Every major incident becomes historic, especially when it is of collective interest, and when a people embraces its import as a milestone in their developmental, religious and sociological narrative, and as such, every artifact from it is a historical memorabilia.
When the premier Bishop of Ahiara Diocese, Most Rev Dr Victor Adibe Chikwe, was ordained in Rome on January 6, 1988, there were only a few persons who followed him to St Peter’s Basilica in Rome for his Episcopal Consecration; prominent among them was Chief D.O. Onu of blessed memory, who became the first Pastoral Council Chairman of the newly created Ahiara Diocese; then Rev Fr Emmanuel Ogu, who is now Monsignor. The Internet of Things was not fashionable at the time, since the internet was only birthed on January 1, 1983, and made public on April 30, 1993. It was not like these days, the very hotspot and omega-point of the internet blast. The inclusive digital presence would have virtually transported the vivacious information oriented population of Mbaise to the cyberspace of St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, to be part of every digital split of activity in 1988. People relied on mental creations on what it meant to consecrate a Bishop, as Cable and Digital television networks like the Catholic owned EWTN were not available yet in Nigeria; only photographs of the event were available for a privileged few. With nostalgia, this large community of Faith, Hope and Love that is Ahiara Diocese, Mbaise, relishes the relics of his Consecration, and the exciting reception from the airport. He was Mbaise’s hero.
Today in our time, another hero is emerging, in the person of His Excellency, Msgr Simeon Okezuo Nwobi (CMF). Curiously, expectations are high and emotions running at a higher degree, as Msgr Nwobi’s historic Episcopal Consecration is about to take place on Mbaise soil, the first of its kind, on December 19, 2023, at the Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral Church, Ahiara Diocese, Mbaise.
Ahiara Diocese has become the epicenter of interests in the African Church, having survived years of turbulence and an invasive test of faith, coming from the three years of mourning the late Bishop Chikwe, through the next ten years of ‘Desperate Hours’, as they prayed for a Bishop like Bishop Chikwe. It was a ‘Long Road to Tipperary’, yet the resilience and forbearance attracted mercy for them, and for the first time in 13 years, the population witnessed at the funeral of Bishop Chikwe, on October 7, 2010, may be almost doubled on December 19, 2023. This Ordination will be the third high point of activities in the Cathedral Church of Ahiara Diocese, the first being the very first Mass to be held in that Church, which was the Ordination of the 2002 set of Ahiara Priests, on August 3, 2002, when 12 Priests were ordained (representing the 12 pillars of that Church), and yours faithfully, was the third in number, among the 12 Priests of that epoch making event.
In that Cathedral, where the Bishops of Nigeria gathered massively, and laid the body of Bishop Chikwe to rest, most of them would return, to celebrate the survival of the faith in Ahiara Diocese, after the storm. As we believe that in the Eucharist, the heavens and earth unite, the living and the dead interact, we believe strongly that our joy will interact with that of Bishop Chikwe, as peace will flow like a river upon our land, and the Lord will permanently heal our land on this day. This day will be the most outstanding incident of joyful reunion, renewal and rejuvenation after 13 years, for the Scripture promises that: “God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered” (Deuteronomy 30:3).
It is a moment to savour, which may not be repeated in the lifetime of many who are alive today; that after the crucibles:
(a) We shall have the moment to physically and spiritually share the Eucharistic bond with the Bishops of Nigeria on Ahiara soil, in an embrace of intense joy and a Kiss of Peace, realising the inseparable unity in the Mystical Body of Christ, which endures unending passion and persecution from within and without, consciously bearing the five wounds of its founder in each and every way the members collectively and individually participate on the journey to Calvary and the climbing unto the cross.
(b) To witness moments laden with the emotions of a graced-filled assembly of the faithful of Mbaise: “to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people” (Psalm 113:8); from the Papal Nuncio, the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, the Monsignori and other Priests, Deacons and Religious Men and Women in their fifty shades of blue; the Lay Apostolate in their numerous categories of association; the Altar Servers and Eucharistic Dancers, the Flower Girls and those who would bear the gifts for the sacrifice (oblata); the men and women, youths and children, and les enfants; for the Psalmist sings to God: “On the lips of children and of babes, You have found praise to foil Your enemy, to silence the foe and the rebels” (Psalm 8:2).
(c) The thick light-grey smoke rising from the incense, the strong fragrance from the incense – each grain representing one and all worshippers – scooped out the incense boat and into the Thurible, as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto God (Rom 12:1), to be consumed by the fire which purifies and produces the fragrance of adoration to the Most Bountiful God (Munificentissimus Deus), reminding us of these words: “Let my prayer rise in your presence like sweet-smeling incense” (Psalm 141:2). The melodious renditions of the Sacred Music and robed choristers; Catechists draped in their sky blue robes and surplices, all would resound His praise.
(d) To join in the Veni Creator Spiritus (or Veni Sancte Spiritus), and witness the Presentation of the Ordinand, the Examination, the Nine Promises, and the Litany of the Saints. To see and hear The Principal Consecrator confer the fullness of the Priesthood on the Bishopric Candidate by the Laying on of Hands with other Bishops, placing of the open Book of the Gospel on the Head of the Bishop-elect; the Anointing with Chrism and the Investiture. The decorations with the Bishopric insignia of the Ring on the fourth right finger; the Pectoral Cross, Mitre and Crosier (the red stockings might be earlier observed on his feet.
