will feel saddened by this sudden development and I’m not excluded.
“I feel entirely saddened by this development and when you watch the television, you see the horrible number of deaths across the globe. The very fact of mentioning that many people are dying in their hundreds is fearful, to say the least and it is a very sad development. I’m happy the number of fatalities is coming down and how I wish it would stop entirely even in Nigeria.
“My message to all the people is to be very precautious. In Igbo, taking precaution is not an act of cowardice. You don’t lose anything by being precautious. I will say it again that people should not doubt the reality of the virus and they should not presume that one is above the infection. Wash your hands repeatedly, put on your facemask to cover your nose and mouth. Don’t expose the little kids and the elderly unnecessarily, so curtail going out unless when needed most.
“Relaxing the lockdown doesn’t mean that the coronavirus pandemic has gone. It is to allow us not to die of hunger before the disease comes but leaving the hunger and running into the disease is, to say the least, an unnecessary adventure. Take all the necessary precautions, including maintaining enough social distancing whether in the market or in the church. Make the house and environment clean and take more of hot/warm water before and after meals,” he counselled.
Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Rev. Fr. Emeka Aroh, while extolling the Archbishop’s gesture, thanked God for life. He said only those alive could collect food and eat. He said the items were shared across different regions in the Archdiocese without favouritism.
Coordinator of the distribution exercise and vice chancellor of the Archdiocese, Rev. Fr. Basil Ekwunife, said the church in the Onitsha Archdiocese gathered to attend to the material wellbeing of the less privileged among them. He recalled that the two cardinal functions of the church included the spiritual and material wellbeing of the people, and the church had always attended to the spiritual wellbeing of the people through the celebration of holy masses and spreading the word of God, among others.
Fr. Ekwunife said the material wellbeing, which the church had been catering to, included visits to prison inmates, sick people admitted in the hospital, paying bills of the indigent and supplying the needs of the less privileged, including orphanage homes.He said the church in Onitsha Archdiocese was at the forefront of this spiritual and material campaign in order to stabilise the wellbeing of the human person, especially in this era.
He also stated that, since March, Archbishop Okeke had made donations of foodstuff like rice, yam tubers and noodles to the poor on several occasions, even as he expressed optimism that more donations would come.
A beneficiary, Maryann Obi, expressed immense gratitude to the Archbishop, saying the cleric was known for his generosity and care for the people.