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Man is indeed, a conundrum and in him lays ordinate and inordinate desires and ambition for good and evil which struggle perpetually for dominance as man faces, on daily bases, the reality of his existence. These desires are not just permanent; they also seemingly transcend the spiritual of the individual no matter how highly placed in the spirit. When the desire is ordinate, it goes with the sanity that is synonymous with the spirit but when inordinate there is a seeming 'Thunder in paradise' as the means to that inordinacy baffles even its grandmaster, the devil. Thus, it was a great embarrassment to my Christian piety and faith to hear and read with tears, the so-called ongoing protests in Ahiara Diocese over the Papal appointment of Rev Fr. Peter Okpaleke as its Bishop-Elect.

The embarrassment becomes more disheartening and 'spirit-killing' when it was confirmed that while the ordinary people of God in Ahiara were already warming up with the Christian finality of 'Amen' for the consecration and enthronement of their new bishop that the priests of the Diocese who consecrate bread and wine were challenging the Vicar of Christ to a battle greater than that of Erymedon with the devil ministering. With sacerdotal punctuality they question Christ, 'why must you send Okpaleke to your people' which ordinarily is a religious taboo and a heresy of the first order as the Christ in his Vicar, the Pope, is infallible. Their arguments and logics are as ridiculous as they are earthly since God's appointments cannot be a product of federal character.

Their argument that the Bishop-Elect should be unelected because he is not from the Diocese shows that they are not men of the spirit but those who see the church as a political battlefield where might is right. They are simply 'anointed' politicians in holy garbs and political apostles who believe not in the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church (which they preach) and His disposition to choose at will who to serve Him. Ordinarily, and by my innocent calculations those priests should have questioned God when He called St. Paul to His ministry were they among the then apostles. Perhaps, petitions should have gone to Rome when Bishop Shennaham was holding sway if those priests were his Altar Boys.

If my memory is still working well, I think that this is not even the first time Church leaders were appointed as such in this country. Cardinal Okojie of Lagos is from Edo State, late Archbishop Obiefuna of Awka Diocese was from Onitsha Archdiocese, Bishop Oteh left Onitsha to become the Bishop of Issele-Ukwu, Bishop Amatu of Okigwe is from Awka Diocese and the current Archbishop of Benin is Igbo, etc. in short, Abuja should have rejected John Cardinal Onaikan, etc. We have not forgotten that until most recently, a number of Dioceses in Nigeria were manned by Europeans and yet the faithful still received Holy Communion from them. One wonders why the Ahiara Priests did not protest the election of Popes John Paul 11, Benedict XXIV and possibly, his successor; after all, they are neither Igbomen nor Ahiaramen.

While one prays for atonement for the protesters, one is amused and spiritually disheartened to hear that they also argue that they have more qualified senior priests in the Diocese who must be appointed bishop. This is indeed, hypocritical and unbridled display of arrogance and self-righteousness. Who determines who is qualified in the service of God; on what basis did they conclude their screening; education, years of service, beauty, position etc? Balderdash and arrant nonsense! In short, their view was like the impression of the Israelites on why God Moses, a Stammerer to lead His people. It means that there are priests who had over the years and on their own volition prepared for the office with total disregard to the will of God. I am sure that these people in the so-called line of succession are those with extra high degrees and buoyant 'Cathedraticum'. That is why I maintain that mere educational qualifications and the ability of a priest to engineer the building of beautiful Father's House and befitting Parish Hall should not be regarded as basis for assessment of very successful priests. Of recent, oversea travels and studies and of course exotic cars have been added to the litany of criteria for such assessments. Must a priest be trained overseas to be vibrant and useful in the diocese?

In fact, we have lost great spiritual vibrancy in some of our priests as they pastor or study abroad because by the time some of them returned home after their sojourn abroad they were either old or unfit for the evangelical peculiarity of our environment. For example, I remember with regrets, the departure for oversea studies of two young charismatic priests, Frs Martin Anusi and Nicholas Abazie who inspired the people through their charismatic preaching and teachings. In my childish innocence then, I thanked God for the gift of those young men but today, after about twenty years, I have not heard about them again. The list is legion. Maybe they have joined the group of priests who argue that homilies should not exceed fifteen (15) minutes in spite of the fact that faith cometh by hearing; those who now believe that the priest of God on the altar is no longer directed by the spirit but man-made Wrist-Watches. In short, the era of 'Jesus was born in Bethlehem' is over; the people need more than that to advance, thus, the homily should be placed in same pedestal with the spirit that directs it.

The protests by these priests, no doubt, interrogate the current character and nature of some elevations in the Church. The application of the wrong spiritual criteria leads to the elevation of business priests who are always carried away by the opulent generosity of their parishioners that they forget how to administer to their souls; those who see their good parishioners as only those who contribute generously to parish hall buildings, not minding whether they go for sacraments or not. For such priests, the plight of the ordinary and poor parishioners cannot be a parish priority. One is not insinuating that contributions to the advancement of the gospel are not good but there should be spiritual dimension to worldly benevolence in the Church.

However, while we condemn as unCatholic and of course, unChristian, the self-righteous claims of the protesting priests, the Bishop-Elect, Fr Okpaleke should now know that his spirituality and human capabilities are challenged as the leader of the people of God. He should do well to prove all those distracters wrong by resolving to be a bishop with a difference especially now that 'ungodliness' is gradually making sense in the house of God. The people of God expect so much from him and let the peoples' confidence be restored once again. He should be firm and strong but never depart from the presence of the Most High. He should 'forgive them for they know not what they do'. Revenge is of the devil.

There is no doubt that Ahiara Diocese needs cleansing and such must be consummated before the consecration cum enthronement of the Bishop-Elect. This calls for prayers and sacrifices in which every member of the Diocese and beyond must be involved. For those of us who still believe strongly and unequivocally in the authority and infallibility of the Church and her Vicar, we are sure that the Holy Spirit is still in charge and should be given the chance to direct her Church. Simply put, the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI did not err in appointing Fr Okpaleke Bishop. Fr Okpaleke too, did not err either by accepting the appointment, while the would-be successor of the Pope Emeritus, Benedict will not err in consecrating him bishop.

Frank-Collins Nnamdi Okafor PhD
Department of Political Science
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria
08035004614 [email protected]

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Articles by Frank-Collins Nnamdi Okafor PhD