Pope Francis sends love and encouragement to Christ’s faithful of Ahiara, as Nuncio ordains 15 deacons
-Padre Mike Nsikak Umoh, CSN
The Holy Father, Pope Francis, sent his love and paternal blessing to the people of God in Ahiara diocese, while encouraging them “to continue on the path of conversion and renewal, as you have begun to do under the guidance of our dear Bishop Lucius Ugorji.”
The papal blessing was conveyed to the ecclesial community on Friday 19 March 2021 by the Pope’s envoy to Nigeria, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, during the Holy Mass at the Mater Ecclesia Catholic Cathedral in Ahiara, where he ordained 15 deacons.
The significant, inspiring and colourful pastoral event commenced with a rousing red carpet welcome accorded the Nuncio amidst songs of jubilation by the people and a guard of honour mounted with a well choreographed military parade by the young seminarians of Mater Ecclesia Minor Seminary.
During the 2-day visit, Archbishop Filipazzi did not only deliver the Pope’s goodwill message to the faithful of Ahiara diocese, assuring them how close Ahiara diocese is to the heart of the Holy Father, but he also led them in reflecting on the significance of the life of St. Joseph for Christians in general, and particularly for the men to be ordained deacons.
Being a “just man (who) was given by (God the Father) as spouse to the Virgin Mother of God and set as a wise and faithful servant in charge of (His) household to watch like a father over (His) Only Begotten Son,” these special roles toward Jesus and Mary in the Holy Family, implied that “the divine house which Joseph ruled with the authority of a true father, was the cradle of the nascent Church” (Leo XIII) and that “the whole Church… (was) already there with him in the state of a fertile seed (Pius XI),” he asserted.
It is for this reason that St. Joseph was officially declared by Blessed Pope Pius IX, 150 years ago, as the “patron saint of the Catholic Church;” and Pope Francis marked this anniversary with the document Patris Corde dedicated to St. Joseph.
The Nuncio went further to affirm that as patron, St. Joseph protects the Church from both internal and external evils, in the same manner he protected the life of the Divine Child and His Mother. Thus, “in relation to the Church, he plays the paternal role of protection and accompaniment in growth, … because, quoting Benedict XVI, “to be a father is above all to be a servant of life and growth.”
To the faithful of Ahiara diocese, the Nuncio proposed St. Joseph as a model to be emulated in their mission to bring the Gospel everywhere and in their “commitment to convert from the mentality that makes us forget that the Church is a single family, whose members are united not so much by the bonds of human blood, but by those created by the Blood of Christ, and that for this reason cannot admit divisions within it on the basis of ethnicity, social position, political affiliation.”
He invoked the intercession of the spouse of Mary to “heal the wounds opened in the Diocese of Ahiara in the recent past and help the Church in this territory to be holy in the behaviour of all its members – priests, religious and laity – and zealous in the mission of bringing the Gospel to all and in all situations of life, overcoming the dichotomy between prayer and life, between the liturgy celebrated inside the churches and daily life, between Christian doctrine and morals and daily choices and behaviours.”
Moreover, Archbishop Filipazzi reminded the ordinands that since the diaconate is a service which as a sacrament imprints the character of a service to God and to men, the deacons must follow the example in St. Joseph who did not speak and did not ask, but rather renounced everything, working silently in obedience to the will of God.
“As Pope Francis has written, “in every situation, Joseph declared his own ‘fiat’, like those of Mary at the Annunciation and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In his role as the head of a family, Joseph taught Jesus to be obedient to his parents, in accordance with God’s command. During the hidden years in Nazareth, Jesus learned at the school of Joseph to do the will of the Father.”
Following after the example of St. Joseph, Filipazzi instructs that the clergy are to obey the Bishop not because of any human elements ‘(where he was born, his ethnicity, his being a secular or religious priest, his belonging to this or another diocese, etc.)’ but because, guided by a vision of faith, which makes us see in the Bishop, he is appointed by the Successor of Peter.” Recall the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch: “We ought to obey without any dissembling, since the real issue is not that a man misleads a bishop whom he can see, but that he defrauds the One who is invisible”!
Archbishop Filipazzi acknowledges that much as it is not easy, the life of St. Joseph therefore aptly helps the clergy understand his vows of obedience, chastity and poverty. “Living the diaconate with all its commitments, especially obedience and celibacy, is certainly not easy, indeed many consider it impossible, as well as absurd. And this might be true, if we had to rely only on our own strength. However, this is not the case, as St. Joseph shows us.”
The Papal Nuncio was full of praises for the Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara diocese, Bishop Lucius Ugorji, for the enormous work he has put in to restore normalcy in the diocese. In response to the request by the delegates for a substantive bishop, the Italian born diplomat encouraged the faithful “to have trust in God, and also trust the Holy Father, the Holy See, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria: because all want the best for the Catholic Archdiocese of Ahiara.”
In conclusion, the Archbishop enjoined the people to “continue to pray, because shepherds come from God. Shepherds are not given by the Pope, not given by the people, not given by the bishops. They are given by God. So we have to go to God in order to have good shepherds.”