By Uche Amunike
I was at Nnewi last year with other journalists as guests of the Chief Shepherd of Nnewi Diocese, Most Reverend Hilary Odili Okeke, as he gave his Easter message. It was a most enriching encounter for me and I was so bowled over by the content of that message that I think I captioned it, 'The Gospel According to Bishop Hilary Odili Okeke' or so. I'm not too sure, but I know it bordered along those lines.
This year again, I was privileged to be in attendance and I can't help but share his message with you all. Just before that, let me bring you excerpts of our exchanges with him as he cleared the air on sensitive issues concerning Catholicism.
On the Credibility of Knights and Life Members: Knighthood and Life Membership was not founded by the Catholic Church, but by the people. The church allows them to operate without necessarily knowing their members in person. Therefore, the blame of making people of questionable character Knights or Life Members should go to the Lay people because as their names are announced or published, the instruction clearly states, 'if you know anything that would stand in the way of this person being a member, go and tell the Parish Priest. The church in her wisdom makes it clear that if nobody says anything, it is a tacit approval that the person should be made a member'. The church is only responsible for Papal Knighthood because it is the bishop that personally recommends the person to the Vatican. So, if the person is found out to be of questionable character, then the church can be blamed.
Nze na Ozo Title: the instruction of the Catholic church is that it is allowed only if it is devoid of juju. Yet some people go ahead and pretend about it. They give people money to go and do the fetish or idolatry aspect for them and then come to the church to pretend that they had nothing to do with juju. I do not encourage any catholic to take this title, except with the instruction of the church not to take part in idolatry, either publicly or privately.
Asara Ukpor: In 2008, I had a public meeting with the church in Ukpor and the people said that Asara had to do with idols. This year, all the priests in Ukpor met, studied it and confirmed that it was purely idolatry. I then gave directives that Catholics are not to be a part of it. If anyone partakes in it, he will be considered a public sinner, which means he won't receive Holy Communion and if he dies, won't be given a Christian burial. Asara is for pagans and neo-pagans.
Having shared the above content with you all, I present to you, His Lordship's Easter Message in full…
NEW WAY OF LIFE WITH JESUS CHRIST RISEN FROM THE DEAD
Greetings to all human beings born again with water and the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus Christ, the Apostle and High Priest of our religion! As we celebrate His resurrection after the death of the cross and burying in the tomb, all baptised persons in the Church of Christ should reflect on the new way of life expected of baptised persons. Indeed, Jesus Christ clearly put it this way: “In truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again” (John 3:3). Jesus Christ continued to explain what the new birth is: “In all truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit; what is born of human nature is human; what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be surprised when I say: You must be born from above” (John 3:5-7). Being born again by the Spirit is baptism. Jesus Christ mandated his apostles and disciples: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
This baptism links the baptised to Jesus Christ who died and rose again from the dead. St. Paul writing to the Romans said, You cannot have forgotten that all of us, when we were baptised into Christ Jesus, were baptised into his death. So by our baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father's glorious power, we too should begin living a new life” (Romans 6:3-4). The new life is life in imitation of Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and Life (see John 14:6). St. Paul clearly brought out the new life in Christ, “So this I say to you in the Lord, do not go on living the empty-headed life that the gentiles live. ... You are to put aside your old self, which belongs to your old way of life and is corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind was to be renewed in spirit so that you could put on the New Man that has been created on God's principles, in the uprightness and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:17, 22-24).
Easter, the celebration of the solemnity of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, reminds us of our baptism and of our new way of life. We, who are baptised in Igbo land, have a lot to do to leave off our old way of life and put ourselves more fully to the new way of life with Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour. It does not mean that we will stop being Igbo people. Igbo is our natural tribe. We remain Igbo people. However, we must be careful to keep away from our lives those things which Igbo people were doing and some Igbo people are still doing that have anything to do with idolatry, worshipping of gods and goddesses such as Edo, Idemmili, Ogwugwu, Ulasi, Agwu, Akwu, Ala, Ofala, Udo and so on. Igbo people had and have traditions, cultures, customs and practices that were and are linked to idols, juju and false gods and goddesses. Igbo people who received baptism had to renounce the devil and its works which must reject the worship and use of false gods and goddesses. It is certain that juju and false gods and goddesses are agents of the devil.
Baptised persons in Christian Religion are followers of Jesus Christ in a new way of life as new beings. St. Paul gave the message in his teachings: “Take me as your pattern, just as I take Christ for mine” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Imitation of Christ is following Christ and living and acting as Christ did and commanded people to do. Again St. Paul wrote: “As God's dear children, then, take him as your pattern, and follow Christ by loving as he loved you, giving himself up for us as an offering and a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul warned baptised persons against remaining old beings with evil way of life such as being “the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, the self-indulgent, sodomites, thieves, misers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers, none of these will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Today, the Church continues to combat idolatry, bribery and corruption, kidnapping, robbery and injustice. Catholics who are politicians, business people, traditional rulers and educationists must completely be and act in line with the mind of Christ.
In a special way, we must keep ourselves completely from all evil ways and especially from idolatry as St. Paul warned: “For that reason, my dear friends, have nothing to do with the worship of false gods” (! Corinthians 10:7). Pagans worship false gods and goddesses and apply them to almost all their customs, tradition and cultural matters. Some Christians answer Christians but also join in traditional practices that are connected with idols, false gods and goddesses because they believe in Igbo culture, omenala and are ready to abandon true Christianity in order to be faithful to Igbo culture, customs and traditions even those attached to their juju. Sad to say, some Christians throw away their baptismal names, the names of their new lives by baptism. Some of such Christians continue to carry on traditional practices that have connection with false gods and goddesses. Some people publicly demonstrate their way of life as Christians but privately and secretly send people to carry out for them the idolatrous activities attached to their customary and traditional practices.
Our new life does not reject traditions and customs completely unless the traditions and cultural practices that are evil and connected with idolatry. The Bishops of the Catholic Church made the following teaching: “Since the kingdom of Christ is not of this world (cf. John 18:36), the Church or People of God which establishes this kingdom does not take away anything from the temporal welfare of any people. Rather she fosters and takes to herself, in so far as they are good, the abilities, the resources and customs of peoples. In so taking them to herself she purifies, strengthens and elevates them” (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Fidei, no. 13). The Church accepts customs and traditions that are good, that is, that are not attached to idols, jujus and false gods and goddesses. Christians who continue to accept idolatrous and evil practices that are traditional are no longer true Christians. Some so-called Christians embrace titles that still have idolatrous practices and connections and do traditional festivals that are still connected with native false gods and goddesses. Some of them participate in some masquerades that have relations with juju. And there are many such unfaithful persons who still claim to be Christians! May God touch such persons to repent and obey the Gospel of God and the laws of the Catholic Church! (see Mark 1:15).
I use the words of St. Paul to advise all Christians to be true Christians and not false Christians and evil persons: “So be very careful about the sort of lives you lead, like intelligent and not like senseless people. Make the best of the present time, for it is a wicked age. This is why you must not be thoughtless but must recognise what is the will of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:15-17). May the celebration of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ at Easter bring all baptised Christians fully back to the new way of life, the life of holiness, love, goodness, truthfulness, honesty, true faith in God and true worship of the only one true God. By sincere and joyful celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ all Christians who repent from evil ways and embrace fully the new way of Jesus Christ will be guaranteed eternal salvation! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all! (2 Corinthians 13:13).
Most Rev. Hilary Paul Odili Okeke
Catholic Bishop of Nnewi