Pope wades into ethnic crisis in Catholic Church in Imo

Bishop of Ahiara, Peter Okpaleke
Bishop of Ahiara, Peter Okpaleke

Pope Francis has intervened in an ethnic crisis involving the Nigerian town of Ahiara, Imo state , whose bishop, Peter Okpaleke, appointed by Benedict XVI in 2012, is unwanted by lay people and priests of the diocese.

Though Mr. Okpaleke is an Igbo from Anambra State, the Catholic leaders in Ahiara rejected him because he is not an Igbo man from Mbaise.

The Vatican Insider said the pope received on Wednesday a delegation from the Diocese of Ahiara, accompanied by Archbishop of Abuja and apostolic administrator of Ahiara, Cardinal John O. Onaiyekan.

Others at the meeting were Metropolitan Archbishop of Owerri, Monsignor Anthony Obinna, Archbishop of Jos and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Monsignor Ignatius Kaigama, and the Bishop of Ahiara, Bishop Okpaleke.

Priests Clement O. Ebii, Jude N. Uwalaka, Uhuegbu Innocent Olekamma, Sister Bernadette O. Ezeyi and Stanley Pius Iwu, chief of the staff were also part of the delegation.

After a pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and a visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the Nigerian delegation attended the Pope’s private Mass celebration.

The delegation had previously met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Fernando Filoni, and the superiors of the same dicastery, with whom the Church’s situation in Ahiara was widely examined.

Pope Francis spoke of the inadmissibility of the situation in Ahiara and reserved to take the appropriate measures.

He said he was entrusting the Diocese of Ahiara to the motherly care of Mary.

It was Benedict XVI who appointed Monsignor Okpaleke in 2012, only to meet a storm of opposition by the leaders and congregation. He was not even allowed to hold mass in the church.

His predecessor, late Victor Adibe Chikwe, came from Mbaise and was accepted by the worshippers, because he was “son of the soil”.

Pope Francis appointed John O. Onaiyekan apostolic administrator since July 2013. But the crisis has lingered.

Since Okpaleke’s appointment in 2012, the priests and Catholic faithful from Mbaise had insisted they wanted a Bishop of Mbaise extraction.

Nonetheless, Okpaleke was ordained a Bishop on May 21, 2013 in Owerri, the mother Diocese to Ahiara Diocese.

His ordination was graced by the cream of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, including Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Jos and President Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN); Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop of Owerri and Metropolitan of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Archbishop Anthony J.V. Obinna and the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, His Grace, Archbishop Augustine Kasuija.

In a post-ordination speech, Okpaleke said: “My ordination is a celebration of my marriage to the Church of God in Ahiara. Just like wives married into families, I have left my people and have become “onye” (member of) Ahiara Diocese. I remember a piece of music by monks of Western 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. You people will be my people and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I shall die and there I shall be buried.


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  • Shahokaya

    South Sudan will be a child’s play when the Ibofraud get Biafraud. So even among the Ibos there is ethnicity.

    • LadyRosely

      Igbo is an Ehnic group made up of many tribes.

      You should read about Ethnology of languages.

      The Tribes have their own dialects and see themselves as unique entities from within. However we all see them as Igbo from outside.

      The tribes include
      -Onitsha
      -Ika
      -Nsukka
      -Ezza
      -Mbaise
      -Abriba
      -Ikwerre
      -Oguta
      Etc etc etc.

      Their (Igbo) ethnology is one of the most interesting in Nigeria.

      Sadly, they are misunderstood.

      • Shahokaya

        And they are so united to the extent that a bishop from one dialect cannot head a church for people from a different dialect. United Biafraud indeed.

        • LadyRosely

          That’s not the operational issue here. Kindly do some due diligence before you go on the usual oduduwa hypocrisy trail

          • Tolulope Alfred

            Why don’t you just tell us what the story from the other side is? What we can all gather from the story and from the Pope’s submission is that they flouted the order because of tribal sentiments, if it is more than that, let us know.

          • LadyRosely

            Thanks a lot. The diocese is rural and largely away from the city but it is dense in terms of the strength of numbers, both parishioners and priests. They’ve literally taken it upon themselves to train and build this diocese. They’ve also supported and trained many priests from around the country of different tribes. These priests number in the thousands. More than any rural diocese in Nigeria.

            With this, there are about 1000 possible persons who qualify from the local diocese and probably up to 2000+ priests that qualify from the state.

            This is based on their knowledge of the diocese, its peculiarities and difficulties.

            Interestingly, out of these numbers from the diocese, not one has ever been made a Bishop anywhere. So the question is why??

            Shockingly, it’s nepotism. The church Ij the east was first domiciled in the Anambra axis and even through others in the east have grown. The Anambra axis doesn’t recognize this fact and tends to through their influence dictate to others who may have slightly different views than they have. This to the local priest is unfair and a sort of denial on the part of the church of both the progress they’ve made and the sacrifices they continue to make.

            Therefore, the nepotism claim or tribalism is reversed. Let me explain.

