. . . Fr. Onwuatuegwu Tells the Story
By Martin Anusi, Uche Amunike, Michael-Jude Nwolisa
Fides team, led by the Director of Fides Media Limited, Fr. Martin Anusi, recently paid a visit to St. Joseph’s Cathedral Ekwulobia, following the creation of the new Ekwulobia Diocese.
They spoke with the Episcopal Vicar of Ekwulobia Region, Fr. Ignatius Onwuatuegwu, who took them on the long journey from a regional to a diocesan status.
On Thursday, March 5, 2020, I received a message that the Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, wanted to meet with all the Deans by 11’O clock. I kept wondering what necessitated this sudden call for a meeting, being that we already had our meeting with the Bishop during the Presbyterian Council and I was aware the Bishop travelled for the Bishops’ Conference Meeting too. I kept asking myself what could have brought him back so soon. Was anything the matter?
At the meeting, as we listened to the Bishop, his stories did not resonate with me. Did the Bishop call all the Deans in the Diocese to tell us stories? I told the priest beside me that there was more to this meeting than the stories the Bishop told. It did not occur to me that the Bishop was stylishly waiting for the Angelus time, 12 noon, to break the news to us.
At 12 noon, the Bishop said it was now time to give us the message for which we were all summoned. He began by recounting all the rigorous processes we had passed through in requesting for the new diocese and finally concluded by announcing that Ekwulobia Diocese had been created. The meeting room was immediately thrown into boisterous shouts of joy and jubilation. We all began to dance and funnily, everyone just happily danced to their cars.
I am still surprised how the news got to spread like wild fire. Before I got to my car to drive home, my phone lines were already inundated with calls. I did not want to pick the calls till I got home. As I approached the entrance of our new cathedral, people were already gathered with itchy ears. I alighted from the car and they were all asking me to confirm to them if the news they already heard was true. I nodded in affirmation.
They are began to jubilate. Some went to ring the church bells and a large crowd gathered at the church, singing, dancing and praising God. The altar servers and youths went round the town, singing and dancing with their musical instruments. Parishioners organised a 40-gun salute. There were assorted drinks and people around feasted to the good news. When the markets were closed in the evening time, another round of celebrations began again. People were sincerely happy to receive the long awaited news.
To confirm their joy and happiness, the Sunday we had a Peaceful Prayer Protest was really awesome. The kind of mammoth crowd that gathered that day, I have never seen it in my entire life. Parishioners trooped out en masse to join the procession.
People were so eager to change church’s sign post to reflect our new status. I consulted with the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev. Jonas Benson Okoye, and he said their was nothing wrong with it, since the new diocese had been announced. I instructed the youths to erect the sign post and before I could get to my room upstairs, images of the new sign post already flooded the social media. It showed how happy the people were with this long awaited development.
Another factor that contributed to people’s jubilation was the fact that Bishop Peter Okpaleke was appointed as the Bishop of the new diocese. Owing to some seemingly sad events that followed his appointment as the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese and his eventual resignation from that diocese, some people began to take pity on him. Many people prayed that God would give him a new diocese to shepherd. So his new appointment as the Bishop of Ekwulobia Diocese is a prayer answered to many.
So, I personally feel fulfilled today and I thank God for making our dreams a reality in our own time. I can now sing my “nunc dimittis” knowing that my eyes have seen the fulfilment of our age long desire.
The Journey to Building a New House for God
There were so many people in the Bible that wanted to build a house for God, but did not have the opportunity. I feel so blessed that in spite of my unworthiness, God gave me the grace to see to the building of a befitting Cathedral for Him.
When we started making plans to erect a new church building for God, we did not have any money in our parish account. We did not even have the money needed to demolish the old building which would cost over 2 million naira. So it was a big burden to us, both financially and psychologically. I made up my mind not to be discouraged. Earlier, before I was sent to work here in Ekwulobia, I used to come and park my cars within the church premises, anytime I came to Ekwulobia.
Whenever I made such visits, I would look at the old church building and tell myself that this town is in a very strategic position and that it needs a church well-built that will really show the presence of God. I was later posted here to work and I knew it was time to translate my dreams into reality.
After the Diocesan Building Committee gave their approval to break down the old building and erect a new one, I invited some stakeholders in the parish on 28 December, 2013 and tabled my plans before them. They were all happy and joyfully gave their approval. In January of the following year, I invited the parish youths and also made my intention known to them. They were also happy and gave their full support.
In the heat of the whole preparations and our lack of funds, I came in contact with Engr. Dennis Odumegwu from Ihiala, who recently returned from Canada then. Among all the engineers we earlier contacted, he was the only one with the right understanding of what we needed. He was also open and sincere to us. His financial and intellectual inputs into the building project cannot be forgotten. I personally told him to count himself lucky as one chosen by God to help in building a Cathedral for Him. He attested to the fact that since the building was completed, his blessings from God had tripled.
We eventually started the building project. It was more challenging than we expected. At a point, some people who I thought were with me on the project began to withdraw, and not only that, some began to say really discouraging words to and about us. I tried so hard to keep my zeal aflame. One thing that strengthened me was my resolution before the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday night, during the Triduum of 2014.
This is a practice I learnt from the late Fr. Stephen Njoku. Fr. Njoku preached that the Holy Thursday night was when Christ entered into the wilderness, before His suffering and death, and began to meditate on His redemption plans for mankind. Fr. Njoku advised that Holy Thursdays are the best days to draw our plans for the year. Since I became a priest, I have tried to maximise the solemn quietude Holy Thursdays offer and use it in making my plans for the year. It does not matter if I am at the confessional or not, I will keep on listening to the Spirit of God for directions for the year.
So bearing in mind that I made the resolution to see to the erection of a majestic church building in the presence of God in the Eucharist on a Holy Thursday, my faith was strengthened.