Bishop Ezeokafor Marks 70th Birthday in Style

…Empowers 111 Youths

By Adejumoke A. Alebiosu, Anthony A. Akinomolafe, Marcellinus C.Uzuawu and lfeanyi Ndukwe

It was a week full of events as the Catholic Bishop of Awka, His Lordship, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, celebrated the anniversary of his 70th birthday. It was a three-day series of events that spanned from November 22 to November 24. Report by Adejumoke Aminat Alebiosu, Anthony A. Akinomolafe, Marcellinus Chiagozie Uzuanwu & Ifeanyi Ndukwe.

The Catholic bishop, who was born on September 13, 1952, kicked off the celebration with visitations to Chukwuemeka Ojukwu Odumegwu University Teaching Hospital, COOUTH, Amaku; Faith Community Children’s Home, Awka; and the Correctional Centre, Awka, on Tuesday, November 22.

The Catholic prelate prayed for the sick and offset the bills of some of the patients, one of whom was Ramatu Ahmed from Adamawa State who had a surgery to remove ectopic pregnancy and was discharged on 31 October 2022.

The other was Ubahi Dennis, a 19 year old boy from Benue State, who had a spinal cord injury and had been discharged over a month ago.

He also advised them not to give up and remain strong as God would keep them and send help to them.

At the Faith Community Children’s Home, the bishop gifted the children food items, toiletries, drinks, among others. Fides recalls that the Children’s Home is owned by the Anglican Communion in Awka.

His Grace, Arch Bishop Alexander Chibuzo Ibezim, of the Archdiocese of the Niger and bishop, Awka Diocese, both of the Anglican Communion, was available to receive the Catholic bishop.

Furthermore, Bishop Ezeokafor celebrated a Holy Mass with inmates at the Correctional Home in Awka, where he administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to 17 inmates. The Assistant Controller of Corrections, A.C. Nwanna, welcomed the bishop and appreciated him for his constant visit to the Correctional Centre.

Accompanying the bishop on the visits were the Vicar General, Awka Diocese, Rev. Fr Chudi Akaenyi; Chancellor, Awka Diocese, Rev. Fr Charles Ndubisi; Secretary to the bishop, Rev. Fr Evaristus Ifeanacho; Education Secretary, Awka Diocese, Rev. Fr Maximus Okonkwo; Chairman, Planning Committee of the Bishop’s 70th Birthday, Rev. Fr Benjamin Odika; President, Catholic Men’s Organisation, Awka Diocese, Mr Joseph Onuegbu; Director, Catholic Women’s Organisation, Lady Ngozi Sabina Ndigwe; among others.

As part of activities for the birthday celebration, a friendly match between priests of Awka and Ekwulobia Dioceses also held at the field located at St Anthony’s Catholic Church, Enugwu-Ukwu, Njikoka LGA, on Tuesday, November 22.

The football match ended 1-0 in favour of priests of the Diocese of Awka, with Fr Celestine Mounwe scoring the winning goal.

The Catholic bishop also celebrated a day with students and members of Catholic Youths Organisation of Nigeria, CYON, of the Diocese on Wednesday, November 23. The celebration started with a Holy Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Awka, where representatives of all the schools in Awka Diocese and members of Catholic Youths Organisation of Nigeria were in attendance.

Addressing the students and youths at the Holy Mass, Bishop Ezeokafor, who was the Homilist, admonished them to be useful to society, saying that God created everyone to be useful.

‘God has a purpose for you; you have to make your contributions to achieve God’s purpose for you. Do not glory in what your parents have. Glory on what you will achieve,’ he said.

The bishop empowered 111 youths with different tools in their various skills to improve their financial life. He advised them to make good use of all of the tools given to them, noting that it would be important to themselves, the Church, society and the nation at large.

Speaking at the event, Hon. Mark Okoye II, MD/CEO, Anambra State Investment Promotion & Protection Agency, ANSIPPA, implored the beneficiaries to utilize the tools properly.

‘There are many young people out there looking for opportunities like this one the bishop has given you on a platter of gold and they do not have, so utilize it properly,’ he said.

He also appreciated the bishop for having the youths in mind, explaining that it was a rare thing, especially in the current state of the economy.

