BY CHIDI NKWOPARA
OWERRI—Economic activities were yesterday grounded at Mbaise, following a peaceful protest organized by priests and lay faithful of Ahiara Catholic Diocese to press home their total rejection of Monsignor Peter Okpalaeke as the new bishop of the Diocese.
The protesters, who spotted black attire, marched slowly between Saint Brigid’s Parish and Cathedral Church, saying their rosary and periodically sang Christian songs.
Some of the placards displayed by the aggrieved Catholics read: “No ordination of Okpalaeke in Mbaise”, “Awka has five bishops, Mbaise has no bishop”, “Mbaise unequivocally rejects Okpalaeke”, “We reject injustice”, “We want Mbaise son as Mbaise bishop”, and “Bishop Chikwe is betrayed”.
In a six-page declaration signed by the President and Secretary, Ahiara Diocesan Priests Association, ADPA, Rev. Fr. Austin Bernadine Ekechukwu and Rev. Fr. Dominic N. Ekweariri respectively, the protesters strongly contested Okpalaeke’s suitability for Ahiara Diocese, given its uniqueness and pastoral realities.
“We, the priests and lay faithful of Ahiara Diocese, having in view the peculiarities of our Diocese, state that we categorically reject the appointment of Msgr. Peter Okpalaeke as the bishop-elect of Ahiara Diocese,” the priests stated.
They also made it clear that because they were impelled by the pastoral realities of their Diocese and being solicitous for the promotion of the Catholic faith among their people, they had the obligation to reject anything that imperilled the faith of their people.
“Our opposition of the appointment of Msgr. Okpalaeke draws from our perception of the paramount importance of the salvation of the souls of our people. The salvation of the souls of our people in Ahiara Diocese commands our primary allegiance before any other consideration,” the priests said.
Stating that the appointment of Okpalaeke contradicted natural justice, the priests equally argued that it sent a very reprehensible signal about the status and reputation of about 500 Catholic priests who traced their origins to the soil of Mbaise, a Diocese that had been globally acclaimed as the Ireland of Nigeria.
“To us the priests of Mbaise, who are being maligned and embarrassed by Msgr. Okpalaeke’s appointment, it is an enormous injustice and cannot be allowed to stand”, the angry clerics stated.
Continuing, the priests said they have a strong moral obligation to fight injustice in the portrayal of the priests of Mbaise as incompetent, lacking faith and moral probity that the office of the bishop requires.