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Friday, 24 May 2013

BISHOP PETER OKPALEKE'S SPEECH AFTER HIS EPISCOPAL ORDINATION



BISHOP PETER OKPALEKE'S SPEECH AFTER HIS EPISCOPAL ORDINATION
 

Your Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, 'the Cardinal Archbishop of Abuja,Your Grace, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, the Archbishop of Jos and President, CBCN ', Your Grace, Archbishop Anthony J.V Obinna, the Archbishop of Owerri and Metropolitan of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province,Your Grace, Archbishop Augustine Kasujja, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria.
Your Excellencies, the Archbishops and Bishops, Superiors Generals and Provincial Superiors The Secretary General and Staff of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria .Rt Rev, and Very Rev. Msgri, Rev. Frs.,Consecrate d men and women of the various orders, Seminarians. His Excellency, the Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha Other governors, Commissioners and Government Officials Nde ulo anyi, nde Ahiara Diocese 'Knights of the Church and their ladies, C.M.O; C.W.O; CYON; HCA.

I would have stood before you with mixed feelings, If anyone were to have asked me why, that person would have been the only person in the whole wide world who did not know the things that had been happening these last months. The venue of this ordination also confirms that the dust has not completely settled. I am well aware of the volatility of the situation and the enormity of the work ahead in terms of healing of memory and reconciliation. These notwithstanding , I am at peace. I am confident and hopeful. I put my faith in God who knows how to make all things, including our hearts, new (Rev. 21:5). Providentially, this ordination is taking place two days after Pentecost and at the Seat of Wisdom Seminary. I believe that God wants us to begin our Episcopal ministry 'at a time when we, as individual Christians and as Church, are experiencing a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As my Episcopal motto "Veni Sancte Spiritus!" shows, I want to carry out this ministry under the continuous prompting of the Holy Spirit and see my ministry in terms of helping my fellow Christians become more available to the Holy Spirit.

The Seat of Wisdom connection also reminds us of two things: first, the centrality of our Mother, Mary in the Church and in our ministry. Providentially still, ours is Maria Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral. Mary is the Mother of the Church and I entrust myself and nde ala anyi, nde Ahiara Diocese niile, to the maternal intercession of Mary, the Mother of the Church. The second aspect of the Seat of Wisdom connection is that it is only when we say Yes to God; when with Mary, we say "let it be done to me according to your will!" (Lk 1:38) that we will be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and that Wisdom, who is present with God and who understands what is pleasing in God's sight (Wis 9:9) will take flesh in our hearts and lives. It is only then that we can also become seats of wisdom. Here at the Seat of Wisdom Seminary, my prayer is for the gift of Wisdom for myself and for nde ebe anyi, nde Ahiara Diocese. Wisdom is not just native intelligence. Wisdom is also not got from books. Wisdom is a gift from God and as Our Mother Mary shows us, we obtain this gift by saying 'Yes!' unreservedly to God.

Saying 'Yes' to God ordinarily is difficult. Sometimes, God asks things of us that upturn our expectations. At other times, it is not the difficulty of what God demands from us that constitutes the problem but the fact that God has chosen to speak to us, not directly but through His Church, which is holy and at the same time clasping sinners in her bosom. The human element even in the Church makes people tend to protect themselves from manipulation by asking the question: how am I sure that it is God who is asking this or that of me. This is the challenge of discernment of the Spirit. As St Paul tells us, we should test and not stifle the spirit (1 Thess 5: 19). There are canons of discernment that have been worked out by our fathers and mothers in the faith. At the centre of these is obedience of faith. Obedience, Samuel told Saul, is better than sacrifice and to heed than the fat of rams (1 Sam 15J2). This does not make obedience any easier. It involves trust that God is leading the Church and giving up one's will and preferences after exercising responsibility by joining in the discernment process. Obedience invites us to learn to say with Jesus Christ, "not my will but yours be done" (Lk 22:42).

On a personal note, saying 'Yes!' to God as regards my Episcopal appointment was agonizing. When the Nuncio informed me some time in December of the Holy Father's intention to appoint me Bishop of Ahiara, my immediate impulse was to say 'thanks but. .. No!' Since that would have been very impulsive and impolite, I requested to be given time to pray and think about it. These were some of the things going on in my mind. First, I have spent approximately fifteen of the twenty one years of my priestly life working in the chancery and within this period I have worked with four bishops. I have experienced first-hand the agonies and travails of bishops in spite of the seeming glory. I wanted something different for myself - the quiet life of a priest. Second, before my conversation with the Nuncio, I had asked myself why it was taking so long to appoint a bishop to the See of Ahiara. News were flying around and I had heard many stories, founded or unfounded, about what was going on. My instinct of self-preservation spontaneously inclined me towards saying 'No!' The third consideration is what I call inertia the tendency for objects to remain in a state of rest or uniform motion unless an external force is made to act on them. I was happy where I was and with what I was doing. As these were going through my mind; it also became clear to me that without any other reasons to give to the Holy Father, except these self-serving ones, saying 'No!' would amount to reneging on my understanding of the core of my priestly existence as total self-gift to God in the service of the Church. At my priestly ordination, the Church confirmed that it was, indeed, the voice of the Lord that I had been hearing since my childhood, saying, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" It was the same Church that authenticated my response, "here I am, Lord, send me" (Is 6:8-9) and commissioned me to minister in the name of Jesus Christ and of the Church. It is in and through the Church that God speaks to our consciences. Therefore, without any other reasons except the ones above, I knew that I could not, not say 'Yes!' to the Holy Father's request. We are all witnesses to the torrent unleashed by that response.