(e) The Heavenly aura and the nostalgia for the Heavenly Liturgy, where the Angels and Saints would lead us in the eternal Sacrifice by Christ the High Priest of the New and Eternal Covenant. The words of promise by the Ordinand will elicit the affectionate commitment between the Bishop and the flock of Christ. Such a real encounter for many people who have never witnessed such a thing in their lifetime, and I bet you, many have not, will be a momentous life-impacting experience, an imagination of the decoration of Aaron as found in Exodus 29:1-44; while we see, in the eyes of faith, a sacramental transformation that brings about the radiance of the Face of Moses as he descended the Mount of Sinai, after the encounter with the I AM, WHO I AM.
(f) The ‘O Antiphon’ of December 19th will be ‘O ROOT OF JESSE (O RADIX JESSE) YOU STAND AS A SIGNAL FOR THE NATIONS’. This is referred to Christ, yet significant for the people; it will be a day to witness the vibrant hospitality and ‘Joy of the Gospel’ (Evangelium Gaudium) of the Mbaise people, who have survived a centennial drama of upheavals from the colonial times until the present moment. From all parts of the world, Mbaise sons and daughters will converge, in their numbers, to celebrate the Mercies of God extended to them, and appreciate the person of Bishop Simeon Okezuo Nwobi, who is not just a signal to the nations, but Stock of Jesse.
(g) It shall be remembered as a Day of Thanksgiving in Mbaiseland, for on this day, every valley shall be exalted (Isaiah 40:4), and the conception of Mbaise as a ‘Monsterverse’ will be reversed to the prophetic declaration: “City of God’s Delight” (Isaiah 62:4). A day to thank God, the Father of Mercies; and the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for the kindness extended to Ahiara Diocese; to the Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara Diocese, Most Rev Dr Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, who is the Archbishop of Owerri, and Metropolitan of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, as well as the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, for birthing ‘A New Springtime in Ahiara Diocese’ (title of his first Pastoral Letter in Ahiara Diocese on March 10, 2018) and steering the ship to a good anchor; the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria; the Missionaries Sons of the Claretian Missionary Fathers (CMF), and the Universal Church at large. For the Thanksgiving Day, symbolic gifts shall be presented to Bishop Nwobi, who will be consecrated that day, for the Scripture says: “The Eastern Kings of Sheba and Seba shall bring him gifts” (Psalm 72:10). Msgr Nwobi is rightly Okezuo as properly named; and envisioned as the Obilor, Akujuobi, Anochie and Nkasiobi (names in Igbo language that encapsulate the mood and mode of joy and satisfaction of the Mbaise people). We cannot have longed and prayed for 13 years for this answer to our prayers, and when this has happened, we hesitate to give thanks; we shall show how large our hearts are, and how golden we are in thankfulness.
(h) It is a day to mark the renaissance of Mbaise Catholicism, and forever look towards God and be radiant, and not let our faces be ashamed (Psalm 34:5). Therefore, all sons and daughters of Mbaise are called upon to rally round and identify with this noble project of ensuring that everyone becomes a part of history, in this auspicious moment and on the events leading up to 19/12/2023.
Special thanks goes to Ahiara Diocese Worldwide Laity Council (an extension of the Laity Council of Ahiara Diocese), which is a Diaspora Organisation of Ahiara Laity, convened by Professor Eddie Oparaoji, with Dr. Jude Iheoma (both residing in the USA), for their relentless effort to raise the consciousness of the people of Ahiara Diocese when needs arise, such as this. They were active through the years of trials, and at this moment, they are actively coordinating the participation of Mbaise sons and daughter, especially in the diaspora, to support the events of December 19, 2023. This group had, on November 15, 2023, organised a virtual interactive session with His Excellency, Msgr Simeon Okezuo Nwobi, to familiarise with him and convey sentiments of emotional and spiritual attachment to the choice of him as the Auxiliary Bishop to the Apostolic Administrator sede vacante of Ahiara Diocese. Information about a fund-raising to this effect will be made public soon.
The account details below will be for instant remission of financial support, as requested by the Steering Committee Members for Diaspora sons and Daughters of Mbaise: Prof Eddie Oparaoji, Dr Jude Iheoma, Noble Lady Prof. Viola Onwuliri, Mrs Maureen Chinyere Achilike, Sir Bob Akponye, Dr Collins Ugochukwu, Dr Law Osondu, Chief Wilson Iwu, Ezeji Alozie Aguwa, Mrs Chidinma Onwuliri, Theresa Idoko, Engr Law Nwachukwu, Sir Nick Nnamdi Nwuda, Dim Chijike Ndukwu, High Chief Joachim Nwogu, Chief Festus Okeke. Chief John Nwokoroku, Dr Jane Akponye, Prof Jeff Ohanaja, Deacon Emeruwa Anyanwu, and Rev Fr (Prof.) Fidelis I Agwulonu, among others.
NAME: AHIARA DIOCESE WORLD-WIDE LAITY COUNCIL
ZELLE: On Request
For additional Inquiries on this, anyone could contact:
Dr Jude Iheoma, +1 (215) 801-4068
“The Almighty has done great things for us, Holy is His Name” (Luke 1:49).