By Vincent Ujumadu
THE ancient city of Onitsha stood still weekend following the ordination of 38- year old Reverend Father Benjamin Okala as the first Holy Ghost Father produced by Onitsha 135 years after the Spiritan Fathers first set foot in the area. Although Onitsha had produced 12 Rev Fathers, including the first Nigerian Catholic Bishop, late Bishop Johncross Anyogu ordained a priest in 1930, none of them was a Holy Ghost Father.
What also made the ordination of Fr Okala unique was that unlike most young men who begin their priestly vocation journey after primary school, Okala entered the seminary after qualifying as an Engineer from Nnamdi Aikiwe University, Awka and after the mandatory one year National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, scheme, was comfortably employed in an oil company before the call came for him to serve in the Lord’s Vineyard.
The Obi of Onitsha, His Royal Majesty, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe led his entire cabinet and other Onitsha indigenes to St. Mary’s Catholic Parish, Inland Town, Onitsha where the ordination took place. Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha and Metropolitan of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province , Most Reverend Valerian Okeke, led over 100 priests in the Eucharistic celebration.
In his homily, Archbishop Okeke expressed joy that although it took a long time for Onitsha to produce a Holy Ghost Father even though it was the first place the Spiritan Missionaries arrived in 1885, the ordination of Fr Okala would open the floodgates for the production of Holy Ghost Fathers in the area. He recalled that it was the reigning Monarch of Onitsha then, Obi Anazonwu that gave the Spiritan Fathers the land to establish their congregation and encouraged his subjects to join them.
After taking his vows of celibacy in the presence of the entire congregation, Fr Okala joined the Archbishop and the Provincial Superior of Holy Ghost Fathers, Rev Fr Greg Olikenyi at the alter in the celebration of the Mass.
The Parish Priest of St Mary’s, Rev Fr Johnbosco Okafor and the Parish Council, in their address, observed that Okala had broken a jinx, adding that the expectation was that Onitsha would henceforth be producing Holy Ghost Fathers like other communities. Their address read: “The occasion calls for greater jubilation, a day made by the Lord, we rejoice and are glad. It is a day marked with distinctive joy and festivity in St. Mary’s Parish Inland Town, as Rev Fr Benjamin Okala, CSSP, becomes the first indigenous Spiritan, ordained here at St. Mary’s Parish, by His Grace, Most Rev. Valerian Maduka Okeke, the Archbishop of Onitsha and Metropolitan of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province. We desire and fervently pray that you continue the work and mission of evangelization, leading. teaching, rescuing and sanctifying the flock at all times. You are devoted to topics of chastity, good morals and conscience.
“Our Indigenous Onitsha Ado Community is proud of you and need constant prayer to the God of Harvest, to continue to send our sons and daughters as labourers in the Lord’s Vineyard to boost vocation in our Onitsha Ado Community. We thank the Almighty God, who made this dream a reality, made today what it is, who approved and planned this programme and enabled us to execute it successfully. To God be all Glory and Honour.
“We are touched by the magnanimity of His Royal Majesty, lgwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha and all our Parishioners, the home and abroad Catholic communities and various organizations, for their rapid bold support that guaranteed the success of this glorious priestly ordination”.
Fr Okala’s mother, Lady Rosaline Okala, whose joy knew no bounds, said she was happy that her son had successfully gone through the priestly formation. She said: “I thank you for faithfully answering the call and persevering to the end of your formation. I am proud of you. Go forth and live your dream with holy love and pure zeal, for God has prepared you to feed His sheep.”
A family member, Hon Emma Okala, Nigeria’s former goalkeeper, who led the family’s dancing troupe to the ceremony expressed joy that the long journey had materialized at last. “May the Almighty God who has called you grant you the grace to shepherd the flock He has entrusted to your care,” he prayed.
In appreciation to what God had done to Onitsha people through Fr. Okala, the new priest was handed over a Kia Rio 2018 model to assist him in his missionary work. There were also other gifts to him from individuals and societies.
In the words of the Provincial Superior of the Holy Ghost Congregation, Fr Olikenyi, the expectation of the Spiritan Fathers is that the candle which Fr Okala had lit, would continue to glow so that henceforth Onitsha indigenes would stand to be counted in the Spiritans Congregation of the Holy Spirit.