As the storm raged, what came to my mind was the interaction between the Prophet Amos and Amaziah, the priest of Bethel. Amaziah challenged Amos to take himself off to Judah, his home country, to earn his living there and prophesy there. Like Amos, I kept telling myself that it is the Lord who through the Church, the Body of Christ, took me and sent me on a mission (Amos 7:10-15). And I am resolved to give my very best to make this mission a success and to the glory of God and building up of God's Kingdom.

In a lighter mood, let me confess that now I know first hand the emotions women go through when they are getting married. It is like being transplanted from one location to another with the uncertainties and adaptation challenges therefrom. The experience is made worse if the woman notices signs of non-acceptance by some in her place of marriage. But many women know that in spite of the roughness of the beginnings, better days could be ahead and that the best way to ensure better days ahead is by loving and serving all irrespective of what has transpired at the beginning. Indeed, if left to choose between two unpleasant options, many women would choose to weather the turbulence at the beginning and then cruise lifelong in a fulfilling relationship than to start the marriage in high romance and then fly into persistent turbulence. I pitch my tent with the first group.

My ordination today is a celebration of my marriage to the Church of God in Ahiara. Just like wives married into your families, I have left my people and have become onye Ahiara Diocese. I remember a piece of music by the monks of Weston Priory in the State of Vermont USA which I love so much. The monks set into song Ruth's response to Naomi: "wherever you go, I shall go, wherever you live, I shall live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I shall die and there I shall be buried." (Ruth 1:16). I know, for certain, that at the end of my earthly life, if it is God's will, my bones will rest n'ala Mbaise. So, as the turbulence raged, I used the time to educate myself more about my people, our great history – pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial, the teeming Catholic population, the enormous manpower resource in the general populace and among the clergy - diocesan as well as religious - and the many consecrated men and women working in many parts of Nigeria, Africa and the world at large. Our people are the greatest witnesses to the universality of the Church. Our sons and daughters are found almost everywhere working as priests and religious men and women and our lay faithful carry Catholicism with them wherever they are.

In the light of the above, I understand the anger and frustration generated by my appointment in some sections of the Diocesan family as fueled by the undeniable fact of the enormous pool and quality of manpower that we have in Ahiara Diocese and in our sons in the religious congregations. Other sons of ours, especially from outside the diocese, however tapped into this initial and understandable frustration and went on a rhetorical over-drive. They spread a lot of stories and negative propaganda to cause confusion and misunderstandin g among our peaceful people. Be that as it may, we stand to learn from every event. The greatest lesson for me and the Church is our understanding and manner of exercise of ministry as priests and bishops. We have to go back to the understanding of ministry as service in love and total self-gift in imitation of Jesus Christ, the good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep. This has been my understanding and the events of the past months have sharpened that understanding and commitment. Our first bishop, our Father in the faith, late Bishop Victor Adibe Chikwe, according to the account of many people, lived out this understanding of ministry ¬simple, humble, approachable and available to all in love and service and above all, visionary. With your prayers and support, we shall uphold his legacy. I will work hard, day and night and with all my strength, as your Bishop, to make sure that my people of Ahiara take their rightful place in all levels of our life in the Church and society.

Nde ebe ke anyi, nde Ahiara Diocese, let me address you personally. First, ours is the lord of history and He turns everything to the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). The turbulence of the last months and even the unsettledness of the situation now should not leave us gloomy, dejected or fearful. I dare say that nde Ahiara Diocese anyi love God and God will surely, through the events of the past months, strengthen us all in faith, hope and love. I want us to focus our attention on Jesus. Let us remember that while walking on the sea, Peter started to sink only when he took his eyes away from Him and focused on himself and the roaring waves (Matt 14:27-30). Let us with courage borne out of faith, entrust ourselves to Jesus, the Good Shepherd who will, through the ministry we are beginning today in the power of the Holy Spirit, gather His sheep put under enormous stress by the events of the last months. May He bandage the wounded and lead all to greener pasture and ultimately back to God the Father, so that God will be all in all. Second, God, in His inscrutable will, has given us to each other. As your Bishop, I shall do my best to be a good shepherd, to respect, love and serve you in humility. I will do everything within my means to promote the Gospel and enhance the lives of our people. Third, may I request your prayers and your pieces of advice. The Church of God in Ahiara Diocese is not the bishop's. It is primarily God's and in the-second place, ours. Let us therefore share the collective responsibility, each in his or her way, for building her up and contributing to her mission of announcing the Good News of salvation.

