By Padre Mike Nsikak Umoh, CSN
The papal envoy to Nigeria, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, has emphatically reaffirmed the enduring unity of the Catholic Church in Nigeria as visibly manifested in the solidarity and communion of the Bishops of the Conference, and their undisputable obedience and union with the Holy Father as a Conference.Archbishop Filipazzi made this affirmation in his homily during the Holy Mass for the installation of the second Bishop of Nnewi Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Jonas Benson, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Nnewi, on Thursday 10 February, 2022.The Nuncio noted that the large number of bishops who travelled down from all parts of the country is a testimony to the unity of the Conference of Bishops and, by extension, to the unity of the Church in Nigeria. “It is not without significance that on occasions like this, the Bishops come from north and south, from east and west, despite all the difficulties of travelling. This fact indicates that the Catholic Church in Nigeria is not internally divided and does not accept anything that could create barriers between her members: neither ethnicity, nor the history, nor economic wealth, nor political views!” He further added that “being united means for every Bishop with his priests and faithful to feel solidarity with the brothers and sisters in faith in all the different parts of Nigeria.”The Italian born Church diplomat admonished the people of God to eschew anything that will compromise unity and oneness of the Church in a nation that is enmeshed in conflicts. In advocating that the Church must provide example to the society, he said, “I wish, at the same time, to praise and encourage ecclesial communion at every level, as well as to warn once again against anything that undermines unity among Shepherds and among the children of the Church in Nigeria…. because the Church must be a leaven of unity and harmony in a society where there are increasingly many seeds and forms of selfishness, division and conflict.” In addition, the Nuncio stressed that Jesus must always be the center and reason for every celebration; he is the reason for the joy of the day because it is the Lord who made it so, and not through the effort of any human being. Quoting the psalmist, “This day was made by the Lord, we rejoice and are glad,’ he urged the worshippers to always seek meaning in the Lord because “it is the Lord who chose and consecrated, it is the Lord whom we hear when we hear the voice of the Shepherd, it is the Lord whom we obey when we obey the voice of the Shepherd.” “Without the Eucharist and the episcopacy, there is no church.” and “the Church goes beyond theories, it is a living reality which must constantly undergo changes.” Bishop Benson has the responsibility “to reawaken the Church in souls.” On his part, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Most Rev. Augustine Obiora Akubeze, congratulated Bishop Jonas Benson Okoye on behalf of his fellow Bishops in Nigeria and explained the significance of the episcopal motto of the newly installed Bishop, Gaudium et spes, which are the opening words of the Vatican II document on the Church in Modern World. The full sentence reads: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (GS, no 1).Following from his motto, Archbishop Akubeze noted that Bishop Benson “has come to share in the joys and hope of the people of Nnewi. He has come to listen to the poor and afflicted, and he has come to share in your anxieties.” By implication, “from today, your failure is his own failure; your success is his own success … his own failure is the collective failure of all of you and his success is your collective success,” the prelate affirmed. He therefore called on the priests as “the indispensable collaborators of the Bishop … to take the lead in ensuring that the Bishop is assisted.”Furthermore, the leader of the Conference of Bishops in Nigeria extolled the virtues of the new Bishop and the wealth of experiences he brings with him to his new assignment. “To the people of Nnewi, you have a man who has come to serve you with all that he has.” The prelate however cautioned the people thus: “As he begins his administration, I strongly advise everyone to resist the temptation of comparing him to Bishop Hilary Okeke. He has come to the office once occupied by Bishop Hilary, but he comes as Bishop Benson Okoye; with his own personality, his pastoral vision of the Church and administrative insights on how to move the diocese of Nnewi forward. He comes to build on what has been established by Bishop Hilary. Nevertheless, he comes with his own gift and with his own shoes to walk with you in the journey and mission of winning souls for Christ … the Lord who worked in Bishop Hilary is still the same Lord working in Bishop Benson Okoye.”Bishop Hilary Okeke, the first Bishop of Nnewi, in a very emotional address to the teaming congregation in the fully packed Cathedral, shared that he had to put in his resignation letter to the Holy Father earlier than due because of his failing health. He thanked the Holy Father for acceding to his request and thanked the Papal Nuncio for facilitating the process. He thanked the Clergy and the entire faithful of Nnewi diocese for their enormous support while he was their Shepherd. Bishop Okeke also expressed joy for the choice of Bishop Okoye as his successor and great confidence in the new Bishop’s ability to expedite progress in the diocese. He therefore called on all the priests, religious and the lay faithful of Nnewi diocese to give him all the support he needs for a fruitful apostolate.Bishop Jonas Benson Okoye, the new Bishop of Nnewi, was ordained a Catholic priest on August 29, 1992 and became the auxiliary Bishop of Awka diocese from May 30, 2014 to 9th November, 2021 when he was appointed to succeed Bishop Hilary Odili Okeke as the second Bishop of Nnewi Diocese. He was born in Kaduna on 25th January 1963 to the family of Mr. Patrick and Mrs. Theresa Anazoba Okoye of Amata clan in Adazi-Nnukwu, Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State.Bishop Benson expressed gratitude to God for showing him so much love, mercy and favour. He thanked the Pope, the Nuncio, his predecessor and all those who have supported him in one way or the other in his apostolate. He appealed to all the priests, religious and the lay faithful for their maximum support. He further pledged to take very good care of his predecessor and to enter into dialogues and negotiations that will bring about development for the diocese and for the progress of the teaming youth and people in the diocese and beyond.