A New Springtime in Ahiara Diocese
By Fr. Paul Samasumo
A new springtime of healing, reconciliation and unity
Nigeria’s Bishop of Umuahia Diocese and newly appointed Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara Diocese, Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, has called for healing, reconciliation and unity in the diocese. The Bishop was speaking during the Inaugural Mass to mark the start of his ministry in the erstwhile-troubled Ahiara Diocese.
“I feel highly privileged to serve a people known for their remarkable religious and enterprising spirit. I look forward to drawing closer to you during my pastoral visits in your parishes to administer the Sacraments, “Bishop Ugorji said to a packed Mater Ecclesia Cathedral in Ahiara.
The holy season of Lent calls for healing and renewal
Bishop Ugorji has said it was a very happy coincidence that the “new springtime” he has declared, for Ahiara Diocese, was taking place during the season of Lent.
“In carrying out my mandate, I wish to stress that every authentic healing and renewal begins with reconciliation with God, who gives peace to our souls. We all need interior peace and renewal. It is, therefore, a very happy coincidence that this call for healing and renewal in the Diocese of Ahiara is being made during the holy season of Lent when the Church urges us to heed the proclamation of Christ: “Repent and believe the gospel,” the Bishop said.
Praise for early missionaries and indigenous clergy
The Bishop took time to praise the pastoral zeal of early missionaries and the contributions of the Indigenous Clergy who held the diocese together when many Irish missionaries were forced-out of Nigeria at the end of the civil war in 1970.
“The glory and splendour (of their efforts) … were strongly supported by the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Diocese, (and) are reflected in a truly admirable way in the vibrant Catholic Church in Mbaise land. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life boomed. The population of the lay faithful grew exponentially. Many new parishes, magnificent Church buildings and beautiful presbyteries sprang up; thanks to the legendary generosity of the good people of Mbaise,” the new Apostolic Administrator recalled.
Ahiara Diocese’s dark period
Nevertheless, Bishop Ugorji did not gloss over Ahiara Diocese’s dark period just ended. He regretted the acrimony arising from the succession of the former Bishop of the diocese, Victor Adibe Chikwe who died in 2010.
In his the words of Bishop Ugorji, “It is unfortunate that the process of appointing his successor (Bishop Chikwe) snowballed into a very destructive crisis that seems to eclipse the remarkable progress and achievements of the Church in Ahiara Diocese over the years. This horrible crisis has shaken the Church in Ahiara Diocese to its very foundation like an earthquake, inflicted deep wounds of division in this local Church and in the Church in Igbo land and badly damaged the image of the Church in Nigeria and beyond,” he said.
Bishop Okpaleke’s decision to resign was “wise, noble and courageous”
Bishop Ugorji’s pastoral statement has been well-received in Nigeria. He also praises Bishop Peter Okpaleke who resigned on 20 February thus paving the way for his appointment as Apostolic Administrator. He described Bishop Okpaleke’s decision to resign as, “wise, noble and courageous,” adding that Bishop Okpaleke, “deserves our respect and gratitude.” Bishop Ugorji has since appointed Fr. Ethelbert Uwadika as the Vicar General of the diocese.