Christopher Agada, a native of Benue State, who was a recipient of a 38-inch power tell filing machine, a pair of scissors, a hammer, and a saw in the shoe making section, appreciated the bishop and promised to utilize the tools for the betterment of himself and society.

Fides gathered that the 111 beneficiaries were selected from all the parishes and chaplaincies in Awka Diocese. Some of the skills given the tools are: hairdressing, make up, carpentry, shoe making, laundry, fashion designing, aluminium making, tiling, arts, decoration, bricklaying, catering, among others.

A book launch also held later in the evening on Wednesday, November 23, at Archbishop A.K. Obiefuna Retreat, Pastoral and Conference Centre, Nodu, Okpuno.

The book, titled, ”The Shepherd: A Festschrift in Honour of Most Rev. Paulinus C. Ezeokafor, was edited by Rev. Fr Evaristus Ifeanacho, Secretary to the Bishop, Awka Diocese. It was presented by Prof. Emmanuel Umezinwa who gave a brief summary of the book which has 11 Chapters. He described the book as a landmark book and confluence of ideas.

The Chief Launcher of the book, Chief Ikenna Okafor, Ide Akwaeze, described the book as a must read for all.

Bishops present at the book launch were His Eminence, Peter Cardinal Okpaleke, Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia; His Grace, Most Rev. Augustine Akubeze, Catholic Archbishop of Benin; His Lordship, Most Rev. Peter Chukwu, Catholic Bishop, Abakaliki Diocese; His Lordship, Most Rev. Donatus Ogun, Catholic Bishop, Uromi Diocese; His Lordship, Most Rev. Hillary Okeke, Bishop Emeritus, Nnewi Diocese; His Lordship, Most Rev. Godfrey Onah, Catholic Bishop, Nsukka Diocese and His Lordship, Most Rev. Jonas Benson Okoye, Catholic Bishop, Nnewi Diocese.

The grand finale was held on Thursday, November 24, at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Awka. The event started off with a Holy Mass at the cathedral, attended by bishops from across the nation, politicians, business men and women, professionals, different organisations of the Church and people from all walks of life.

His Eminence, Peter Cardinal Okpaleke, Catholic Bishop, Ekwulobia Diocese, spoke on the importance of thanksgiving to God, especially for birthdays. He spoke about this while delivering the homily at the Holy Mass.

‘Why should we not join him to thank God for his life? Why should he not celebrate 70 solid years? Old age is a blessing from God. We run to God seeking for favour but when it is time for thanksgiving, we go our separate ways. It is therefore important to give thanks,’ he said.

Some of the bishops present at the Mass were Archbishops of Onitsha and Benin Archdioceses; bishops of Nnewi, Ekwulobia, Enugu, Abakaliki, Uromi, Onitsha, Yola, Ekiti, Nsukka, Ogun Diocese; auxiliary bishop of Onitsha Archdiocese; and bishop Emeritus of Nnewi Diocese. Other bishops were well represented.

Speaking to the congregation, Governor Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra State, who was present at the event, blessed God for keeping the Catholic prelate for 70 years.

In his keynote speech at the reception, Chief Dr Azubuike Ekweozoh, Chairman of the occasion, eulogized the patriarch for building the faith of many Christians and said attaining 70 years truly deserved celebrating.

While earlier delivering the address of welcome, Rev. Fr Charles Ndubisi, Chancellor, Awka Diocese, explained that the celebration was to show gratitude and appreciation for an impactful life on his generation.

‘Bishop Ezeokafor has displayed a life of a servant-leader worth emulating. Within 15 years of pastoral service as a bishop he has dedicated 49 churches. He has recorded many landmark achievements which include but not limited to: reconstruction of Retreat Centre; building of St Patrick’s College, Awka; building of CAPAD Filling Station in Abagana and Okpuno; building of Peter University, Achina-Onneh, among others.

In his vote of thanks, Bishop Ezeokafor thanked everyone for making the occasion a memorable one for him and prayed that the joy of the Lord would continually be evident in their lives.

Highlights of the event included cutting of cake, presentation of gifts, dances and choral performances by different troupes.

Other dignitaries present were Peter Obi, former Governor, Anambra State and presidential candidate, Labour Party; Dr Gilbert Onyekachukwu Ibezim, Deputy Governor, Anambra State, among others.