Holy Father, I bring you fraternal greetings and best wishes from Mbaise, the home of Ahiara Diocese, yes, the same Ahiara Diocese that has been making the news. I am moved, by faith, Holy Father, to drop you these few lines, in the hope that the cabal (and it seems there’s one in the Vatican just like we have one in Nigeria’s Aso Rock and the US White House and indeed in every seat of power) would not prevent you from reading me. I am comforted by the fact that your authority, Your Holiness, derives in the most part from God not the carnal, magisterial power wielded by political leaders. Your occupation of the throne first occupied by St. Peter is by divine epiphany, Holy Father, and no man can challenge the spiritual powers you have, the Ecclesiastical authority you wield and the canonical integrity of your papacy.
Holy Father, it is in full acknowledgment of the afore stated and total submission and deference to your authority that I write to add my personal apologies to those of my brothers, priests of Ahiara Diocese, from whom you have demanded a written apology as an act of contrition. Majority if not all of them have most respectfully complied with your directive-and are now fully awaiting your final instructions on the matter at hand i.e. that of the appointment of a Bishop for Ahiara Diocese. Regrettably, the appointment of Monsignor Okpaleke has been greatly impeded by the festering opposition and would seem like imposing a shepherd for an unwilling flock, if it is upheld. Well, Holy Father, you are the Supreme Pontiff, and your decision on this is final. As a good Sheperd you will NOT abandon 99 sheep for the sake one! Ighotago, Pope?
Perhaps, I should actually not proceed with my missive, Holy Father, without first expressing profound gratitude to Your Holiness for most graciously accepting the apologies of my brothers even before they were all received. The letter from the Nuncio dated July 3rd, 2017, conveying your munificence is most gratifying, to say the least. You have once again demonstrated exemplary sagacity and graciousness, which, by the way, are some of the attributes that have brought about, shaped and sustained your particularly outstanding papacy. Thank you, Nnanyi Pope. Dedem Pope imeela! I dare say your magnanimous gesture was not unexpected for three major reasons. One, you are a very humble man. Two, you care very much about the flock which almighty God has handed over to you. Three, you have seen the hearts of Mbaise Catholics!
Having said all these, Holy Father, it is important I tell, no matter how late it may seem that the unfortunate and avoidable crisis currently rocking Ahiara Diocese could have been obviated, if your representatives had toed the path of honour and justice. You are a very just man, yourself, and you have demonstrated this in the past. I am personally seized of the opinion that the process of selecting and appointing the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese was fundamentally flawed, because it did not follow the laid down rules. It is impossible, Your Holiness, for the late Bishop Victor Chikwe to have nominated someone outside of Ahiara Diocese as successor. That, Sir, will be a great injustice to the memory and sterling attributes and legacies of our departed Bishop. So, what I have failed to understand, and that is what has miffed quite a few Mbaise people, is how came it someone not incardinated in Ahiara Diocese and indeed in Owerri Ecclesiastical Province emerged the Bishop.
Your Holiness, your wisdom and authority in these matters are never in doubt, but I believe, like others do, that something went wrong somewhere-especially because it was consistent with a pattern of appointing Bishops from a particular place. Needless to recount the number of Bishops from Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province service outside of their domain. Needless as well to query your authority in making such appointments, but there is something uncanny about the pattern and consistency of such appointment that confuses and confound. And that was why, essentially, Holy Father, we elected to resist and protest this one lest nepotism and favoritism creeps into the house of God!
Sir, I feel the need to state categorically that Mbaise people are peace loving, law abiding and very gregarious and accommodating people. The only challenge with us, if indeed you consider it a challenge, is that we abhor injustice and will risk anything to resist it. And that is why it appears we have been disobedient to you, Holy Father. Once again, I apologize. But we are not disobedient. We are not, sir. We are, and I believe you are aware, predominantly Catholics. Most of us were born into it and we do not know any other church except the Roman Catholic Church. We were not going to sit idly by and allow a small bunch of power-hungry and manipulative people to destroy the integrity of the Church hence our protestations! Please permit me to place on record here, Your Holiness, that we do NOT have anything against our brethren in Awka. As a matter of fact, I personally have many good, and some great, friends from Awka and indeed Anambra State. Many of them, who are objective, are sympathetic of plight. They do not believe the red herring being sold by enemies of the the church that we hate Awka people or we are clannish and bigoted. We are absolutely not any of those, and will NEVER be, Your Holiness.
Holy Father, we have made our point. Our priests have complied with your instruction. We are immersed in ceaseless prayers seeking the intercession of Mother Mary in the resolution of the rather embarrassing situation. I don’t think it will be out of place, Your Holiness, to call your attention to the fact that not only are other denominations laughing at us and literally dancing on our grave, but they are also moving into Ahiara Diocese to harvest from the few Roaming Catholics, who are ready and willing to port to other churches dues to this messy situation. I believe you will not allow the cannibalization of the Catholic no matter the circumstance.
Once again I deeply appreciate your act of forgiveness and restate my irrevocable commitment to the Catholic Church and irrefragable loyalty to your authority. I know you have resolved many difficult issues during your papacy. You have even resolved a similar case in Makeni, Sierra Leone, where you took advantage of wise counsel and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make a widely applauded and appreciated decision. We are looking forward to a similar intervention in our case, which is exactly the same as Makeni. My people say, Holy Father, and you might have to ask Cardinal Francis Arinze to help out with the translation and interpretation, that “Onye gaje Abakiliki gaduru Aba, oga foro Kiliki” (literally it means if you are going to Abakiliki and you get to Aba what’s remaining is Kiliki). With the general absolution you have conveyed to us, we believe that what is left in the matter is not much again. We are looking forward, Holy Father, to the great news. I promise you the jubilation will be great in the house of God, when justice is done and seen to have been done.
And so, in conclusion, Holy Father, we are happy. We are waiting. We are praying along with you. We are rehearsing and practicing the songs of praise and thanksgiving we will sing when that final decision is made. Remember, Your Holiness, that contrary to what you have been told, Mbaise is NOT demanding you appoint a Bishop from Mbaise. We are saying appoint a Bishop from among Preists incardinated in Mbaise, according to the Canon Law. And peace shall reign forever. And Mbaise Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church will become united once again.
Until we hear from you again, Holy Father, do please accept assurances of my highest regard and prayers always.
Oparah writes from Mbaise.
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