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By Ifeoma Ezenyilimba
Monday 2, September, 2019, was again another day in history for the Catholic Diocese of Awka, as the Bishop of the Diocese, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, at Archbishop Obiefuna Retreat, Pastoral and Conference Centre, Okpuno, Anambra State, presided over a general meeting of the presbyterium for the 2019 New Locations for the priests, reports Ifeoma Ezenyilimba.
The bishop in the course of the location exercise, re-shuffled his priests for a better and growing apostolate, and re-posted those who were due to new places of apostolate.
After the meeting that lasted for over six hours, Fides crew sought the views of some of the priests on the latest postings. One of them, an Awka Diocesan priest, Rev Fr Emmanuel Anyanwo of the Zebedee Farms Ltd, said the Annual New Location Exercise of the diocese was to assign priests to their different places of apostolate which could be to parishes, institutions or establishments.
On the implication of the new annual allocation of priests, Rev Fr Anyanwo, who was among the priests that were retained in their place of apostolate said, 'One cannot stay at a place and see the whole world; so, you need to change position from one point to another. As you change position, your perspective widens, and you become better.'
He said priests, who were parish priests, looked forward to their six-year tenure, while the parish vicars looked forward to two years. He however said the six-year tenure was not a must, as situations could cause a priest to stay longer or shorter than the expected years in a place of apostolate.
Fr Anyanwo cited the case of the parish priest of St Joseph's Pro-Cathedral Parish, Ekwulobia, Rev Fr Ignatius Onwuatuegwu, whose tenure the bishop extended to seven years due to a situation in the parish.
The Agulu-born Fr Anyanwo said joyful expectation had been the general reaction of priests towards the location exercise and identified the number of years of priests in particular places of apostolate, their areas of apostolate and specialties (like those in Fides, Zebedee Farms, etc), as some of the criteria which the bishop considered for the posting.
Also speaking to Fides on the location, the parish priest of St Joseph's Pro-Cathedral Parish, Ekwulobia, Aguata L.G.A, Rev Fr Ignatius Onwuatuegwu, said he was supposed to be re-posted, having served as the parish priest for six years, but according to the mind of the Church, he was retained for the seventh year.
On what he thought prompted the Church to extend his stay in the parish, Fr Onwuatuegwu said he could not actually say, but that from what he could decipher, it might be for him to continue and complete the church building project for its dedication.
Fides gathered that St Joseph's Pro-Cathedral Church, Ekwulobia, was earlier billed for dedication in August, 2019, but postponed, due to some work that needed to be completed.
Fr Onwuatuegwu said the duration for parish priests was three years (renewable), and a total of six years in all. He however noted that if there was a special need for either extension or reduction of the number of years, the bishop had the authority to extend the priest's stay by a year or so.
Commenting on the likelihood of some priests not being comfortable with their places of apostolate, Rev Fr Onwuatuegwu, who is also the Episcopal Vicar of Ekwulobia Region, said that such was not obtainable in the Catholic Church.
According to him, 'A Catholic priest is supposed to be disposed to his duties and be able to accept with obedience, wherever he was posted to. Agreeing that in some situations a priest might accept his new posting with grudges, he said the priest however would not have any other option than to accept the posting in obedience.
One of the priests who was re-posted to St Andrew's Parish, Adazi-Nnukwu, from All Saints Parish, Awgbu, Rev Fr Innocent Nwafor, said he accepted his new place of apostolate whole heartedly.
According to him, having served in All Saints' Parish, Awgbu, for five years and six months, he knew that he would be re-posted, and so had prepared his handover note, and was ready for his next apostolate.
'I don't have that problem of being sad for over a new place of posting. It is not a new thing for me. I am always open to divine providence and always disposed to new changes. Fr Nwafor stated.
When asked of his experience in Awgbu as a parish priest and as the Dean of Awgbu Deanery for almost six years, the Nibo-born Catholic priest said, 'Awgbu from the outset, had been affected with the problem of some people being either for or against some developmental issues, which is also obtainable in other places. But Awgbu people are generally loving, though the Osu Caste System still hinders association and development in some areas of the town.'
Adding his voice to the interview, the parish priest of St Mary's Parish, Ezinifite, Aguata L.G.A, who was re-posted to Ss Peter & Paul Parish, Arah, Nise, Awka South L.G.A, Rev Fr Bonaventure Nwankiti, described his posting as a normal activity which he was disposed to.
Rev Fr Nwankiti, who noted that the annual allocation of the priests was a routine exercise of the diocese, said he received the notice for the 2019 Location over two months ago.
'I knew that in line with the guiding rules of the diocese, that I had spent six years as a parish priest in Ezinifite. So I had already prepared my hand over note, and my re-posting did not come as a surprise. As a priest, I should be disposed to any eventuality in the ministry,' he said.
On his reaction to the notion that some priests were often posted from one disadvantaged area to another, the Awgbu-born Catholic priest stated that no placed should be exclusive to any priest. He maintained that every priest should be disposed to work at any place and for any eventuality, because according to him, there were souls wherever a priest was posted to serve.
Fr Nwankiti observed that fundamental disposition was key to the performance of priests in the apostolate, saying that such was why they (priests) were trained and likened priests to soldiers on a mission.
Additional reports by Jude Atupulazi, Michael-Jude Nwolisa and Mercy Hills