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Father Bishop Onah @64: Our August visitor

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Rev Fr Emmanuel Ndu

Why the phrase ‘August Visitor,’ and not ‘May Visitor,’ or even ‘December Visitor’? At least the pomp around the end of the year should have made ‘December’ the best option.

As with nature, some things, places, people, and events draw more attention than others. And the one million dollar question is, why is it so? Why did God, for instance, choose Isreal and not another nation? Why are some persons more talented than others? Why is an ‘August visit’ more significant?

Malvolio’s response in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a notable attempt at responding to these whys: “By my birth, I rank above you, but don’t be afraid of my greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Your fate awaits you. Accept it in body and spirit. To get used to the life you’ll most likely be leading soon, get rid of your lowclass trappings. Show some eagerness for the new upscale lifestyle that’is waiting” This truth is self-evident, and the good news is that we’are all great in either an actual or potential sense; those who weren’t born great can achieve greatness through a dint of hard work.

Literarily, the word “august” means inspiring reverence, admiration, supreme dignity, impressive or important. Etymologically, it came from the Latin ‘augustus’, meaning ‘concenrated’ or ‘venerable.’ The phrase ‘august visitor’ usually describes the visit of a great, highly dignified or important person, or an unexpected visitor with unusual importance and influence. From the foregoing, it is only natural to fall into the temptation of concluding that those born in “August,” the 8th month of the year, are august visitors.

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Methinks that the esteem commanded by “august” accounts for the reason why the annual congress held by Igbo women of eastern Nigeria for handling matters pertaining to human and community development and conflict management holds in August and also goes by the name, “August Meeting.”

On the top of the list of ‘August visitors,’ a man who literally changed the history of the world, is Ceasar Augustus, the grandnephew of Julius Ceasar. Born Gaius Octavius in 63 B.C., Augustus impressed his great uncle so greatly that when Julius Caesar was assassinated in 43 B.C., he had already named Augustus heir to his political and personal fortunes in his will.

Augustus, at the age of 19, accepted the inheritance from Caesar’s will and was quickly plunged into the complicated world of Roman politics. He quickly formed strategic alliances, defeated his political rivals, and won a bitterly fought civil war. In 31 B.C. at the Battle of Actium, Augustus won a decisive victory over his rival Mark Antony and his Egyptian fleet.

Augustus Caesar was one of ancient Rome’s most successful leaders, having led the transformation of Rome from republic to empire, and himself became the first Emperor. During his reign, Augustus restored peace and prosperity to the Roman state and changed nearly every aspect of the Roman life.

In 8 B.C. the Roman Senate honoured Augustus Caesar, the first Roman Emperor, by changing the name of the sixth month “Sextilis” (sex = six) to “Augustus.” January and February were added, making ‘Augustus’ the 8th month of the year. Middle English speakers inherited the name, “August.”

Also on the list of notable ‘August visitors’ with an unbeaten record of excellence is our very own Most Rev. Prof. Godfrey Igwebuike Onah, the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese. Born on August 18, 1956, ‘Father bishop’ Onah had his preparatory education at Local Authority School, Imilike-Ani and St. Paul’s School, Mbanator, where he obtained his First School Living Certificate in 1970 (Distinction). 1975 saw him at St. John Cross Seminary, Nsukka, where he fetched his General Certificate of Education, GCE (Grade One, 9 credits).

In 1980, he bagged a Bachelor of Philosophy, B. Phil, from Bigard Memorial Seminary, Ikot Ekpene, Nigeria (affiliated to the Pontifical Urbaniana University, Rome) and in 1984, bagged a Bachelor of Theology, B. Th, from Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, Nigeria (affiliated to the Pontifical Urbaniana University, Rome), graduating summa cum laude (First Class) in both instance, setting a record of first candidate ever to make “summa” in both departments.

With this untainted record of excellence, in 1988 he proceeded for further studies at the Pontifical Urban University, Rome, Italy, where he bagged another summa cum laude in his Licentiate, and in 1992 capped it all with yet another summa cum laude in his Ph. D, specializing in philosophical anthropology (with particular focus on the natural openness of the human being as well as the religious dimension of humans) and African philosophy (especially those aspects of philosophy that have direct relevance to contemporary Africa). This lengend was retained to lecture at his alma mater in the Eternal City, Rome, where he showed his full pontentials by rising to the echelon of academic hierarchy – Professor.

During the 20 years of his tutorship at the Eternal city, he was the Vice President for Academics in the University, the Director of the Institute for Research on Non-belief and Cultures in the Faculty of Philosophy, and later the Vice Rector of the University (the first black person to attain such height), before he was appointed the Chief Shepherd of his home Diocese of Nsukka by Pope Francis in 2013. These and many more make him an ‘August Visitor’ indeed.

Revend Father Bishop Onah is pastorally and spiritually a giant. Within these seven years of his Episcopacy, he has, through grassroot evangelization, promoted Catholicism in Nsukka in no small measure. Guided by his motto, “VOLUMUS IESUM VIDERE” – WE WANT TO SEE JESUS,” a phrase borrowed from the request some Greeks made to the Apostle Philip in John 12:21, he has brought countless persons not just to see Jesus but to encounter him in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. His ministry has experienced peace and serenity, expansion of the Christian faith, both physical and spiritual, and deepening of Christian love in both the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka and the Church in Nigeria – and beyond.

In the academic sphere, this erudite scholar of international repute is an iroko. This enviable fruit from a deep-rooted stock in Imilike-Ani in Udenu L. G. A, Enugu State, is presently the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council of two universities in Nigeria, Veritas University, Abuja (VUNA) and Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), Enugu, and yet he goes about his duties humbly with no motorcade or bodyguards. More so, Father Bishop Onah has participated in four Synods of Bishops as an expert. In 2009, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI appointed him a Consultor to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, one of the first seven Consultors ever to be appointed to that Dicastery of the Roman Curia.

Indeed, Father Bishop Onah is not only an August visitor by birth, but in words and deeds. Hence, he is not only born great, but achieved greatness by dint of hard work. Who knows if one day a ‘fifth market day’ ONA will not be added to the Eke, Orie, Afor and Nkwor to honor this August visitor?

Happy birthday, Nna anyi Bishop. God bless you. We love you.

Fr Emmanuel Ndu writes from Nsukka


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