Bishop At Last
Msgr Peter Okpaleke
Msgr Peter Okpaleke becomes Bishop amidst fizzling protests at Ahiara Diocese
By Ferdy Ibecheodo, Owerri
The furore that greeted the
election of Mosignor Peter
Okpaleke as the Bishop-elect of Ahiara Catholic Diocese may have been laid to rest following his consecration on May 21 as the Bishop of the Diocese.
For six months, the Priests and some Catholic lay faithfuls of the Ahiara Catholic Diocese have been protesting and petitioning the Holy Sea against the election of the Bishop. The protesting Priests asked for a Priest from the Diocese to be appointed Bishop.
As the date for the Bishop-elect’s consecration was slated for last week, the Ahiara Diocese agitators blocked all entrance into Maria Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral, Ahiara, to stop the consecration from taking place.
At the Mass that preceded the consecration, the Most Revd. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia Diocese in a sermon enjoined the new Bishop to serve the people instead of ruling over them, pointing out that as a faithful guardian, he should help all those whom God placed in his care.
Bishop Ugorji: “Listen to what they have to say, attend to them who are his flocks.” The Bishop also went into the history of the Church and disclosed that the people of Mbaise welcomed the Catholic church with great enthusiasm, generosity of heart and commitment, noting that the people remained loyal and faithful in the face of difficulties and challenges and trials.
In his speech, the Papal Nuncio of Nigeria, His Grace the Archbishop Augustine Kasujja enjoined the new Bishop to help all who have been placed in his care, stressing that as a steward of God, the Bishop should be faithful in guiding his flock. The Papal representative to Nigeria disclosed that he was the person who announced to the new Bishop his election by the Holy Father, stressing that Bishop Okpaleke was surprised as most of them. Alluding to the protest against the appointment, the Papa Nuncio stated that he was not a Nigerian and yet he is here.
Responding, the Most Revd. Okpaleke started by talking about the events that preceded his consecration. He noted that the venue of this ordination also confirms that the dust has not completely settled. “I am well aware of the volatility of the situation the enormity of the work ahead in terms of healing of memory and reconciliation,” he said.
He said he was at peace and confident and hopeful, putting his faith in God who knows how to make all things, including our hearts new. According to him: “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, who 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 misunderstanding among our peaceful people” he said.
Bishop Okpaleke, assured the Ahiara people that God is the Lord of those who love Him, stating that the turbulence of the past months and even the unsettledness of the situation then should not leave them gloomy, dejected or fearful.
The Source observed that only 11 Priests from Ahiara Diocese out of a legion of priests in that diocese came up to congratulate the New Bishop, while more than 100 Reverend Sisters from the Diocese of Ahiara took their turns to embrace the New Bishop, indicating a divide in the opposition from Ahiara Diocese against the Bishop.
The consecration at the Seat of Wisdom Senior Seminary, Ulakwo rather than Okpaleke’s Diocese, which is Ahiara is also an indication that all is not yet well.
One Cardinal, 9 Archbishops, 26 Bishops among many other important persons attended the consecration. They included His Grace, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, His Excellency, His Grace Archbishop Brian Udaigwe, Papal Nuncio for the Republic of Benin, Secretary to the State Government represented the State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha.