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Fr Pat Amobi ChukwumaMonday, September 22, 2014
amobipchuks@yahoo.com


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TRIBUTE TO LATE BISHOP SIMON AKWALI OKAFOR

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n the words of the revered Qoheleth, "There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven: a time for giving birth, a time for dying..." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). Bishop Simon Akwali Okafor was born in the old Ifiteukpo in Dunukofia Local Government Area of Anambra State on 16 November 1934. His parents Ogbuefi Okafor and Ifeoma Okafor were by then ardent pagans. The birth of his Lordship fell on the feast day of Ifiteukpo dreaded pagan deity known as Akwali. Consequently, he was given the name Akwali and dedicated to her. He became 'Odogwu' (Great). Imagine how he was given that heavy deity to carry as a baby. By this name, he was destined to serve the deity Akwali. However, it turned out that he would serve the living Deity, the Almighty God. At the age of 12, Akwali was baptised with the name Simon. Biblically he was destined to be a fisher of souls. The town Ifiteukpo later received special transformation and was renamed Ifitedunu. "Dunu" means 'to lead.' As a priest, Simon would lead the people to God.

As a child, Simon was a typical village boy moving about with his age-mates. He began his Primary school at Ifitedunu, when his hand could touch his ears from above the head. Later he was sent to St Anthony's Catholic School Dunukofia. His life abroad commenced. It was there he came in contact with the saintly priest Michael Iwene Tansi. Through him, Simon contracted the holy virus of the Priesthood. From then he began to blow English grammar left and right. Bishop Godfrey Paul Okoye and Msgr Meze also ignited the light of vocation to the Priesthood in the young Simon. When he heard Bishop Okoye sang "Et Ideo, cum Angelis" he became spiritually mad to become a priest. But the problem was how to convince his parents who saw it as a taboo for the first son to become a priest. As time went on, Msgr Meze broke the news of Simon's intention to enter the seminary to his traditional parents. Hearing the news, his father collapsed. Thank God he did not enter into coma. Simon's good disposition to his parents later convinced them to offer their first son to answer the call to the Priesthood. The coast was cleared and Simon began his seminary formation.

He was brilliant academically and naturally. When he sang, the Angels of God came down to dance. He was ordained a priest in 1963 from the hands of Bishop Godfrey Mary Okoye of the blessed memory. As a priest, Father Simon transformed the Akwali deity in him into Divine spirit (Akwali-chukwu).

Bishop Simon, as a priest you were very useful in the Vineyard of God wherever you went. You had no enemies as such. No wonder you were called "Ojembaenweilo." Your philosophy of "Mmadu agaghi anwuru ya" (strong will) propelled you to a greater height.

Bishop Simon, gold-fish does not hide in the water. Our people say that a good product sells itself. The former Archbishop of Onitsha, now Cardinal Francis Arinze, saw the ingenuity in you. No wonder he appointed you during his episcopate in the old Onitsha Archdiocese as his worthy secretary. You served him and the Church with cheerfulness and devotion for some years. Your pen marketed Archbishop Arinze to Rome that the Roman Pontiff then raised him to the post of Cardinal and he was called to Rome to serve the universal Church. When Awka Diocese was carved out from Onitsha Archdiocese, you chose to return home. Just yesterday I travelled to Holy Trinity Basilica Onitsha and I still saw your indelible handwriting on the Archbishop's desk after so many years as Secretary of the old Archdiocese.

In my dream last night, I flew to the University in America where you studied Education. I was surprised to see your excellent academic result still pasted on the Notice Board. Your name was written boldly in gold there. The White people found it very difficult to pronounce your Igbo name 'Akwali.' Instead they called you 'Alkali.' The Alkali in you produced a good chemical mixture in the Laboratory of Education. No wonder you took much time to educate anyone who came to your office as the Bishop of Awka.

As an educationist you attained a greater height. As a lecturer and Provost of the former College of Education in Awka, you left an indelible footprint. Just yesterday I went to the premises of that old Institution and still saw your good image all over the place. Your lips were education personified. When you spoke grammar human beings and animals surrounded you in admiration. Your huge stature then added glamour to your educational ingenuity. The students of the College of Education hailed you as "Don Doing" because of your pragmatism in psychology of Education.

It was when you were serving as Provost of the above revered educational Institution that Rome saw your star hovering over the Vatican City. When the Pope and the Roman Curia came out of St Peter's Basilica and saw your wonderful star, the Pontiff did not waste time to name you the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka, to assist Bishop Albert Obiefuna to lead the numerous flock in Awka Diocese to greener pasture. You wore your mitre and took your shepherd's staff and entered the Lord's Vineyard with vigour and devotion.

As the Auxiliary Bishop of Awka, you accepted to travel to God's own City Aguluezechukwu in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State on 5th September 1993 where you ordained me a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Immediately you imposed your sacred hands on my head during the ordination, the Holy Spirit took control of me. I saw Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father nodding his head as a sign of approval of my ordination. I entered the church in procession as a transit deacon and came out wearing the shoes of Jesus Christ, unworthy as I am. Thanks, my Lord Bishop Okafor, for ordaining me.

Your Lordship, when Bishop Albert Kanene Obiefuna was transferred to Onitsha Archdiocese, you were found worthy to be enthroned the substantive Bishop of Awka Diocese. You continued to build on the solid foundation laid by Obiefuna. You had fatherly listening ears. When any dispute was brought to your table, you ended up making the disputing parties laughing. You blame both parties for their faults and then reconcile them. You depended on God's will in all matters. I still recall the incident of a woman who brought her sick child to you for prayers. You prayed with faith for the sick child and ended up telling the mother, "O di nma, e kene Chukwu. O dighi nma, e kene Chukwu." (May God's will be done, whether good or bad). But I was taken aback when the mother of the sick child started crying. She had expected you to perform instant miracle. My Lord, your prayer was correct, because God's will is to be done. Miracle seekers, please take note!

Bishop Okafor, you carried a heavy cross as a result of sickness for many years. But you did not despair. You fought like a lion. You endured to a glorious end. Even in your retirement the cross became heavier, such that you ended up in a wheel-chair. You bade us goodbye on Friday 29 August 2014. Jesus Christ died on Good Friday. You also died on a good Friday when we were rejoicing on the ordination of a new Auxiliary Bishop of Awka, Most Rev. Jonas Benson Okoye. He was ordained in the morning and you died in the evening of the same day. God knows why. I wish you safe journey to eternity. When you reach Heaven, greet Melchizedek the High Priest for me. Please tell Jesus that I am waiting for him when he will come again the second time in glory. That time I shall accompany him in the midst of Angels and Archangels to meet you enjoying the Beatific Vision. Your successor, Bishop Paulinus Chukwuemeka and his Auxiliary Bishop Jonas Benson Okoye wish you eternal happiness in Heaven. The priests, religious and laity of Awka Diocese wish you safe journey to our eternal home. We shall all be there someday, sometime.

My late Bishop, your wretched remains will be committed to mother-earth on Tuesday 7th October 2014 at the crept Chapel inside the gigantic Cathedral. You are the first to be buried there. Do not feel lonely. We shall be coming there to pray for you and stay with you in spirit. At the age of 120 years, Bishop Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor will lie there with you. And Bishop Jonas Benson Okoye will join you at the age of 125 years. From the priestly cemetery, we priests buried there shall be visiting the three of you in the Cathedral, if rain allows us to come down to you. On the morning of the Resurrection, we shall all rise and embrace one another. Then together we shall dance triumphantly into Heaven. Till then, I say goodbye Bishop Simon Akwali Okafor. Rest in perfect peace!

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