Pope Francis: Give Ahiara Diocese Justice - a "Pastor close to the people"
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In 1987, Ahiara diocese, a rural enclave was created. An indigenous bishop was consecrated. Together with thousands of poor subsistence farmers, petty traders, teachers, etc., and a handful of priests, Late Bishop Victor Chikwe built a vibrant church in Mbaise. Over 20 years later, the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) would adjudge the diocese as the most efficient and most organized diocese in Nigeria. It was also adjudged the most organized and performs the best liturgical ceremonies in Owerri Province. Vocations grew exponentially - 700 indigenous priests, 1000 indigenous religious (50% has at least one doctorate while 25% has at least two doctorate degrees). The church also grew - 73 Parishes, 600,000 Catholics at home, 400,000 Catholics abroad. Ahiara diocese created an internship program that hosted representatives of other dioceses in Nigeria to understudy the efficiency and organization that set the Diocese apart.
Our resilient Presbyterium understands the "parts", "mechanism", "coupling procedures" and general mechanics of the engine of Ahiara diocese. Our priests diligently thought others and partook in running, maintaining and troubleshooting this machine. The laity follows this Presbyterium because the sheep know the voice of a Shepherd and follow the Shepherd (Parable of the Good Shepherd: John 10:4).
But 7 years ago, death robbed us of Bishop V A Chikwe. It threw us all into mourning. The seat of the Bishop is open. We waited on the Lord for another "pastor close to us" to "enter by the door into the fold of the sheep"... for "he who enters by the door is a Shepherd of the sheep." We trusted Mother Church - because the Holy Catholic Church is a Church of Laws. A few years later, someone "climbs up some other way" and the sheep "flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers."(John 10: 5)
The Catholic Encyclopedia insists that the Canon law "is the body of laws and regulations made by or adopted by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of the Christian organization and its members. . . and has for its object the well-being of souls in the society divinely established by Jesus Christ". On this matter, the canon law insists that "at least every three years, the Bishops of an ecclesiastical province or, if circumstances suggest it, of an Episcopal Conference, are to draw up, by common accord and in secret, a list of priests, even of members of institutes of consecrated life, who are suitable for the episcopate; they are to send this list to the Apostolic See. This is without prejudice to the right of every Bishop individually to make known to the Apostolic See the names of priests whom he thinks are worthy and suitable for the episcopal office". (Can. 377: §2). The words "WORTHY" and "SUITABLE" stand out. Unfortunately, they are lacking in the selection of Bishop Peter Okpalaeke for Ahiara diocese. Over a period of 22 years, Late Bishop Victor Chikwe secretly sent 21 names to the Vatican for possible episcopal office should he suddenly die. He thought that those individuals were worthy and suitable. He built the diocese with them and created the most efficient and most organized diocese in Nigeria. What else was lacking on this team? Why throw in a log in the wheels of this progress?
By dropping the list transmitted by Late Bishop Chikwe, and picking Fr. Okpalaeke from Awka diocese, "morality, convenience and safety" have been compromised. Awka diocese has insisted on a disturbing pattern of grabbing episcopal positions all over Southeastern Nigeria and beyond - seven bishops already. We know that the Holy Spirit is courageously just! The fallout of this crisis is that in the last 5 years, children have been starved of the sacrament of confirmation, and seminarians have been denied ordinations by our Apostolic Administrator. We believe that these spiritual tools should never be used as "tools of war" in the Church of the Living God!
To insist that no one among the 700 priests in Ahiara Presbyterium is "suitable and worthy" to be bishop amounts to bearing a false witness. It defies logic. It cannot represent justice, equity, and good conscience. We consider it repugnant. As a result, the faith of thousands of people in Ahiara diocese now rests in your hands. Like the Widow and the Unjust Judge, We say: "Give us Justice". We must submit that a unique and monolithic community of a million Catholics deserve a say in deciding who must receive their collective personal spiritual sovereignty.
We urge you, and urgently too, to give us a Shepherd that "comes in by the door"; a Shepherd that knows our voice; a Pastor close to us; and, a pastor from the Presbyterium of Ahiara diocese. The flock of the Highest God will scatter should someone- "a stranger" comes in by the window. The flock will flee and scatter. Let it not be in your own time. God be with you. Amen!
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