For more than one week, the residents of Ikenegbu Layout, a highbrow area of Owerri, Imo State capital, was agog, excitedly awaiting the Pastoral Visit of Most Rev. Anthony J.V. Obinna, Catholic Archbishop of Owerri, to St. Maria Goretti Catholic Parish Ikenegbu. Catholics and non-Catholics showed a loving interest in the maiden Pastoral Visit.
It was therefore not surprising that the residents, trooped out in their large numbers to Wethedral Road, on Saturday, June 8, 2013, to receive the Archbishop and his entourage. Those who did not go for the boundary reception watched the prelates ”triumphant entry” into Ikenegbu from their windows and balconies.
The next day, Sunday, June 9, as early as 7am the Congregation had filled the Church premises and even spilled over to the adjourning streets, prayerfully awaiting the Pastoral Visit Mass scheduled for 9.30am.
The Mass was presided over by the Most Rev. Anthony Obinna, flanked by the Very Fr. Simeon Nwosi (CMf), Provincial Superior, Claratian Missionaries, East-Nigeria Province and Rev. Fr. Christian Eze Cmf, Parish Priest, St Maria Gorette Parish, assisted by other priests including Frs. Wence Madu, former Provincial Superior, Alphonsus Oha, Chancellor/Secretary of the Archbishop and Cyril Akalonu Vicar, Owerri Zone VI.
In his sermon, Archbishop Obinna called on the faithful to remain faithful to the word of God and trust in Him. He regretted that weak Catholics and Christians run away from Christ and resort to African traditional religion whenever there is tragedy in their lives.
He condemned idolatrous practices in Igboland especially the Diala/Osu/Ume segregations, regretting that some Christians have one leg in the Church and another in Igbo tradition.
He made it clear that any Christian who believes in Osu/Diala divide is a weak Christian, no matter his status in Church.
The prelate had earlier expressed the need for Catholics to read Catholic books especially those with the imprimatur of Catholic Church, regretting that some Catholics who are not yet strong in faith buy books by non-Catholics or even non-Christians and land themselves in serious confusion.
In his speech, the Parish Priest, Rev. Fr. Christian Eze (CMF) thanked the Archbishop for the pastoral visit.
He said the Archbishop is a special gift to the church in Nigeria, explaining that his eloquence (both in English and Igbo), wisdom and simplicity have continued to encourage the faithful and attract non-Catholics to the Church.
Responding, Archbishop Obinna thanked the priests and the entire Catholic Community of Maria Goretti Ikenegbu for the reception accorded him and his entourage. He also praised them for the growth of the parish both in infrastructure, population and spirituality. He however encouraged the parish to inaugurate Mary League sodality. THE LEADER learnt that the land on which the parish was built belonged to Mary League girls.
In their address of welcome, the parish observed that the visit was significant in many ways. First, it was the first pastoral visit; second, it was the first time Sacrament of Confirmation was administered in the parish.
The address, signed by Gabriel C. Emejeamara, Vice-Chairman, Parish Pastoral Council, traced the origin of the parish to 2000 when the then Provincial Superior of the Claretian Missionaries, Rev. Fr. Wence Madu (CMF) and his team came to No. 7 Nzimiro Street Ikenegbu (their aim was purely administrative, they never dreamt of a parish).
“The morning Mass they started in their chapel, spread to the mango tree outside their chapel, then to the nearby Ikenegbu Secondary School compound and by the power of the Holy Spirit to our present site.
“In June 2005, a delegation of four women led by Lady Dame Angela Ukairo went to the Archbishop and cried to him to allow the Mary League land at Ekwema Crescent, Ikenegbu to be used for building a church. To the glory of God, the Archbishop granted their request.
“In the same year, the Archbishop declared the church a special jurisdiction with Rev. Fr. Hilary Dachelem (CMF) as the first chaplain. In 2008, it was raised to a full parish with Fr. Dachelem as the first parish priest.
The address informed the Archbishop that their priests are doing well as evidenced by the rich spiritual menu offered by the parish.
The address extolled the Archbishop for the level of progress he has made in the Archdiocese, including the re-roofing of Assumpta Cathedral, bringing the Church nearer to the people through creation of parishes etc.
They however requested assistance in the completion of their “dream church”.
The Chairman, Pastoral Visit Committee, Mr. Romanus Imoh expressed gratitude to the clergy and lay faithful of the parish for their co-operation which he said led to the successful visit.
The highlights of the occasion was the examination and confirmation of 310 candidates who were sponsored by Mr. John Osubor, Mrs. Rose Mary Osubor and Lady Dr. Agatha Maria Ndugbu.
The occasion made lively by the rising choir of the parish featured cultural dance and presentation of gifts to the Archbishop.