The will of God, they say, will definitely triumph, notwithstanding the difficulties. Such was the testimony given to the April 29, 2020 historic installation of Most Rev Peter Ebere Okpaleke as the first Bishop of the new Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia by many people, reports Ifeoma Ezenyilimba, with additional reports from Uche Enem.
It will be recalled that Bishop Okpaleke was on December 7, 2012, appointed a former Catholic Bishop of Ahiara Diocese. The appointment however, pulled the trigger on a series of face-offs with some people of Ahiara, who rejected Bishop Okpaleke as the appointee of the Pope.
The rejection and storm lasted for over seven years, and on March 9, 2020, the current Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, from the Old Awka Diocese, created the newest Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia, and appointed him (Bishop Okpaleke), as her first Bishop; a development that was joyously described by many as a homecoming for the Amesi, Anambra State-born Bishop Okpaleke and a dream come true for the people.
And, history was again made as Bishop Peter Okpaleke on April 29, took the canonical possession of the new Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia, as he was installed her first bishop by the Metropolitan Archbishop of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Most Rev Valerian Maduka Okeke, at St Joseph's Catholic Cathedral, Ekwulobia, Aguata LGA, Anambra State.
Archbishop Okeke was at the event, the papal delegate of the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, His Excellency, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi.
During the installation rites, the faithful who wore face masks and were spaced out in the cathedral due to the COVID-19 pandemic, stood enthralled as the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, announced the event as the apostolic letters on the creation of Ekwulobia Diocese and the appointment of her first bishop were read while Bishop Okpaleke was led to his cathedra and received his pastoral staff from the papal delegate.
Other bishops, as well as the priests, religious and laity, paid homage to the first bishop who was seated on his cathedra.
In his homily of the concelebrated Holy Mass which he kick started at St Joseph’s Cathedral, Archbishop Valerian Okeke noted that a bishop would not assume the official position as the See of the diocese, until he took canonical possession of the said diocese in line with the Canon Law.
Pointing out that the Church existed for proper evangelization, the archbishop, who x-rayed the ministry of the bishop, noted that all the baptized faithful were called to share in the missionary mandate of Christ.
Basing his reflection on the Gospel of Matthew 28: 18-20, noted that the apostles remained committed to the missionary mandate of Christ. Such mandate according to him, defined the ministry of the bishop as the successor of the apostles, noting that the bishop, in line with the mandate, offered guidance and security, while at the same time oversaw the people of God.
Most Rev Okeke stated that by his episcopal consecration, the bishop in his function as the local ordinary, enjoyed in fullness, the ministry of Christ. He added that the bishop, as another Christ, was called into the ministry of governing and leading the people of God.
The papal delegate, who cited Canon 831, said the Diocesan Bishop as a mediator between God and man, had the proper and ordinary power to exercise his ministry in line with the ministry of Christ.
Most Rev Okeke noted that a diocese, according to the Canon Law, constituted a particular church, and with the canonical function at St Joseph’s as the Cathedral Church, and with Okpaleke as her first bishop, Ekwulobia had become a diocese. This was even as he stated his conviction that the strategically located new diocese would grow tremendously.
He commended Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor and the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka, Most Rev Jonas Benson Okoye, for according to him, sustaining the process and bringing it to perfection, praying for God’s blessings on all that were instrumental to the actualisation of the historic event.
In his inaugural address, the first bishop of the new Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia, Most Rev Peter Okpaleke, described his installation as a witness to the fulfilment of the desire of the people of God that stretched back to 2009 when the request for the creation of Ekwulobia Diocese was made. He thanked all who graced his installation, as well as those that wished to, but could not attend, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The bishop appreciated Most Rev Ezeokafor and Most Rev Okoye, for what he described as their support over the years.
The Catholic Bishop of Ekwulobia Diocese equally thanked the priests and faithful of his former diocese, Ahiara, who, he said, sought to respect and uphold the Catholic Church, and proved themselves worthy sons and daughters of the Church.
Speaking at the event which had very few people in attendance due to meticulous observance of safety measures against the spread of coronavirus, the Governor of Anambra State, Dr Willie Obiano, commended the bishop for the rules maintained at the Holy Mass, which, according to him, were COVID-19 compliant.
The governor congratulated Bishop Okpaleke, who, he said, had been charged to lead the people to God on his installation, and urged the faithful to obey the bishop.
Meanwhile, the first bishop of the new diocese, Most Rev Okpaleke, at his installation, made the first key appointments for the new Ekwulobia Diocese.
The bishop’s appointees, who he called collaborators for the growth of the new diocese, included Rev. Fr Anthony B.C. Chiegboka, who was appointed as the Vicar General; Rev. Fr Lawrence Nwankwo, Diocesan Chancellor; Rev Fr Kizito Okoli, Diocesan Financial Administrator; Rev. Fr Charles Umeoji, Vicar for the Clergy; Rev. Fr Francis Ekejindu, Judicial Vicar and Rev Fr Vitalis Azike as the Diocesan Education Secretary.
Others were Rev Fr Ignatius Nnaemeka Onwuatuegwu, as the Episcopal Vicar of Ekwulobia Region and St Joseph’s Cathedral Administrator; Rev Fr Jeremiah Okeke, as the Episcopal Vicar, Achina Region; Rev Fr Basil Ezekeli, as Episcopal Vicar, Akpu Region; Rev Fr Jude Ezeokana, as Diocesan Director of Missions; Rev Fr Anthony Ezeokeke, as Secretary to the Bishop; Rev. Fr. Calistus Umeokoli, as the Assistant Secretary to the Bishop (Statistics) and Rev. Fr. Kenneth Udokogu, as Bursar of the Episcopal Household.
The others included Rev Fr Linus Ibekwe, Vocation Director; Very Rev. Msgr Jerome Madueke, Director of Communications and Catechesis; Rev. Fr. Simon Anigbogu, Director of Justice, Development and Peace Caritas Commission (J.D.P.C.) and Rev. Fr Jude Mbanefo, Director of Projects.
Their appointment took effect immediately.
Fides gathered that a major inauguration of the new Ekwulobia Diocese will take place in future when the coronavirus pandemic might have totally relaxed.