“AHIARA: A TEST CASE DIOCESE” Says BISHOP CHIKWE after rejection of Bishop Okpaleke.
Bishop Okpaleke was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 as Bishop of the southern Nigerian diocese of Ahiara. Local clergy and faithful objected to his appointment and prevented him from entering the cathedral in order to take possession of the diocese
The Catholic Bishop of Ahiara Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Victor .A. Chikwe, on Sunday August 23rd,2008 disclosed to the 3rd Plenary session of the Diocesan Council while thanking them for the honour done to him by celebrating his 70th birthday anniversary, that Ahiara Diocese was declared “a test case diocese” during its creation in Rome, twenty years ago.
(Culled from THE LEADER newspaper of SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER, 7,2008:17).
Again while preaching a homily on Easter Sunday of 2006 at the Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral, Ahiara, he spoke about the empty tomb and the corrupt nature of the Jewish Guards who accepted bribe and lied that Christ’s body was stolen by His Apostles while they (the guards)were asleep.
In the empty tomb scenario, the Prelate compared the difference between Jewish graves and ours pointing out that theirs are cave- like and covered with huge rocks. He explained that such occasioned the fear expressed by Mary Magdalene and the others about who would roll off the rock for them to anoint the body the body of Christ.
He further stressed that the action of John the beloved apostle on waiting for Peter to enter the tomb first not minding that he(John) reached first, smacks of respect to the elder.
The chief shepherd opined that the acceptance of bribe and the lie told by the Jewish Guards that Christ’s body was stolen by his apostles while they were asleep instead of the truth that Christ had risen from the dead exposed them to a sickening height of corruption.
He disclosed that the huge rock was pushed aside by vibration of wind as nothing would abstract God’s plan while the corrupt Jewish soldiers resembled the empty tomb itself.
The cleric then summoned the attention of the faithful to the message of the empty tomb stating that people of God should always bear witness to Christ, speak the truth and stand firm in their faith otherwise, they are likened to the empty tomb. He alerted that the disappearance of the holy body of Christ in the tomb generated confusion and fears among the women: Mary Magdala, Salomey, the apostles Peter and John who had forgotten the gospel that Christ would rise from the dead on the third day and urged the faithful not to be shaken in their faith in Christ anytime in their lives.”
(Culled from THE LEADER of MAY 7,2006:6)
The above two reports were the words of the Late Bishop of Ahiara diocese as culled from the reports in the aforementioned editions of THE LEADER newspaper.
If you do a literary critique of those words of the Late Most. Rev.Dr.Victor A.Chikwe, you easily find out that a section of his faithful, religious and ordained fought valiantly in tandem with injunction of the late bishop that “they should not be shaken in their faith.” as well as taking steps to avoid becoming the biblical “empty tomb.” While we salute the courage of a section of the Ahiara diocese: religious, priests and laity who remained resolute to the cause of demanding for a bishop incardinated in Ahiara diocese, we make haste to add that a battle has just been won, even though the main war still rages on. There is a need for the age-old Mbaise monolith to be re-enacted so that the tasks that lie ahead can be decisively handled in a manner that Ahiara diocese can no longer be seen as “a test case diocese “ but a diocese that has come to exist permanently in the comity of dioceses in Catholicism. There is no alternative to a symbiotic relationship with all the groups in Owerri Archdiocese in support of Ahiara diocese.
The mystical body of Christ should remain prayerful until a final decision from the Pope is taken on this issue. As long as the Pope has not appointed a substantive bishop for the Ahiara diocese, so long will all involved stay in a state of suspended animation. Let us be prayerful so that when next the POPE speaks EX-Cathedra on this issue, he will take a decision that will foster collective joy and a state of Sensus Ecclesiae (i.e staying with the Church in love) among the hitherto feuding factions.
Bishop Okpaleke was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 as Bishop of the southern Nigerian diocese of Ahiara. Local clergy and faithful objected to his appointment and prevented him from entering the cathedral in order to take possession of the diocese. In June 2017, Pope Francis asked any clergy personnel who was formally a member of the diocese to write a letter to him pledging fidelity to the Pope, and expressing willingness to accept the appointment of Bishop Okpaleke.
Pope Francis received over 200 letters from individual priests manifesting their obedience and fidelity to him, and explanations regarding their difficulty in accepting the Episcopal appointment of Bishop Okpaleke. According to a press release from the Vatican, “after taking into account their repentance, the Holy Father decided not to proceed with the canonical sanctions and instructed the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples to respond to each of them.”
The Pope “does not intend to appoint a new Bishop in Ahiara, but (…) reserves to Himself the right to continue to have a special and particular concern for this Diocese.” He has appointed an Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia to whom he has granted all the faculties of a Bishop. With this development, Pope Francis ended the stand-off regarding the appointment of Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke as bishop of the diocese of Ahiara in southern Nigeria.
According to a report by Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp, The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples released a press statement on Monday,19/2/2018, stating: “The Holy Father, after having accepted the resignation of His Excellency Peter Ebere Okpaleke, has relieved him of the pastoral care of the Diocese of Ahiara, and at the same time has thanked him for his love for the Church.”
A bulk text message sent to the faithful of Ahiara diocese from the office of FR.Ebii(Vicar/Delegate) reads thus:”My dear respected loyal faithful of Ahiara Catholic Diocese! Based on the information from the office of His Eminence + ,John Cardinal Onaiyekan, our beloved Bishop, Peter Ebere Okpaleke, has resigned the post of the Ordinary of Ahiara Catholic Diocese. We shall meet soon for detailed briefing
In a pastoral letter, Rev Fr..Peter Ebere Okpaleke wrote to the clergy, religious and faithful of Ahiara Diocese dated 14th February, 2018, he said inter alia”……Taking the above consideration, Iam convinced that my remaining the Bishop of Ahiara diocese is no longer beneficial to the Church. I do not think that my apostolate in a diocese where some of the priests and lay faithful are ill-disposed to have me in their midst would be effective.”.He concluded by saying: “I consider my resignation from the position of the Bishop of Ahiara as the only proper option now to facilitate re-engineering of the faithful and most importantly and urgently the priests of Ahiara diocese, especially now that the Holy Father and his collaborators in the Rome Curiae can already decipher priests who affirmed their loyalty to the Holy Father and those who decided to bow out of the Catholic Church in disobedience.”
So, it’s correct to say that Bishop Peter Okpaleke emulated the example of Pope Benedict XV1 who also resigned as Pope “For The Good of the Church.” It is pertinent to recall that Pope Benedict XV1 stepped down as Pope on February 28,2013.Throwing more light on why he resigned as Pope, the Pontiff said: ”I took the decision in full freedom for the good of the Church after praying for a long time and examining my conscience before God”. Furthermore, the Pope said:” Strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,”