            In Nigeria today, this Anambra archdiocese accounts for up to 15 Bishops. Many sent to other smaller dioceses. The argument here was that the Ahiara diocese isn’t a small diocese but has successfully run itself with its own priests and schools and hospitals for about 30years.

            They therefore see this as a set back and the people I’ve spoken to see it as if the over 1000 priests they have trained and or sponsored are not good enough or are just plain evil people. This is not fair.

            Like I said none of them has ever been sent to oversee their fellow priests anywhere in the universal Catholic Church.

            Well, I think they should accept the decision since they’ve made their points for those who care to seek the facts. The question is wil their rural people understand why they or their leaders are not worthy of this honor??

            I don’t know!!

      • Julius

        They misunderstood themselves !!

  • Holy truth

    Very sad to read story like dis. So, even among d ibos dey discriminate na wah o. If dis level of discrimination is rattling dis guys I wonder what will become of a person who isn’t an ibo to go hold dis type of position in ibo land. If dis case is a case of an Ibo man or woman posted to any other parts of Nigeria & is treated dis way I’m 100% sure dat hell would have let loose on dis issue.
    Ibos should clean their homes first b4 pointing accusing fingers to others. I remembered when fashola sent some destitute back to their various states of origin it was only d ibos who blew d issue out of proportion but forgot to mention when abia state sent all other ibos working in d state & local govt out of employment & asked dem to go back to their state of origin. U guys should look inward, clean & rid urselves of hatred towards another pple bcos of tribal differences b4 accusing others of what u are guilty of. LANTERN NO DEY SEE HIN OWN YANSH NA ANOTHER PERSON YANSH HE DEY SEE.

    • LadyRosely

      Discrimination is part of human nature. The way it is managed is the issue.

  • ayomi

    Pity the issue of Osu caste system was not debated

    • Julius

      lolz.

    • John Barna-Lloyd

      Please explain further “the issue of Osu caste system.”

      • ayomi

        Sir, please look up the Osu Caste system

  • Odogwu

    The Catholic Church is supreme and those Mbaise renegades cannot change the course of the church.

    • LadyRosely

      You’re really silly to refer to them as renegades. The story doesn’t capture their side of the issue. I will not passs judgement till I have both sides of the story. How did an Anambra man end up in Mbaise as Bishop?? These are questions we need to ask and understand. They story is incomplete

      • tundemash

        The Mbaise man is a Catholic appointed to head a Catholic church. What is the guarantee Biafra won;t break up into Mbaise, Abiriba and other constituents? Ethnic sentiments destroys, you need to check yourself before it destroys you!

        • Otile

          Abubakar tundemash,
          What do you know about the Holy Catholic Church? The Catholic Church has canon law not sharia, don’t pass judgement on a different religion not yours. Almighty God is our savior while Allahu is your own god.

          • tundemash

            Imbec1le alert !

          • Otile

            Terrorist alert. Make sure you don’t order terrorist attack in a Catholic Church near you.

        • LadyRosely

          I find it strange when Yorubas talk of ethnic sentiments. It’s like the coal mine calling the kettle black. The hypocrisy stinks to hell

  • Ikongshul Godwin Ashima

    MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS, POPE FRANCIS TO THE DIOCESE OF AHIARA
    June 9, 2017 ARCH BISHOP 1 Comment
    Yesterday the Holy Father received a Delegation of the Diocese of Ahiara, Nigeria, in a private audience, which has been living a painful situation for years.

    The Members of the Delegation of the Diocese of Ahiara, accompanied by His Eminence Cardinal J. O. Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja and Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara, His Excellency A. J. Obinna, Metropolitan Archbishop of Owerri, I. A. Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos and President of the Episcopal Conference of Nigeria, His Excellency P. E. Okpaleke, Bishop of Ahiara, the Reverend Fathers C. O. Ebii, J. N. Uwalaka and U. I. Olekamma, as well as Sister B. O. Ezeyi, on behalf of the Religious, and H.R.H. S. P. Iwu, Traditional Head, on behalf of the lay faithful. Also present at the meeting were the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Prefect and Superiors of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

    I cordially greet the delegation and thank you for coming from Nigeria in a spirit of pilgrimage.

    For me, this meeting is a consolation because I am deeply saddened by the events of the Church in Ahiara.

    In fact, the Church (and excuse the wording) is like a widow for having prevented the Bishop from coming to the Diocese. Many times I have thought about the parable of the murderous tenants, of which the Gospel speaks (cf. Mt 21:33-44), that want to grasp the inheritance. In this current situation the Diocese of Ahiara is without the bridegroom, has lost her fertility and cannot bear fruit. Whoever was opposed to Bishop Okpaleke taking possession of the Diocese wants to destroy the Church. This is forbidden; perhaps he does not realize it, but the Church is suffering as well as the People of God within her. The Pope cannot be indifferent.

