Six months after relative peace returned to embattled Ahiara Catholic Church, 8 Seminarians receive ordination as Deacons, a step to Priesthood
Wednesday, August 2, 2018 will long remain a memorable day for worshippers at Ahiara Catholic Diocese in Mbaise Imo State. It was a day total peace returned to the diocese, following the ordination of eight seminarians as deacons by the new apostolic administrator of the diocese and Bishop of Umuahia diocese, Most Revd Lucius Ugorji.
The faithful that thronged the expansive cathedral were in joyous mood, thanking God for bringing peace to the communicants who suffered untold spiritual and emotional downturn following the battle that engulfed the diocese for nearly 10 years.
Information reaching Verbatim has it that twelve seminarians were originally supposed to be ordained as deacons but four out of the number could not be readied for the ordination owing to unresolved issues. They are still being investigated and may be ordained in the next batch or sent home. Those ordained are the first and second batches of the backlog who finished their theology since 2012 and 2013.
They are: Iwu Victor, Ukawuba Augustine, Njoku Fabian, Iheanacho Joachim, Iwu Lazerian, Ukaibe Bede, Ndukwu Ekene and Ikeri Noel.
The process to their ordination which was stalled by the crisis that rocked the diocese since the death of Bishop Victor about ten years ago was said to have been recommended on the 29th of February, 2018 when Ugorji celebrated his first mass in the diocese upon his appointment as the apostolic adminisrator of the diocese by Rome to replace John Cardinal Onaiyekan of the Abuja Arch Diocese. It will be recalled that Ugorji had in his sermon during the church service promised to look into the backlog of seminarians that have been due for deaconate, ordination. Despite this development, this magazine can authoritatively say it is “not yet uhuru” in the diocese as there are still remnants of bad blood and infighting between the pro Okpaleke group and the majority of Mbaises that were opposed to him as their bishop.
For instance, Ugorji on assumption of office approved a mass transfer of all the priests from their parishes. The move would have been flawless as the priests have remained in those parishes since the death of Chikwe and since the crises erupted. However there is a belief in some quarters that the transfer was doctored by the pro Okpaleke group who obviously have the upper hand in the diocese presently with the appointment of Rev Fr Jude Uwalaka, a die hard pro Okpaleke priest by Ugorji as the new diocesan chancellor, an office that is almost as strategic and powerful as that of the Bishop. Rev Fr Godson Okoro, who was also transferred out to a parish, Verbatim learnt, had been in that office even from the days of Chikwe as the bishop.
The appointment of Fr Uwalaka has been silently condemned by a lot of the lay faithful and even the priests who see him unfit for the exalted office owing to his alleged life style and seeming vindictive nature. Verbatim was further informed that originally, it was agreed that priests above 70 years of age will not be affected in the transfers. This agreement we learnt was not kept as the old priests especially those that vehemently opposed Okpaleke like Rev Fr Austin Ekechukwu, who is the president of the Ahiara Priests Association and others alike were transferred to the parishes without any considerations while the other priests who were also opposed to Okpaleke were scattered with the transfers.
Allegedly, the few pro Okpaleke priests including some of them who had their parishes taken away from them by the late Bishop Chikwe owing to scandals got the best postings which many have described as witch hunting and an establishment of the Okpaleke dynasty in the diocese. This magazine was reliably informed that only the pro Okpaleke priests occupy the cathedral as sensitive and strategic offices in the diocese are allegedly assigned to them since the transfer which they are alleged to have used to gain entry and dominate the cathedral.
At the moment, the cathedral is still a shadow of itself as it appears deserted with no activities going on as before. In addition, verbatim learnt that the Wednesday recollection programme and meetings of the priests which was held at the cathedral have stopped since the last developments as priests of the diocese are now reluctant to go to the cathedral. Verbatim even learnt that the last visit of Ugorji to the diocese was largely unsuccessful as many of the laity and priests shunned it.
This magazine was also informed that Rev Fr Chima Ahaneku, another prominent pro Okpaleke priest was recently announced as the chaplain of the Diocesan Laity Council in what many have described as a move to take over the laity of the diocese which is the backbone of the church. We learnt that he was rejected by the laity as observers have advised Ugorji not to get it wrong by appearing to tilt towards or favour the Okpaleke priests more.
Presently, the politics and silent show of power in the diocese have tremendously doused the expected excitement of the deaconate ordination in the diocese as many fear there may be a relapse in the much talked about truce in the diocese.