“The Parable of Peter”, by Most Rev. Bishop Hilary O. Okeke:, My Input
From my sick-bed here in Germany, I read your submission titled “The Parable of Peter”, following the controversial episcopal ordination of His Lordship Peter Okpalaeke, as bishop of Ahiara Diocese against the wish of the people of the diocese home and abroad. I am very much encouraged to write this by a statement in your write up that says: “Anybody with the sense of and love for the Catholic Church cannot but be troubled by the situation”. I am troubled and concerned, Your Excellency and I write this without any doubts and equivocation on my unalloyed love and loyalty to the Catholic Church as well as my respects for my own bishop who is a part of this rather an unfortunate development in the Church..
As a Catholic and as a priest too, I am concerned because, if it is well with the Church it is also well with me. But if my Church is weeping there is no way I can be happy. But then is it enough to cry and bleed in my room and be silent in the face of the situations which if not checked will choke the last drop of oxygen out of the Church we all love. Rather than keep quiet, I wish to reason with you and your Nigeria colleagues in the episcopate for a way for a healthy Church, a Church that can be said to be a Communionas you intended.
Your Excellency, when you in the second and third paragraphs said that “Mbaise people have the right to make their natural feelings known to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The basic rule is faith. The overarching rule is love and both make for ecclesial communion.” My little question here is this: Is it lack of faith or hatred for a people to help the same hierarchy to see reason and fair play as also fundamental in the ecclesial communion? A positive response to this question is for me has a more uniting effect than any other method so far used. If you ask me, your Excellency, Faith, love, and even the Church's Canon law were used by the Mbaise people in expressing their position, but who listened.
As Catholics, obedience to the Holy Father is not negotiable. It is not in doubt what the Pope says to us at any time. The issue here is not a matter of disobedience at all and it is perhaps this misinterpretation of the issue as a matter of disobedience that make the bishops think that the Holy Father has been “disobeyed” leading them therefore, to immediately took some actions intended to restore discipline in the Church. One can see the pains of the bishops from their own position. Yes, nobody can go against the will of the Holy Father and still remains a Catholic. But that is the fact. But has Ahiara people really disobeyed the Holy Father? .
Your Excellency, our problem in the Catholic Church is not with the Pope and what he says or not say. Our problem is and you know it too your Lordship, the Pope's name has been compromised; the Holy Father's name has been painfully manipulated in our days, little wonder then why Pope Benedict XVI has to resign in our own time. This for me should be a major concern for all especially the Church hierarchy anywhere and in Nigeria too; to do something to put back the Church on her two feet through healthy means that promote mutual love, justice, respect and trust and of course fairness. The controversial episcopal ordination you mentioned may not be seen as defending the Pope as much as listening to the people. If the people are merely talking rubbish it is a different case, but they have their facts and figures, and what is more your Excellency, the Law of the Church is on their side. Do I call this VOX POPULI…or maybe not!
My Lord, you are a canonist, and an avid custodian of the laws of the Church, you know that even if the Pope says something which is not dogma, it may not be binding on the people. Again, the Pope is a human being who ordinarily can misjudge a situation when not well informed. This is why we pray for him daily. One clarification to this is in the appointment in February last year 2012 of 22 cardinals without a single African; Africa, which the world calls the future of the Catholic Church! But the wind of this criticism reached him, and in the next few months in the same year he created another 6 new ones from all over the world except Europe. At least from Africa and luckily from Nigeria came John Cardinal O. Onaiyekan of Abuja. The others came from Colombia, Lebanon, India, Philippine and the USA. After this he said "It presents a variety of faces, because it expresses the face of the universal Church," he continued. "In this 'Consistory', I want to highlight in particular the fact that the Church is the Church of all peoples, and so she speaks in the various cultures of the different continents amid the polyphony of the various voices, she raises a single harmonious song to the living God.'' (www.voanews.com/content/pope-elevates-6-new-cardinals) The Holy Father himself recognizes variety in the one universal church. The Holy Father acts on information as definitely he does not know every person. Should those who are privileged to give this information, in the case of Ahiara for example not do the right thing. Why mislead the Pope with poor information leading to the impasse we are witnessing now? Who is to blame?
Your Excellency, you said in page two of your write-up, that the “that the Catholic Church is dying in Mbaise, the spirit of the Catholic Church is being sacrificed on the altar of sectionalism, ethnicism and socio-political consideration.” I would suggest with due respect that you broaden the scope to include Igboland if not Nigeria instead of referring only to Mbaise. Your Excellency, if you don't mind, this is the real problem of the Catholic Church in our days. May be this is one of the statements that should have been avoided by you in your write-up, but it is unavoidable. And when is 'what is good for the goose no longer good for the gander'. What is the sweetness of “Mmanu akara” if not that one and the other can really test it. Can you now see why Mbaise may deserve praise instead of crucifixion! Are they simply being greedy in their quest?
