Being Named Cardinal Opportunity to “do my best for salvation of souls”: Nigerian Bishop

Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke. Credit: CADEK

Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke, one of the two Cardinals-designate from Africa, has described his being named candidate to receive a red from Pope Francis in August as an opportunity to “continue to do my best for the salvation of souls”. 

The Bishop of Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia (CADEK) is expected to become Cardinal alongside Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr of Ghana’s Wa Diocese and 19 other Catholic Church leaders from across the globe during the August 27 Consistory.  

“I see this as an opportunity that the Lord, and the Church, through the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has offered me to continue to do my best for the salvation of souls,” the Nigerian Catholic Bishop says in a video recording circulated Wednesday, June 8.

Bishop Okpaleke who says he feels “humbled” following his May 29 naming as Cardinal adds that the decision by Pope Francis is a clarion call to intensify one’s efforts, to do better.”  

“The Pope made this decision when I have served here for less than three years. Such an opportunity has come to serve the Church, CADEK, and to make my humble contribution to the Universal Church. I feel humbled,” says the Cardinal-designate.


The 58-year-old Nigerian Bishop was ordained a Priest of Awka Diocese in August 1993. He was appointed the Local Ordinary of Ahiara in December 2012. However, a section of Clergy and Laity of Ahiara Diocese rejected his Episcopal appointment. 

The Clergy’s rejection was based on the claim that the Bishop-elect comes from outside the dominant ethnic group of Ahiara Diocese, the Mbaise, and that Priests of the Diocese feel under-represented in the Catholic Church hierarchy in Nigeria.

The Episcopal candidate was prevented from setting foot in the territory covered by Ahiara Diocese.

The rejection persisted even after the Bishop’s Consecration, which took place at the Seat of Wisdom Seminary, Ulakwo, in Nigeria’s Owerri Archdiocese.

In July 2017, Pope Francis directed all members of the Clergy of Ahiara Diocese to pledge fidelity to him in writing, and to express their acceptance of the appointment of Bishop Okpaleke as their Shepherd.

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According to a report by Agenzia Fides, the Holy Father “received 200 letters from individual priests of the Diocese of Ahiara, in which they manifested to him obedience and fidelity. Some priests, however, pointed out their psychological difficulty in collaborating with the Bishop (Okpaleke) after years of conflict.”

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.

Having failed to exercise his Episcopal Ministry in Ahiara Diocese, Bishop Okpaleke made known to Pope Francis his decision to resign in writing.

In his letter of resignation, the Nigerian Bishop made reference to the incessant opposition to his appointment saying, “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 said he was convinced that remaining the Local Ordinary of Ahiara “is no longer beneficial to the Church.” 


The Nigerian Bishop said, “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.” 

He said his decision to resign was “the only option to facilitate re-evangelisation of the faithful of the diocese, especially the priests.”

On 19 February 2018, the Holy Father accepted Bishop Okpaleke’s resignation and “relieved him of the pastoral care of the Diocese of Ahiara.”

A year later, the Pope announced the establishment of the Diocese of Ekwulobia in Southeastern Nigeria and appointed Bishop Okpaleke the pioneer Local Ordinary.

The Nigerian Cardinal-designate was installed Bishop of Ekwulobia Diocese that was curved from his native Diocese of Awka on 29 April 2020.

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In the video recording circulated June 8, Bishop Okpaleke says what happened with his appointment as the Bishop of Ahiara “revealed to me the goodness of God, the kindness of God, the favors God has showered on me right from my birth.”

The December 2012 appointment, he says, “also revealed to me the goodness in the hearts of many people, many people from Ahiara and all over, who were with me, stood with me in prayers, in words of encouragement, who supported me all through.”

In the video recording, the Nigerian Cardinal-designate says that his rejection was “a period of long retreat for me, a period of prayer, reflection, and a period to come closer and closer to my God, a period to pray for the special virtue of tolerance, which we so much need today.” 

“My experience with my appointment has continued to tell me that God is alive, and that we still need to go a long way towards our conversion, our closeness to God, which is supposed to be manifested in our relationships with one another,” says Bishop Okpaleke.

Magdalene Kahiu is a Kenyan journalist with passion in Church communication. She holds a Degree in Social Communications from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Currently, she works as a journalist for ACI Africa.