You Are A Project In Progress, Archbishop Okeke tells Cardinal Okpaleke
By Padre Mike Nsikak Umoh, CSN
September 8, the birthday of Mary the Mother of God, Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke led Bishops in their numbers, hundreds of priests and religious, and a great multitude of Christ’s faithful in the sacrifice of the Holy Mass in Ekwulobia, Anambra State, thanking God for his elevation to the Cardinalate. Recall that the Holy Father announced Bishop Peter Okpaleke on Pentecost Sunday, May 29, 2022, among the 21 newly created Cardinals, though one of them later requested to be excused, and gave him the Red Hat and the signet ring at a Consistory held at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on August 27, 2022.
In a highly didactic homily at the Holy Mass which was held on the open ground of the St. Joseph Cathedral compound in Ekwulobia, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Onitsha Archdiocese, Most Rev. Valerian Maduka Okeke, catechetised the congregation on the meaning of Cardinalate in the Catholic Church. He noted that “the Cardinalate is one of the glorious heritages of the Church … which has existed from the late antiquity of the Church to the present time.” Tracing the history and development of the Cardinalate from 6th century, the former Seminary Professor and formator observed that initially, any baptised Catholic could be a Cardinal until the 1917 Canon set the minimum standard to be priestly ordination.
According to him, by the 11th century, the sacred college of Cardinals achieved institutional stability whereby, among other elements, creation of new Cardinals remained the duty of the Pope. Going further, the prelate stressed that the red colour for Cardinals represented martyrdom because “Cardinals are specially called to witness to the faith with their sweat and blood whenever and wherever it is required.
They are to show uncommon love for God beyond anything else and courage in matters of faith and moral without fear or favour.” Thus, being “a call to heroic service,” “Cardinals wear red as an outward sign of their willingness to die for Christ and his Church.”
Archbishop Okeke explained that the Church in Nigeria finds reason to celebrate Cardinal Okpaleke, following the tradition of the early Christians, who “despite the human pain, families celebrated and thanked God when a member of their family was publicly executed for the sake of Christ.”
He said, “Today, we rejoice that Nigeria has been found worthy of honour of another Cardinal in our time. The elevation of one of us is an elevation of the local Church and our country Nigeria. Today, the choice of our brother Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke invites us to a deeper faith and greater commitment to witnessing to the Gospel of Christ. Position and privileges in the Church go with responsibilities and duties. We therefore rejoice with him as we promise him our prayers and unflinching support.”
In view of the realities he already laid bare, the revered Archbishop did not fail to remind the new Cardinal and bishop of a young diocese to devote himself to prayer through devotion to the Blessed Mother Mary. “Always remember that you are still a project in progress, being human, you are still vulnerable.
Therefore, you have to recourse to our Blessed Mother Mary… take her home and enjoy her powerful maternal intercession,” he counselled. In his goodwill message to the Cardinal, the President of Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji congratulated the “newest and youngest Nigerian Cardinal” whom he commended for witnessing to the faith.
He said “in trying times, as the storm was raging, you fixed your gaze in silent tears on Christ, crucified and risen, and witnessed to His long-suffering on the cross through endurance, patience, forbearance and self-restraint. No doubt, your elevation to the rank of a Cardinal is a moral lesson.
At the same time, it is a call to additional service in the Lord’s vineyard.”While assuring him of the prayer and support of all Bishops of the Conference, the CBCN President and Archbishop of Owerri Archdiocese called on the Cardinal to “say ‘no’ to retaliation and exhibit a forgiving and long-suffering attitude.”