By George Adimike
On 12 February 2023, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, carved out the Diocese of Aguleri from the Archdiocese of Onitsha, making Aguleri the latest daughter of the Church in Onitsha. With the installation of her first bishop on Friday, 17 March 2023, the Diocese of Aguleri commenced her new life in earnest.
The creation of the diocese testifies to the growth and maturation of faith in this local Church and expresses hope for the prospects of the Christian faith in that new diocese. Created with the dual motive of the affirmation of the growth of the faith and the positioning of the local Church for further growth so that the Kingdom of God will more abundantly flourish, the Aguleri Diocese—with her four local governments of Anambra East, Anambra West, Ayamelum and Oyi—is the youngest among the daughters and granddaughters of the Church in Onitsha. She promises to be a further projection of the rich culture of the Christian faith into the hinterlands of the Omambala Area.
One can say without fear of contradiction that the Christian Mission in Onitsha is one of the most successful both in the Catholic Church and the Church catholic. The evangelisation in Onitsha is blessed with such rich fruits that it has given birth to around 20 dioceses both in Nigeria and Cameroon. It is a glorious heritage. According to the current shepherd of the Flock of Christ in Onitsha, Archbishop Valerian Maduka Okeke,
“It is a glorious heritage that must be guarded jealously, upheld and promoted”. For him, it is nothing less than “a faith handed down with sweat and blood and must not be allowed to die in our hands”. The Catholic faith, which was brought to Onitsha and from there to other parts of southern and middle-belt Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon beginning from 1885, is textured with radical heroism by young French and Irish Missionaries.
Though these young people on fire for God and humanity were dying one after the other of tropical diseases in the early days and years of their missionary work, they were not deterred. Instead, while they buried their dead colleagues, they prayed that a great Church would grow with the manure of their blood and bones from this mission headquartered in Onitsha.
And interestingly, more people were volunteering to be part of this great missionary endeavour, knowing full well that the possible outcome might be death at a young age. They gave their lives with the hope that a great faith would arise with the manure of their lives, and God did answer their prayers.
Within less than one century and a half of its beginning in Onitsha on 5 December 1885, this missionary endeavour has produced a beatified priest, the Blessed Michael Iwene Tansi (the only beatified Christian in West Africa), and several others whose cause for beatification is on course.
These would-be saints are only the brightest and not the only stars of this enterprise, of which the millions of conscientious and faithful disciples of the Lord since the first decades are the mature and ripe fruits.
Verily, it is apodictic that through this endeavour the light of Christ has shown in the East and continues to penetrate dark paths and cloudy alleys across cultures and continents with the illuminating light of the Gospel. It has equipped the Church with a comparative advantage in the education of citizens, and the provision of quality and affordable healthcare and other social services. Because of this missionary enterprise, the people who live in this part of Nigeria are living better.
Without a doubt, the Church in Onitsha is a glorious heritage, which cost blood and bones in her debutant stage. It took a toll on the lives of the pastoral principals and agents who have superintended and husbanded her. At present, it requires nothing less than a radical and heroic witnessing. In fact, Archbishop Valerian Okeke, being conscious of the need for a greater input, is deploying all in the arsenal of the archdiocese towards upholding, preserving and advancing this glorious heritage of faith, hope and love.
Practically, he activated all the latent pastoral energies and creativity and deployed all the resources to the spiritual formation, infrastructural development, and human capital development of the local Church.
The creation of the Aguleri Diocese is one of his many pastoral prodigious acts to take the faith to the next level of height and depth. Because of his perceived need to deepen the works of evangelisation and enhance an effective pastoral care of souls started by our forefathers—the early missionaries—the archbishop formally applied for the creation of the Aguleri Diocese.
Before embarking on such a great pastoral initiative, he prepared the ground to make it a successful venture by being intentional about the development of that part of the archdiocese. And through his pastoral efforts and ultimately the gracious providence of God, and through the midwifery of Pope Francis, the Onitsha Archdiocese gave birth to the Aguleri Diocese so that the Kingdom of God will continue to flourish.
The birth of the new Diocese of Aguleri is expected to localise the one Catholic and Apostolic Faith in the Omambala Area and universalise the precious gifts of Omambala for the entire Church. The new bishop, the Most Rev. Denis Chidi Isizoh, is already in activated mode, waiting to deploy his wealth of human and spiritual gifts. While wishing him the best of spiritual success, one recalls the archbishop’s words:
“The missionaries demonstrated the highest form of heroism, refusing to succumb to fear of all manner of sufferings and challenges for the sake of the Gospel. Therefore, our rich faith was bequeathed by the brave, the great, and the faith-filled heroes. And it is our heritage and we are proud to uphold and advance it.” Grace comes in multiples, and so the provident Father has empowered Onitsha to give birth to Aguleri so that the vehicle of evangelisation will operate with an extra engine.
Fr George Adimike writes from Onitsha Archdiocese.