Jubilation – Pope Francis Erects Ekwulobia as Diocese

. . . Appoints Okpaleke First Bishop

By Abuchi Onwumelu

It long last, Ekwulobia has become a diocese. This followed the decision of Pope Francis to erect the Diocese of Ekwulobia, with Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke as its first Ordinary, reports Abuchi Onwumelu.

Announcing the appointment of Bishop Okpaleke who is the Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Ahiara at St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, Awka, last Thursday, the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, His Lordship Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, said he received what he described as pleasant news with joy and gladness.

The Catholic prelate stated that the new diocese was carved out of the Diocese of Awka, and would be a Suffragan of the Metropolitan See of Onitsha.

Reading out the appointment letter to the hearing of visibly happy priests, religious and lay faithful around, Bishop Ezeokafor noted that the newly created diocese would cover Akpu, Ekwuluobia and Achina Regions.

According to Bishop Ezeokafor, after a series of letters written to the Pope regarding the creating of new dioceses out of Awka Diocese in the past, the Vatican City had turned them down and instead opted for an auxiliary bishop. He therefore noted that he was surprised to receive a mail notifying him of the creation of Ekwulobia as a diocese and the appointment of Bishop Okpaleke as its first bishop.

He further said that several letters had been written in the past to the Vatican asking for the creation of two more dioceses, Ekwulobia and Adazi, but they were turned down. “They asked us instead to apply for an Auxiliary Bishop which we did and Bishop Jonas Benson Okoye was appointed as an Auxiliary Bishop in the year 2014.”

Bishop Ezeokafor said that their efforts did not stop at that. ‘We continued to push because, here in Awka Diocese we have the highest number of priests and Awka is too big for one person to handle, even with an Auxiliary Bishop. It was not easy”, he noted. He said he was glad for the great news, and thanked Pope Francis for the creation of the new diocese and the appointment its first Bishop. “It is a great relief,” Bishop Ezeokafor concluded.

Reacting to the news, the Awka Diocesan Chancellor, Very Rev Fr. Francis Chidume, speaking to Fides in his office, gave further explanations on the territorial implications of the new diocese. |He said the faithful of Aguata, Orumba North and Orumba South Local Govt Areas belonged to the new Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia.

According to him, priests in pastoral duties, such as those working in parishes within the Ekwulobia Diocese, would primarily belong to the new diocese, while the priests working in institutions such as universities, would primarily belong to their diocese of origin.

Fr Chidume also disclosed that Pope Francis commended Bishop Okpaleke for his patience.

In his initial reaction, the newly appointed Bishop of Ekwulobia Diocese, Most Rev Peter Ebere Okpaleke, in his telephone coversation with Fides, thanked the people of God for their prayers, and solicited for more prayers from all.

Also the Episcopal Vicar of Ekwulobia Region and the Parish Priest of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Ekwulobia, Rev. Fr. Ignatius Onwuatuegwu and the Administrator of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Very Rev. Fr. Matthew Attansey, expressed gratitude to God for the creation of Ekwulobia Diocese and also for the appointment of Bishop Okpaleke as its first bishop.

Mercy Hill contributed to this report.