By Rev. Fr. Michael Nsikak Umoh
Giving the homily at the erection of the new diocese of Aguleri and the installation of the bishop on 17 March, 2023, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, charged Bishop Denis Chidi Isizoh to make the formation of the people of God in his care a primary mission of the diocese.
The Nuncio gave this charge while proposing the austere and holy life of Blessed Michael Cyprian Iwene Tansi, an indigene of Aguleri who worked among his people as a pastor, to the mammoth worshippers at the St Joseph Catholic Cathedral in Aguleri. “What is striking about Blessed Tansi’s life is how demanding he was, first and foremost with himself, but also with the souls entrusted to him.”
The Archbishop of Sutrium reminded the people of how Blessed Tansi embraced the monastic life in order to entirely direct his life towards fulfilling the will of God, noting that Blessed Tansi was guided by the strong conviction that “The love of Christ must come before all else”. The Aguleri-born monk and pastor is known to have often said: “If you are going to be a Christian at all, you might live entirely for God,” which Cardinal Arinze in turn described as a summation of his whole life.
In order to lead the people to this level of interior life like Blessed Tansi and for an authentic growth in the Church, Archbishop Filipazzi insisted on the urgent need for formation of the people. He says, “The new Diocese of Aguleri has, first of all, this great mission: to form Christians – priests, religious and lay – who are “entirely for God”, who give Him more and more a ‘total response’.” “Let us not ask ourselves how many Catholics there are, how many buildings and institutions the Church has, how much wealth, power and prestige she possesses, but how great is the commitment of all her members to live “entirely for God”! “Without this there will be no real growth, and sooner or later crisis and decadence will come,” he warned. Besides proposing the Blessed Tansi and St. Patrick as models to be emulated, the Apostolic Nuncio also directed the minds of the people to the virtues of St. Joseph, the patron of the universal Church and the patron of Aguleri Cathedral. Quoting Pope Francis, he noted that “Saint Joseph could not be other than the Guardian of the Church, for the Church is the continuation of the Body of Christ in history, even as Mary’s motherhood is reflected in the motherhood of the Church.”
The Nuncio therefore exhorts that like St. Joseph, whom the Gospels presented as pervaded by “a silence full of listening, an industrious silence, a silence that brings out his great interiority,” all Christians are called to protect and defend the Church from all snares instead of criticizing and busying with pointing out her errors. “Nowadays, it is common, it is an everyday occurrence, to criticise the Church, to point out its inconsistencies – there are many – to point out its sins, which in reality are our inconsistencies, our sins… Let us ask ourselves if, deep in our hearts, we love the Church as she is,” noted Pope Francis. “All the members of the new Diocese are invited to love their local Church, the other local Churches and the universal Church, above all by avoiding criticism, divisions and struggles.“
As protector of the Church, the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary is also a great model for those who wish to live an authentic belonging to the Church. He radiates faith, obedience, spirit of sacrifice and humble service. “I hope that Aguleri will not only be a new Diocese in Nigeria but a Diocese that carries out its mission in a new way, overcoming above all externality, division and selfishness.”The Nuncio congratulated the Archbishop of Onitsha, Most Rev. Valerian Maduka Okeke, for the enormous work he is done generally and towards the creation of the new diocese. He also congratulated the new Bishop and the people of God in Aguleri, urging them to always live in communion with one another for the advancement of the Kingdom.In attendance at the historic event were Francis Cardinal Arinze, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Peter Cardinal Okpaleke, the President of CBCN, Archbishop Lucius Ugorji, 38 other archbishops and bishops from all over Nigeria, over 600 priests, huge number of religious sisters, seminarians, catechists, the people of God, both young and old, the State Governor, Prof Charles Soludo, the presidential candidate in the February 25 election, Mr. Peter Obi, the Obi of Onitsha, and many other dignitaries of Church and State.