    I know very well the events that have been dragging on for years and I am thankful for the attitude of great patience of the Bishop, indeed the holy patience demonstrated by him. I listened and reflected much, even about the possibility of suppressing the Diocese, but then I thought that the Church is a mother and cannot abandon her many children. I feel great sorrow for those priests who are being manipulated even from abroad and from outside the Diocese.

    I think that, in this case, we are not dealing with tribalism, but with an attempted taking of the vineyard of the Lord. The Church is a mother and whoever offends her commits a mortal sin, it’s very serious. However, I decided not to suppress the Diocese. Instead, I wish to give some indications that are to be communicated to all: first of all it must be said that the Pope is deeply saddened. Therefore, I ask that every priest or ecclesiastic incardinated in the Diocese of Ahiara, whether he resides there or works elsewhere, even abroad, write a letter addressed to me in which he asks for forgiveness; all must write individually and personally. We all must share this common sorrow. In the letter

    1. one must clearly manifest total obedience to the Pope, and
    2. whoever writes must be willing to accept the Bishop whom the Pope sends and has appointed.
    3. The letter must be sent within 30 days, from today to July 9th, 2017. Whoever does not do this will be ipso facto suspended a divinis and will lose his current office.

    This seems very hard, but why must the Pope do this? Because the people of God are scandalized. Jesus reminds us that whoever causes scandal must suffer the consequences. Maybe someone has been manipulated without having full awareness of the wound inflicted upon the ecclesial communion.

    To you brothers and sisters, I would like to express my sincere thanks for your presence; and also to Cardinal Onaiyekan for his patience and to Bishop Okpaleke, whose patience and humility I admire. Thank you all.

    Then Cardinal Onaiyekan thanked the Holy Father.

    The Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, asked the Holy Father, who accepted, that at the conclusion of this sequence of events, the Diocese of Ahiara, with its Bishop, make a pilgrimage to Rome to meet with the Holy Father.

    The Audience ended with a prayer to Mary and the blessing of the Holy Father.

    Vatican City, 8 June 2017

    Credit: Agenzia Fides

    • javscong javscong

      I will add that His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan allowed this malfeasance by those misguided Mbaise priests to go on for too long. He should have shown more direction and leadership by deploying all those Mbaise priests to Sokoto and Maiduguri. I have wondered if those priests have a real grasp of their vows which includes obedience. The Holy Father should never have had to intervene. The priesthood is attracting people whose agenda is not evangelization but politics. The Church has far more Italian Cardinals than any other nationality. Yet the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) in the last 39 years have all been non Italians. Bishop Okpaleke is even an Igbo man so I wonder what those clowns who call themselves priests would have done if a Yoruba or Hausa Bishop was appointed. Shame on all Mbaise Catholics for allowing this.

      • LadyRosely

        It’s much more complicated than toss around. Deploy 700 priests to Maidugiri?? Then who takes care of their home parishes?? The Maidugiri priests. Make some sense pls

        • javscong javscong

          The Church is universal and every ordained priest has included in the priestly vows, obedience. A Bishop is not a political appointee. He derives his authority from the Pope to whom all ordained priests owe obedience. Those “political priests” have no place in the Catholic Church. I recall that the late Archbishop Taylor deployed the late Msgr. Pedro Martins to the Army for a small infraction. He went on to establish the Catholic chaplaincy in the Nigerian Army. Why are 700 Mbaise priests in that diocese? They must be sent out and new priests deployed to that diocese. Those priests have a political agenda. Quite honestly the Cardinal ought to have done that in 2013. We are a universal Church not a tribal or clannish one. If they are unwilling to submit to the rules of the Church, they can go to the pentecostal ones and preach their prosperity.

  • Julius

    “Though Mr. Okpaleke is an Igbo from Anambra State, the Catholic leaders in Ahiara rejected him because he is not an Igbo man from Mbaise”.
    Lmaooooooooooooooooo…na Tinubu fault oo..Biafraud we hail thee.

  • Sir Louis

    As a person whose parents come from Ahiara, I wholeheartedly welcome Bishop Okpaleke as Bishop of Ahiara Diocese. Those who are opposed to a so- called non- indigene being Bishop of Ahiara, should not be taken seriously. If they do not accept the position of Rome on this matter, they can leave and go to found their own Church but such a Church cannot be Catholic! The Catholic Church is owned by all its members where ever they may come from. That is why it is called the universal Church.

    • LadyRosely

      I hope you will do well to go home and support the diocese and parishes since you are the only person to be taken seriously

  • princegab

    Much ado about nothing. Take Catholic away, and the people will have peace.

  • Man_Enough

    Mbise priests are all over Nigeria ministering in the Catholic church. Are those other church members fools?

    • LadyRosely

      No they are not. They’re priests from other places ministering in Mbaise

      • Man_Enough

        I know one in Jebba.

  • Nnaemeka Onyebueke

    Premium Times, it’s uncourteous to refer to a bishop as Mr. Use proper pronouns.

    • Otile

      They are Mohammedans who see Bishops as kafir.