Your Excellency, I have no quarrels with all the biblical citations you used in stating your case. The Word of God is not disputable at all. The word of God, like the Papal Sayings are for us Catholics real norms, they are life. But what we expect from our hierarchy is to help us accept the truth of the Word at all seasons and not only when applied to a particular situation where they only serve as opium for the people. You remember the case of a blind man who was dining with two other men who are not blind. And as they started eating, the blind man noticed that there were three pieces of meat in the soup. And the two men started muttering something among themselves, the blind man quickly reacted because he did not understand what they were saying, “Gentlemen” he said, “No matter what you are saying to yourselves, all I know is that there are three pieces of meat in this soup, one for me and the rest for the two of you.” There could have been more pieces of meat but may be removed by the two before the blind noted that there were only three. How to share this could be what they were muttering to each other. The blind man does not worry about what has happened behind him but concentrates on the three pieces he has noticed. This story of the blind man urges us to support the Ahiara course. Let bye gone be bye gone, but for now they are asking for their part of the piece of meat, no more, or maybe, no less. They should not be called renegades or seen as disobedient to the hierarchy because of a simple quest for inclusivity in the Church we call ours. I personally praise their courage to break the vicious circle which brings only tension among us as Igbo Catholic Church. But even applying the scriptures here too, did God not tell Samuel to listen to the people when they cried and demanded for a king (cf.1Sam. 8,22).
Your Excellency, I find it difficult to understand this question on page three, “What do Anambra people gain from having priests and Bishops in Aba, Okigwe, Minna, and Benin City?” Do you intend to say that they gain nothing and still prepared to use force and intimidation to maybe put Ahiara to their loss? They gain nothing even in using army to install the one at Benin. It is this type of conscious and conscientious denigration of our collective sensitivities and in the name of the Pope which is causing all of us in the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province some concern and worry. Force and intimidation used in Benin and almost in Ahiara cannot mean that you are fighting for nothing, nothing indeed! Is it not yet time to tell ourselves the truth and serve this God of ours in spirit and truth. We have a duty to our Church. This is where we get our daily bread. This is a very serious matter especially in the Imo and Anambra states. We cannot afford to strangle the Church through mere rhithorics.
The truth that will liberate us is yet to be said.
Your Excellency, I love the Church. You too love the Church and have greater responsibility as a Bishop and with your brother bishops in the Catholic hierarchy, to make it relevant in our days. We cannot afford to let the integrity of our Church be ridiculed by the “self-redeemed-Pentecostals” who are seating out there, watching and definitely laughing at us. In Truth and fairness can we salvage the Catholic Faith in our land and not by force of intimidation or on a-one sided exclusivistic view of the oneness of the universal Church. The Church can only be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic when we all are involved, when inclusivity not exclusivity remains the privileged norm. And this is God's position. This too is the Church's position and definitely that of the Pope. It may be well for us to be here too.
Your Excellency, your story of your call to priesthood in spite of yourself among your siblings, or your classmates in the seminary, and your elevation as bishop show very much that God's ways are not our ways, as you rightly pointed out. But we are not God ourselves. And before we become one if at all, should it not be better to be fair to the human situations we find ourselves now. God will judge us not as gods but as human beings.
You asked again “why did God choose Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio from far away Argentina to be the Bishop of Rome?”. First of all I think it was to break the European domination of the papacy and secondly to sanitize the Vatican, the seat of the Catholic Church, following the Vati-leaks. He has already started to make reforms that will help the Church to reclaim her past glory. It may not be “business as usual” for him, I think. We must all be seen as helping his program.
My Lord, times are difficult and hard today. We who are privileged to preach to the people about God's Love should do so in truth and honesty, and people should see us making efforts to stand by these principles especially fair-play. The old formula of triumphalism by the preachers may not work again. I have this belief that after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in our days, things will not be the same in our Church. This calls for a sober reflection especially on the Church hierarchy to stand for the Church and not for self-interest. My Lord, I think above all that God is giving his Church this special Grace through the Ahiara episode to look inward. The Church must do everything possible to profit from this, I mean, to see this as her Good Friday, to die and be buried, so as to resurrect in Glory like her Master, Our Lord, Jesus Christ. This is my little input, my Lord.
God bless you, my
Rev. Fr. Maurice E. Jiwike