Learn Collaboration, Obedience from St. Joseph, Apostolic Nuncio in Nigeria Encourages

A poster announcing the first anniversary of Nigeria’s Ekwulobia Diocese

On the occasion of the first anniversary of Nigeria’s Ekwulobia Diocese, the Apostolic Nuncio in the West African country has called on the people of God in the Diocese to emulate the collaborative spirit and obedience, which St. Joseph portrayed.

Speaking during the Saturday, March 6 event, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi who presided over the Holy Eucharist recalled that the Nigerian Diocese was created as a result of "the remarkable numerical growth of Awka diocese.”

According to a report, which the National Director of Social Communications of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Fr. Mike Umoh, shared with ACI Africa, Archbishop Filipazzi said, "We cannot remain silent about another fact, a non-positive fact that preceded the appointment of the first Bishop of Ekwulobia. I recall it not to recriminate and make polemics, but as a warning."

The Nuncio was making reference to Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke who was previously rejected by a section of the clergy and lay faithful of Nigeria’s Ahiara Diocese.

The protracted back-and-forth tussle that led to Bishop Okpaleke’s resignation as the Local Ordinary of Ahiara in February 2018 after he been ordained a Bishop in May 2013  “alerts us to certain dangers that threaten the life and mission of the Church,” Fr. Umoh quotes the Nuncio as saying in his March 7 report to ACI Africa.


In light of the disagreements such as those witnessed in Ahiara Diocese, Archbishop Filipazzi called on the people of God in Nigeria to look up to St. Joseph as a model from whom they "must learn to collaborate with obedient faith in the work of salvation and to do so with the same fidelity, humility, silence and purity of heart that St. Joseph had.”

The Clergy and faithful of Ahiara Diocese rejected Bishop Okapleke on the basis that he does not hail from the dominant ethnic group of the Diocese, the Mbaise, whose members felt under-represented in the Catholic Church hierarchy in the West African country.

The disagreements resulted in a Papal intervention with threats of canonical sanctions on protesting clergy and lay faithful.

However, the Pope did not take the route of canonical sanctions and instead, through the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, directed the Clergy of Ahiara diocese “to reflect on the grave damage inflicted on the Church of Christ and expressed hope that in the future they will never again repeat such unreasonable actions opposing a Bishop legitimately appointed by the Supreme Pontiff,” Agenzia Fides reported.

Following the sustained opposition to his appointment, Bishop Okpaleke resigned as the Local Ordinary of Ahiara in February 2018, a decision he said was “the only option to facilitate re-evangelization of the faithful of the diocese especially the priests.”

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“The situation in Ahiara Diocese to the best of my knowledge has not improved. Most importantly, this has been threatening my spiritual life,” Bishop Okpaleke stated in his 14 February 2020 letter of resignation and expressed his conviction in conscience  that his remaining the Bishop of Ahiara was “no longer beneficial to the Church.”

“Exercising the ministry in a Diocese where Priests who are supposed to be my immediate and closest collaborators, brothers, friends and sons are at war with one another, with the laity and with me as their chief shepherd would be disastrous and a threat to salvation of souls – including my own soul,” the Nigerian Prelate added in the letter addressed to the Holy Father.

Pope Francis accepted the Bishop Okpaleke’s resignation five days later on February 19 and expressed the hope that “the local Church will recover its vitality and never again suffer such actions that so wound the Body of Christ.”

On 5 March 2020, the Pontiff created the Diocese of Ekwulobia and appointed Bishop Okpaleke as its first Local Ordinary.

In his March 6 homily at Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph, Ekwulobia, the Apostolic Nuncio noted that "tribalism makes those who call themselves Christians forget that Jesus Christ has made us all brothers and sisters in His blood and in the sacrament of Baptism," Fr. Umoh reported.


“The Nuncio reminded the people of God that while giving thanks and making merry on the first anniversary of their diocese, they must not forget that the history of their Diocese has only just begun, and therefore, rather than looking at the past, they must look ahead to the mission that awaits them and plan the way to carry it out,” the Director of the Center for Media Development of Lagos Archdiocese added.

"We must always remember that the mission of the Church is to offer the word of God, the sacraments and the guidance of the shepherds, so that everything we think, say and do is enlightened, guided and sustained by this communion with the Lord,” Fr. Umoh quoted Archbishop Filipazzi as saying during the Mass attended by 26 Prelates, members of Clergy, religious men and women as well as the lay faithful.