– Former Anglican Knight, Sir Abel Ikenyiri
Chief Sir Abel Ezeala Ikenyiri, native of Umuemeke-Ama Ibeowere Agbaja, Ehime Mbano LGA, Imo State, born into a family of Anglican ancestry, rose to the ranks of a knight of the Anglican Church and lay pay-master narrates verbatim how he was caught up in the “whirlwind” of Catholic faith and the “mountain” moved over.
Our Okigwe reporter, PeterClaver Ubochi, traced the former Anglican ‘Big Oga’ to his tranquil Umuemekeama (Agbaja) village, had a field day with the man of faith as he speaks on the circumstances of his conversion, its aftermath, an assessment of his family life then as an Anglican, and now as a Catholic. Welcome on board the flight into the zone of “THE YEAR OF FAITH” and read on.
Leader: Tell us about yourself Sir.
Res.: My name is Chief Sir Abel Ezeala Ikenyiri and this is my home. I am a traditional chief and former Knight of the Anglican Communion. I was a ‘very big oga’ in that church then. I used to be the Lay Treasurer (a.k.a. paymaster) in the Anglican Communion. That is the highest position a lay person can hold. I was in-charge of paying the priests and non-tutorial staff in the parish of Agbaja/Umukabia in the present Anglican Diocese of Okigwe South. I worked under the present Archbishop of Owerri (as at the time of the interview) Anglican Ecclesiastical Province, Most Rv. B.C.I. Okoro. I am a retired principal of a school.
Leader: Did you have problems with the church which prompted your exit?
Res.: I had no problems with anybody. There was this Eucharistic Adoration Prayer Group in the Catholic Parish in my community. The group conducts regular ministrations and devotion. It is co-ordinated by the priest of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Ibeowere Agbaja, Rev. Fr. Jude Okonkwo. The activities of that Catholic priest, we popularly call him “Fr. No shaking”, with his Adoration Group attracted me. I started attending their weekly crusade out of mere curiosity. That was in the year 2008. I came to discover the Catholic Church as I never before through the Mass and other activities of the group that I attended regularly. In June of 2008, it came calling to my mind ceaselessly to join the mother church. It was not easy for me to take such a ‘dangerous’ decision. It sent ‘hot jokes’ across the Anglican world. I was a knight of St. Christopher you know.
Leader: How did you finally join the Catholic faith?
Res.: Through vital information leaked to me by one of my kinsmen and Knight of the Catholic Church, Knight of St. Mulumba (KSM), High Chief Sir A.E. Ekpunobi, I approached Fr. Jude Okonkwo who took me through the crucibles of admittance into the Catholic faith with my family and friends who believed in what I did. They are many o.
Leader: Any reaction from the Anglican Church?
Res.: Tremendous!! The news was a bombshell. So many groups and individual delegations came to me. Ultimately, a Diocesan Committee led by late Chief Silas Iwuoha (Best Way) with the mandate to ensure my return was constituted. Inducements were offered, promises made, but I did not bulge. No going back and of course not with the Eucharistic Adoration Family that was touching many souls positively. It was forward ever backward never.
Leader: Did your family resist your move initially?
Res.: Initially, yes. Especially my wife, because she was leading the women and her mother was a product of the old Anglican Communion. Through her close friends, I told her that if I go there without her, she should not blame me if I make alternative choice … and she joined me. Through joining me, she has made up her faith and takes the initiative often times.
Leader: Your impression about the Catholic Church as an Anglican then and now that you are an insider. Any difference? Are you comfortable as a Catholic?
Res.: In the first place, I feel highly comfortable being a Catholic. I like to be in the Mother Church. It is where I am now. I am very comfortable. In the Anglican Church, we used to pray, “Ekwe m na Muo Nso na Nzuko nke Katolik di Nso”. But then we were not there, so I decided to join the Nzuko Katolik Di Nso.
And the difference: The impression that the Catholics did not have interest in reading the Bible as held in Anglican circle is erroneous. I have seen that Catholics even read it more. Most of the things we were told then about the Catholic Church are not true. So my coming over has gingered a new life in me and my family, as we have been receiving answers to our petitions, offered the Catholic way, especially through the Eucharistic Adoration Petition Prayer Box.
He gave testimonies of landmark accomplishments by his family members at home and in the diaspora through the prayers of Catholic faithful.
Leader: About the knighthood – then you were KSC (Anglican), now you are a KSM (Catholic), any difference?
Res.: In Catholic knighthood discipline is very high. Your views and utterances are guarded. All the same, it is an enjoyable organization. The main difference is in funding. The Anglican knighthood is mainly funded by well-to-do volunteer members, while in the Catholic Church, individual members are levied equally. That is an area that one may suggest improvement funding.
Leader: Do you think ecumenism is feasible?
Res.: Ecumenism has started. I left the Anglican Church in 2008 and retired as a secondary school principal in October 1992. I left the Anglican Church when I did, well informed, sane, without any inducement but faith. It was around the same time when the then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair declared for the Catholic Church. One of our brothers, Rev. Dr. Diochi, introducing me to the parish said that what Tony Blair was doing in Britain, I was doing in Nigeria, as we went around preaching to people to return to the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is at the head of a rapidly uniting church. Let all lend support to the church marching on.
Chief Sir Abel Ikenyiri spoke on diverse issues including celibacy of the Catholic priest and married life of the Anglican clergy, clergy gay marriage in the European Anglican Church et al.
Lady Comfort Ikenyiri, wife to Sir Abel Ikenyiri, sat by her husband’s side nodding in approval and interjecting explanations while the interview lasted. She was not left out in the chat.
When asked why she eventually threw in with her husband in his decision that initially sounded ‘crazy’ to convert to Catholic faith, she said: “He is my husband. I tag alongside him. Now I feel alright. No regret”.
As to how she has been relating to fellow women, especially her erstwhile Anglican folks in the village, Lady Comfort had this to say: “It’s not been easy. Each time we come in contact we feel strange. It doesn’t border me. I know they feel me too much because I was a major stakeholder. I tell them I had to join my husband to keep my family intact. My family is the happier for it. Take a look at us, I have learnt most of the Catholic prayers very well”.
Chief Sir Abel and Lady Comfort Ekenyiri (KSM) belong to the Ehime Sub-Council of the Order of Knights of St. Mulumba (Nig.). The Ehime Sub-Council PRO and Secretary, Adoration Family. High Chief Sir A.E. Ekpunobi (KSM) testified to the steadfastness, loyalty and discipline of the converted family.
For Rev. Fr. Jude Okonkwo, it is just one of those manifestations of the omnipotence of God as he said, “They are my parishioners and members of the Eucharistic Adoration Family, through which God called them during our outreach apostolate. To God be the glory”.
_____________________________with PeterClaver Ubochi