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Fr Pat Amobi ChukwumaSunday, August 24, 2014
amobipchuks@yahoo.com


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AWKA DIOCESE IN THE NEWS AGAIN


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wka Diocese of Anambra State in Nigeria came into existence in late 1977. It was carved out from the old Onitsha Archdiocese. Its territorial boundary stretches from Ugwuoba to Abagana, Ichida to Umunze and Ekwulobia to Uga. Luckily, God's own town Aguluezechukwu is within. Her first Bishop, the late Archbishop Albert Kanene Obiefuna was consecrated in early 1978. His exalted seat known as Cathedra was erected at Awka town known for Blacksmithing and Imo Awka pagan deity. The Church had a fore-sight that Awka would be the Capital of the new Anambra State. The Church and Government work hand in hand to bring sanity to the society.

Despite the presence of the Church in Awka, the Imo-Awka deity has not surrendered to the Divine Majesty. But time will come when the people will say 'yes' to God and 'no' to Imo-Awka deity. Formerly, Rome was known for pagan idol worship. With time, through the superior power of the Holy Spirit acting in the Church, paganism was wiped out in Rome. I hope in no distant time the same thing will happen in Awka. The Government of Anambra State should caution the worshippers of Imo-Awka deity that Awka is a Capital City. Therefore, they should limit the pagan celebration within the shrine and not along the Zik Avenue, causing nuisance, extorting money from innocent passers-by, cyclists and motorists. Hardly did I know that a masquerade can steal until I saw one. Awka people abandoned the noble art of Blacksmithing and resorted to idolatry and masquerading. By now Awka town would have been exporting gold, thereby making the town rich to the envy of others.

Yes, it is in this Awka city that the Catholic Church perched her Seat under the care of the Local Ordinary (Bishop). The Bishop is the chief Shepherd of a diocese. He tends after the flock of God in human form. That is why he is given a staff known as Crosier at his Episcopal Ordination. He uses that Crosier to direct his numerous sheep to pasture and to lead them into the sheepfold. Also he uses it to bring back the straying sheep. Bishop Albert Kanenechukwu Obiefuna was the first Shepherd of Awka Diocese. He raised the diocese to an enviable height by deep sense of Spirituality whose effect has kept her intact till today. He touched the lives of the clergy, religious and laity so much. He erected churches, created many Parishes, Deaneries and Regions. He built a gigantic Cathedral in Awka, the first of its kind in Nigeria.

When Bishop Obiefuna could not pasture the multiple flock of God in Awka Diocese alone, he requested the Holy Father at Vatican City for an Auxiliary Bishop. His request was promptly granted in the person of a fatherly father and educationist, Most Rev. Simon Akwali Okafor. As a result, Kanene stood in front looking after the sheep while Akwali with his huge stature in those good days stood behind the sheep to make sure that no lion ventured into the sheepfold. Two heads are better than one.

Incidentally, Bishop A.K. Obiefuna was transferred to Onitsha Archdiocese to crack the hard kernels in the Lord's Vineyard there. He was crowned Archbishop to be able to face the task ahead. If you look at a man's face, then can you determine what part of meat to give him. The Catholics in Awka diocese wept at this transfer. The question at every lip was why? The Pope answered the question by installing Bishop S.A. Okafor as the second diocesan Bishop of Awka Diocese in late 1994.

Bishop Okafor continued where Archbishop Obiefuna stopped. As Bishop and teacher, he laboured in the Lord's vineyard to lead the sheep to greener pasture. He set out to teach the stubborn sheep among the people of God. As time passed by, he wondered how he alone could carry out the load of work in the diocese. Therefore he appealed to Rome for an auxiliary Bishop. His prayer was heard. Most Rev. Solomon Amanchukwu Amatu came on board as the Auxiliary Bishop. Bishop Okafor heaved a sigh of relief. Bishop Amanchukwu converted all those who did not know God within the diocese as his name depicts through his wise homily. Two heads are better than one. The bush hen says that the reason they go two by two is because what one does not see, the other sees it. The Akwali-Amatu combination yielded a good result.

Awka Diocese is so attractive that most Dioceses and Archdioceses in Nigeria demand a shepherd from her Vineyard. Consequently, Bishop Amatu was posted to Okigwe Diocese as the Local Ordinary, after the retirement of Bishop Ilonu. I use this opportunity to appeal to the priests of Ahiara Diocese to sheathe their swords and accept their Bishop in exile, Most Rev. Peter Ebere Okpaleke. Awka and Ahiara both begin with the letter 'A' which stands for Acceptance. The Biafran Ahiara Declaration is an epoch in history. The Church has also declared that Bishop Okpaleke is the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese. Let us give peace a chance. The Church has no geographical boundary as such.

