By Sam Eyoboka
History was made in the commercial ancient city of Onitsha Thursday as seven archbishops, 50 bishops and over 3,000 ordained Catholic priests gathered at the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, for the closing ceremony of the Special Year for the priests.
The highlight of the superbly organised event was the declaration of the son-of-the-soil, Blessed Michael Cyprian Iwene Tansi as a patron of Nigerian priests.
Another highlight of the event was the ordination of 20 priests drawn from Ibadan, Abuja, Nsukka, Enugu and Congregation of the Holy Ghost to mark the conclusion of the Year of the Priests. The newly ordained priests included include Augustine Wale Taiwo, Matthew Oniseitan, Darlington Agubosim, Stephen Balogun, Charles Ajihaye, Vincent Alabi, Martin Olowyeye, Benedict Ahamioje, Joseph Olisah and Anselm Ali.
Others are Christian Anih, Augustine Odo, Christopher Ugwuta, Dominic Alua, Ezekiel Okoh, Gabriel Ozoude, Benignus Ugwu, Rufus Achinike, Fidelis Chibuzor Ifeanyi and Donald Mark Ude.
The Year for Priests was declared by the Catholic Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI on June 19, last year to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney.
It was a period when Catholic faithful and especially the priests, are expected to reflect on the mystery and gift of priesthood.
The expectation is that the occasion will offer an opportunity for priests and lay faithful an opportunity for a renewed understanding and dedication to the ministry and deep appreciation of the mystery of the priesthood.
Venue of the 3-day event was the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity situated at the Bank of the River Niger in Onitsha.
There was a gala night on Wednesday where Monsignor Emmanuel Nwosu extolled the virtues of the late Rev. Father Iwene Tansi, saying that he was a miracle son of a poor peasant farmer who later became the first Nigerian quiet monk and peace activist â€œwho befriended and advocated integration for the seemingly most monstrous among his people at his timeâ€”that is to say the problem of the rich and the poor, slaves and free born and freedom for women.
Earlier in his welcome address, the chief host and the archbishop of Onitsha, Most Rev. Valerian Okeke thanked God for the heroic life of St John Mary Vianney and Blessed Father Cyprian Michael Tansi who are models of sanctity.
â€œWe thank you for according us the honour of hosting this unique event. Welcome to Onitsha, the home of the missionaries, welcome to Onitsha, the gateway to the Igbo nation; welcome to Onitsha, the commercial and religious city, welcome to the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity,â€ he said.
Speaking in the same vein, the Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi also sincerely welcomed all and sundry to Onitsha especially the Catholic Bishops for the conclusion of the Year of the Priests. He congratulated all the priests that were ordained.
â€œFor the government and people of Anambra State, we are always very happy to witness a special occasion such as this as it is happening in our time. we were here when the Basilica played host to the ordination of the first Papal Nuncio in Anambra State and now the conclusion of the world Year of the Priests is taking place here.
â€œWe thank the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria for their contribution in building a better Nigeria,â€ he said.
The governor, however, urged the church to, at this time more than any time, help politicians in building a better Nigeria, saying â€œplease challenge the priorities of political leaders. This is the time to challenge our selfishness and our greed so we can build a better Nigeria.â€
According to the governor, nobody can do it better than the spiritual leaders, stressing â€œfor us that are in public place, the Anambra State especially our commitment is to work closely with the Church because we believe that it will provide the gadfly that will help us to do things that are right. I assure you, as I always say, we donâ€™t know every-thing. Only an idiot knows everything.â€ He therefore urged the clergymen to put politicians on their toes at all times so that the nation can move forward.