Finally, my dear people of God, nde ebe ke m, nde Ahiara Diocese, as St. Paul admonished, let us always be joyful, pray constantly and give thanks for all things in the knowledge that this is God's will for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thess 5:12-18). We can give thanks to God for events of the last months, painful and confusing though they may be, by taking seriously the lessons learnt and keeping ourselves open to the healing touch of God. After all said and done, we are brothers and sisters in Christ; sons and daughters of the same Father; we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Eph 4:5); we are one family - the family of God.

Let us thank all those who were at the centre of the storm - the Metropolitan and the Bishops of the Province; the Diocesan Administrator, the priests, religious and lay faithful of Ahiara Diocese; the Apostolic Nuncio and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria. You have had sleepless nights, nerve-wracking and tempestuous sessions in the effort to address the issues that arose. Many of you were hit by verbal missiles, had mud slung at them, were misunderstood, called names and persecuted in one form or another. Please take it as part of the difficulties you encountered for the sake of the Gospel and for which Jesus in the Beatitude promised eternal recompense. (Matt 5: 10). For those who felt caught in the eye of the hurricane and are still overwhelmed by the present challenges to our faith, we believe that God, in His own time, will give us the courage to overcome these difficulties. Ours is a forgiving God. He heals and strengthens us in all situations. In a special way, I thank the few priests and the many lay faithful of Ahiara - nde Eze, Knights of the Church and their Ladies - who have stood with the Holy Father and the hierarchy of the Church in Nigeria and had ceaselessly prayed for an end to the stand-off. Please continue to be shining examples of discipleship in love. To all the Archbishops and Bishops, the Rector, staff and seminarians of Seat of Wisdom Seminary and all who have come here today, I say, in the name of Ahiara Diocese; a big thank you and may God lead you back safely to your various destinations.

Please continue to pray for us so that the Holy Spirit, without whom nothing in the human being is of any price or of worth and nothing can harmless be, may, as we pray in the Golden Sequence of Pentecost Sunday, "Lava quod est sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium. Flecte quod est rigidum, fove quod est frigidum, rege quod est devium. Da tuis fidelibus, in te confidentibus, sacrum septenarium" (wash our sinful stains away, refresh from heaven our barren clay, our wounds and bruises heal. To Your sweet yoke our stiff necks bow, warm with your fire our hearts of ice, our wandering feet recall. Grant to Your faithful, dearest Lord, whose only hope is your sure word, the sevenfold gifts of grace).

God bless you!

+Peter Ebere Okpaleke
Bishop of Ahiara —

3 comments:

  1. Steval7:45 pm

    May God Bless our new Bishop, The Diocese of Ahiara, The Catholic Church in Nigeria, and the Entire One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church! These are words of wisdom! Let us all work to build the Church of Christ! May the Holy Spirit enlighten us all! Amen.

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  2. Anonymous6:23 pm

    Oh men, Must u be of Ahiara diocese. Why did Awaka diocese not choose u as their bishop? What is happening in our church these days. Am sorry for all of u that believe and turn church into politics. God will react one day. Call from God is different from "I must be".

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  3. Bishop Okpaleke quoted the Scriptures very well but did he also forget that Jesus said "if they refuse to accept you in one place, shake the dust of your feet and move on to the next town". Did the Bishop forget this? I think someone needs to bring his attention to the fact that his arguments in this speech are only serve-serving. I am not Igbo and I am not an Mbaise man nor do I claim any ethnic group. I am simply "cogito ego sum" - I think therefore I am a human being. I think it is wrong to narrow the arguments against him to purely tribal issues. The people are clamouring for justice pure and simply. Bishop Okpaleke has achieved an ambition to be Bishop, the next honorable thing is to ask the Nuncio for a transfer to Rome or even to be a lecturer or Provost of CIWA. After all some Rectors in Pontifical Universities are also Bishops. So I think there is a way out for the new Bishop to "respect the wishes of the Holy Father" outside of Ahiara Diocese. God keep and bless the new Bishop and may God bless all those who are thinking rightly on this matter.

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DISCLAIMER: Comments, remarks and observations are allowed to enable my readers freely express their opinions concerning issues raised in this post. However, while I recommend the observance of the rule of courtesy for every comment, comments on this post do not in any way express my personal opinion. They are strictly the opinions of those who made the comments.

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