I remember the delicious bread manufactured in those days and labelled "Back to Land." So, I am now back to land. Bishop Okafor was snatched of a helping hand by necessity. Also, age was not on his side and sickness has drawn a map his face. Hence he cried again to Rome for another small advocate. Prayerfully, Pope Benedict VI went to St. John Bosco Seminary Isuaniocha and anointed Most Rev. Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor as the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka Diocese. The students of the seminary were crying and rejoicing that their lovely and industrious Rector has been snatched from them and made a bishop. The Eze (chief) in Ezeokafor propelled Okafor to a greater height. The new St. Patrick's Cathedral was dedicated during the apostolate of Bishop Okafor. He then celebrated his 70th Birthday.

The strong Bishop Okafor was ageing and sickness did not help matters. Therefore it was time to quit the stage. So, Bishop Simon A. Okafor retired peacefully. But to my utmost surprise, the Church in Rome declared Awka Diocese "Sede Vacante" (Vacant Seat). What transpired no one knew. Following this situation, Bishop Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor was named the Apostolic Administrator of Awka Diocese. Was it a promotion or demotion? The numerous sheep in the diocese became like Sheep without a Shepherd. The People of God fell on their knees and cried for divine intervention.

It was after a year that the gate of Heaven was opened. Bishop Ezeokafor was finally named the Diocesan Bishop of Awka Diocese. He passed under three nomenclatures: from Auxiliary Bishop to Apostolic Administrator and then the Local Ordinary. Who knows whether he would later transform into Archbishop, then Cardinal and....Pope? The sky in Awka Diocese, which was cloudy for over a year, brightened once again. Bishop Ezeokafor laboured up and down the breadth and width of the diocese for some years alone. When he glanced at the mirror, he saw that man was going down, because it is not an easy apostolate in a diocese with unimaginable number of sheep and the greatest number of priests in the whole world. To avoid High Blood Pressure he requested Rome to carve out two more dioceses (Ekwulobia and Adazi) from the present Awka Diocese. Time passed and no answer came. He appealed again and again.

Later, the Church in Rome said that She is not in a haste to create any new diocese from Awka Diocese for now. Rather Bishop Ezeokafor was directed to request for an Auxiliary Bishop. A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the forest. The request was made and it was granted. Today, Awka Diocese has got a new Auxiliary Bishop, Most Rev. Jonas Benson Okoye. The cap fits him. He is two persons in one. That is why he goes by two names Jonas and Benson. He is truly a High Priest by stature and quality. In a very remote town, a bishop came on pastoral visit. He was very short by stature. The parish choir began the entrance hymn: "Lee Nnukwu Ukochukwu!" (Behold the High Priest!) When they saw that the bishop was very short, they changed the hymn to: "Lee Mkumkpu Ukochukwu!" (Behold the Short Priest!") May I used this medium to teach the choir concerned that High (Nnukwu) has nothing to do with physical stature. It is rather a dignity, whether the bishop is tall or short. Every Bishop is a High Priest. I salute you our Auxiliary Bishop Jonas Benson Okoye. All roads lead to St. Patrick's Cathedral Awka in Anambra State on Friday, 29 August 2014 for the Episcopal Ordination. The Holy Trinity will be there Live. Special seats are reserved for the Angels and the Saints. Ebola is not invited because we shall shake hands and embrace each other in joy that day. After the Ordination Mass, Rice and Stew will be very plenty.

Awka Diocese has a cause to rejoice. Well done our incumbent Bishop Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor! In fact God has done it. You will live long and your bishopric has started bearing fruitful fruits morally, spiritually, socially and educationally. Congratulations Bishop Jonas Benson Okoye! With your giant stature, hard-work and spirituality Awka Diocese will grow higher and higher. As the Local Ordinary Bishop Ezeokafor moralises the People of God in Awka Diocese as a Moralist, the Auxiliary Bishop Jonas Benson Okoye, as a Canonist will canonize them all. Indeed we have good luck. We are a privileged diocese. When eventually Ekwulobia and Adazi Dioceses are carved out, Bishop Ezeokafor will be at Awka. Bishop Okoye JB will be at Ekwulobia and Bishop Anonymous will be at Adazi. To God be the Glory!

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