By Chidi Nkwopara
Owerri- The Imo State capital, played host to no fewer than 25 Catholic Bishops, including the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, and hundreds of priests, tthe religious and lay faithful.
They were all in Owerri for the silver jubilee celebration of the inauguration of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province and installation of Most Rev. Dr. Anthony J. V. Obinna, as the Metropolitan of the Province, comprising Orlu, Okigwe, Umuahia, Aba, Ahiara and Owerri.
This date, in the previous years, was celebrated as the Owerri Archdiocesan Day. Put simply, the Owerri Archdiocesan Day is an annual event, which primarily recalls the 1994 elevation of the Catholic Diocese of Owerri, to an Archdiocese, and to the position of Metropolitan See within the Ecclesiastical Province.
While establishing the Owerri Archdiocesan Day, Dr. Obinna emphasised what he called “the inculturative thrust” of its programme of activities.
His words: “Given the need to welcome the Good News of salvation, into the intimacy of our lives and Igbo culture, special prominence would be given to the Igbo language, through an annual series of lectures by Igbo scholars, in the Igbo language.
Archbishop Obinna also opined that the symbiotic relationship between true worship of God and the cherishing of genuine human values, which the festivities and the lectures seek to orchestrate, is thereby anchored and strengthened.
On arrival, one of the first port of call was the Government House, where representatives of the Catholic Bishops, paid a courtesy call on Governor Emeka Ihedioha.
The Governor used the opportunity to not only welcome his guests to Owerri, but also assured them of their safety, throughout their stay in the state.
For Chief Ihedioha, it was a thing of joy that the Archdiocesan silver jubilee celebration came in his time as Governor of Imo State.
He reiterated his promise to govern the state with the fear of God, as well as upholding the rule of law, accountability, transparency and independence of the three arms of government.
Preaching the sermon that can rightly be said to summarize the feelings of the Bishops at a concelebrated Pontifical Mass, the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka, Most Rev. Godfrey Igwebuike Onah, said that today, Nigerians expect so much of their Bishop’s.
“In the darkness and gloom that have enveloped our country, many are looking expectantly at the Church for a ray of hope, however faint. Whether it is about the perceived Islamiztion and Fulanization of the country, or about the current effort of the Federal Government to stifle every form of opposition, people are asking: What is the Church doing? And by the Church, they simply mean Catholic Bishops.
“But I ask: What else can the Bishops do that they have not done already? The Bishops have prayed and continued to pray for Nigeria. The Bishops have spoken clearly and consistently against bad governance, from the time of military dictatorship, when the voice of the Church was the only one that could not be silenced, till today, when military dictatorship has returned in another form.
“The Bishops have expressly stated that this country is in trouble. The Bishops have told the government repeatedly that the only way out of this catastrophe that is about to happen in this country is justice and fairness: respect for those parts of the Constitution that are just and fair; amendment of those parts of the Constitution that were so framed as to favour parts of the country, either geographically or religiously.
“This country is experiencing deterioration on a daily basis and our people are loosing confidence in themselves. There is a decay of infrastructure and near total collapse of security. All these have been pointed out by the Catholic Bishops on several occasions. What have the Bishops not said?
“At the peak of insecurity in this country, the Bishops candidly advised the President to resign since he could no longer provide protection to the lives and properties of Nigerians. Repeatedly, the Bishops have engaged every president of this country.
“But what about our Christians, including our Catholics, who are in government? There are card-carrying Catholics in all the political parties that have ruled Nigeria since the return to democracy. What have these Catholics or Christian members of the ruling parties done to translate into concrete action the indications that the Bishops have given? Bishops have marched the streets in prayer and protest. Bishops have taken the government to court in some states. The only thing that we have not done and will never do is to incite our people to violence, because that would be wrong.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria needs to know that our youths are losing confidence in the peaceful and non-violent way we are proposing. And I will like to state clearly that today, out of respect for Archbishop Anthony Obinna, who has been foremost in speaking out in defence of good governance both in his state and in the country, that the current Federal Government of Nigeria will hold itself responsible if it refuses to listen to the voice of reason and the calamity we all fear will befall our dear country.”
Continuing, Bishop Onah said that the Islamization and Fulanization project has gone beyond being a hidden agenda, for it is now being implemented openly and with impunity.
“But then, there is a limit to the extent to which the people can be oppressed without their reaction to the oppression. We therefore appeal to all those in government at different levels in this country, to remember that they are there to serve all the people in Nigeria”, Onah said.
The celebration was rounded off with the Odenigbo Lecture, delivered by a university don, Rev. Fr. Longinus Chinagorom.