By Peter Agbebaku
IT was in the spirit of the gospel in Matthew 25:35-37 that Most Rev. Augustine Obiora Akubeze, the Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of the Benin City led his flock to the two prisons in the Edo State capital on Christmas and New Year days, the first for the chief shepherd of the Catholic faithful of the archdiocese since his assumption of office in April, 2011.
The officials and inmates of both prisons, Oko and Benin Central Prison, as well as the faithful were excited that the bishop was keeping the tradition started by his predecessor, Bishop Patrick Ekpu.
Akubeze lauded the Prison chaplaincy, initiated and maintained by the Jesuits priests (Society of Jesus) of the St. Joseph parish, Benin City.
He noted that it was not an easy task to maintain such a monumental assignment of providing for the spiritual and material needs of prisoners.
In his homily during the Mass on Christmas Day at the Oko Prisons, Akubeze reminded both those inside and outside the prison that Jesus Christ required everyone to come to Him just as “we are”.
He noted that Christ left his heavenly kingdom to reconcile “fallen man” to His Father. He urged all to allow Him (Jesus) to be born also in their our hearts and He would work on “our imperfection”.
The faithful, who came from various parishes in the state capital later presented gifts including foodstuff, electrical and carpentry equipment for the vocational training, toiletries, shoes, clothing materials and books to the inmates.
The bishop was in the Condemned Criminal cell, where he gave Holy Communion to those inside who are not allowed out of their cell.
In a welcome address, a representative of the prison inmates, Monday Odu, urged Akubeze to use his good offices to canvass for the release of some of them.
Odu, who had spent 14 years eight months in jail, said that there had not been any amnesty to prisoners in Edo State for eight years.
He said many inmates apart from acquiring vocational skills, had passed external examinations like the GCE, NECO and NABTEB and had even gained admission to tertiary institutions but could not take up the offers because of their incarceration.
Odu said he was offered admission to the College of Education, Ekiadolor, near Benin City to study Business Education in the 2011/12 academic session, adding that it was his second admission as he had been offered one at the Wolex Polytechnic, Lagos a few years ago to study accounting.
“We promise never to go back to our vomit as we are now reformed, transformed, and repented Christians,” said Odu, who also serves as the resident cathechist for his colleagues.
The prisoners appreciated the kind gesture as they presented their benefactors with gifts made up largely of handi-crafts produced by them.
At the Benin Central Prison, Bishop Akubeze told the inmates that Jesus Christ was never tired of looking at His creatures just as a mother does not get tired of looking at his new born babe in her arms.