Bishop Okpaleke Ordained for Ahiara
Msgr. Peter Okpaleke was on Tuesday May 21, consecrated Bishop of Ahiara Diocese amidst tight security.
The Episcopal Ordination which was earlier scheduled to take place at Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral Ahiara was suddenly shifted to the Seat of Wisdom Seminary Owerri for security reasons. However, the ceremony was peaceful and successful as there was no report of any breach of peace.
The Most. Rev. Anthony Obinna, the Archbishop of Owerri and Metropolitan of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province presided over the ceremony assisted by over 40 Catholic bishops including the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Most Rev. Augustine Kasujja, His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, the Cardinal Archbishop of Abuja and the Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos and President Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN).
The consecration began with the reading of the Decree of Appointment of Msgr. Peter Okpaleke as Bishop of Ahiara on December 7, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.
The Decree read by the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Kasujja reads in part: “Since provision must be made for the Cathedral See of Ahiara, vacant since death of its Bishop, Victor Chikwe of happy memory, We, discharging the most grave duty as Supreme Pontiff, of all the Lord’s flock, having received the opinion of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, consider you (Okpaleke), beloved son, endowed with the required qualities and skilled in ecclesiastical matters in Canon Law, suitable to lead it. Therefore, by virtue of our Supreme Apostolic authority, we appoint you to be Bishop of Ahiara, with all its rights and obligations.”
Preaching the homily, the Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Catholic bishop of Umuahia traced the history of the Catholic Church in Ahiara Diocese, how Ahiara people welcomed the faith with great enthusiasm, generosity and commitment and remained faithful in the face of difficulties, challenges and trials.
He noted that the fruits of their fidelity were seen in the flourishing of vocation to the priesthood and Religious life in Mbaise Land and in the rapid increase in the number of lay faithful.
Bishop Ugorji noted the contributions of Most Rev. V.A. Chikwe, pioneer bishop of Ahiara Diocese. He recalled that for over two years, after the death of Bishop Chikwe, the faithful of Ahiara Diocese have been praying God to send them a shepherd after His own heart.
“On 7th December 2012, Msgr. Peter Ebere Okpaleke was appointed bishop-elect of Ahiara Diocese by Pope Benedict XVI,” Bishop Ugorji recalled, adding that, “he was not chosen for personal aggrandizement but for the service of the flock entrusted to his care.”
Reflecting on the readings, Bishop Ugorji said that Christians who fan the embers of hatred, disaffection and antagonism do a great disservice to the church and her mission to unite all people, stressing that, “ethnocentrism, clannishness and inclusiveness have no place in the church of Christ”
Making reference to what he called unsubstantiated allegations that are presently tearing some communities apart, Ugorji said it has become necessary to make it clear that no Cardinal, no Archbishop or Bishop, no Episcopal Conference, either National or Provincial can appoint a Bishop.
“It is the Holy Father, who has the final say in the appointment and posting of bishops in the Catholic Church”, Bishop Ugorji pointed out, adding that Church law has no consideration for place of origin in the appointment of bishops”.
Accepting Papal appointments and posting of bishops, he continued “is a demonstration of filial respect for the Sacred Authority of the Holy Father. Outright rejection of a Papal appointment, accompanied by offensive write-ups in the media, peddling of malicious rumours, making inflammatory statements to incite unsuspecting Christians to disobedience is to say the least disrespectful and inciteful of Church authority. Openly, flouting the highest ecclesiae authority shocks the sensibility of Catholics and scandalizes non-Catholics.”
He appealed to those who feel aggrieved by the appointment of Bishop Okpaleke to cool their temper. “Now, it is time to get rid of anger; as children of God your anger should not go beyond sunset.” He urged them to heed the appeal of the Holy Father, and receive their new Bishop with generous heart.
Making reference to the Bible, the bishop said we must not molest the stranger, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” We, the Igbo people, are everywhere in the World and if you go to the moon; if there are people there, you will find the Igbos. So, we cannot afford to reject other people, not to talk of rejecting a fellow Igbo man”.
He reminded the people of Christ’s exhortation to the apostles when he said, “who ever listen” to you listen’s to me, who ever rejects you, rejects me and whoever rejects me, rejects the one who sent me.”
“Most Rev. Peter Okpaleke has been sent to you, accept him, listen to him, co-operate with him to build up God’s Kingdom in Ahiara Diocese,” Bishop Ugorji forth pleaded.
In his post-Ordination address, Bishop Okpaleke said everybody was aware of the opposition to his ordination from certain quarters, adding that the venue of the ordination (Seat of Wisdom Seminary Owerri) also confirmed that “the dust has not completely settled.”
Turning to the people of Ahiara, Bishop Okpaleke said that the turbulence of the last months and even the unsettledness of the situation now should not leave us gloomy, dejected or fearful.
He observed that Ahiara people love God and God will surely, through the events of the past months, strength us all in faith, hope and love.
“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. .
Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke was born at Amesi in Aguata LGA Anambra State. He was ordained priest on August 22, 1992. He has a doctorate degree in Canon Law. Until his appointment as Bishop-elect for Ahiara Diocese, he was the parish priest of SS John and Paul Umubele, Awka.
Out reporter, Emeka Ani, said about 20 priests out of over 200 priests in Ahiara Diocese attended the ordination and pledged obedience to their new bishop. However, the Laity including Knights of the Church were their in their large numbers.