…CBCN receives Ahiara apology
…priests, laity begin reconciliation prayer, mass
Reconciliatory moves have commenced in the embattled Ahiara-Mbaise Diocese as all priests and laity of the diocese gathered with one heart and mind in the Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral for a reconciliation prayer and mass, last week.
“It was very emotional as this was the first of its kind for many years now following the episcopal impasse that engulfed the diocese since December 12, 2012, which was resolved on Feb. 19th 2018, following the resignation of Bishop Peter Okpaleke, and the appointment of Bishop Lucius Ugorji of Umuahia diocese as the Apostolic Administrator,” our correspondent reports.
This is also, as the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has received an all-embracing letter of apology from one of the major actors in the impasse,Agu Na-Eche Mba of Mbaise, Prof. Amadi-Azuogu.
Anchoring the first penitential service, Fr. Innocent Olekamma harped on the need to forget the past and move together with one heart and mind -NO VICTOR NO VANQUISHED. The Chief Celebrant during the mass was the former administrator, Msgr. Theo Nwalor, flanked by Msgr. Clement Ebii and Fr Austine Benardine Ekechukwu.
All the parishes in the diocese have also done their parish retreat of reconciliationon Thursday and Friday, last week.
The Apostolic Administrator,Bishop Lucius Ugorji of Umuahia Diocese is reported to have scheduled his inaugural mass for the diocese on Saturday 10th of March by 10am.
All the priests, religious and lay faithful are expected to attend the mass aimed at drawing a new path to peace in the diocese.
Professor A. Amadi-Azuogu in his letter to all the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria through His Excellency, Bishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara Diocese and Vice President CBCN, has asked for forgiveness from all offended parties, and called for the embrace of the spirit of no-victor-no vanquished in the resolution of the impasse.
His letter had on copy, His Eminence, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State; His Eminence, Fernando Cardinal Filoni, Prefect of Propaganda Fide; His Excellency, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, Head of the Nigerian Legation; The Catholic Secretariat, Abuja; All Christian Faithful; and all Unspecified Recipients.
Captioned “Oh Bishops of Nigeria: On Bended Knees,” Prof. Azuogu wrote, “Oh Bishops of our Land; the Patriarchs of our faith; the Royal Fathers of our religion; greetings to you all from the commonwealth of Mbaise, the home of Ahiara Diocese. We are deeply humbled as this is a very sombre moment for all of us. Without a doubt, it has been a bitter five years that began on December 7, 2012 due to a perceived miscarriage of justice. Now, however, as the wise Preacher of the Old Testament once said: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”(Ecclesiastes 3:1). In our context, there is time to quarrel and time to reconcile; time to fight and time to settle; time for war and time to make peace in response to that famous encyclical of Saint Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, “peace on earth.” And now, bishops of our land, it is time for peace and we are now your partners in peace. We are now in the same book; belonging to the same club; the Justice and Peace Commission. Hence, let the process of reconciliation and forgiveness begins in Mbaise and across the land”.
“It is our intention here to let you all know that we have humbly accepted the Pope’s verdict. And we are assuring the new Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara Diocese of our cooperation. Now the task of reconciliation and forgiveness begins. As Pope Francis said in his “Homily on Divine Mercy” on Sunday, April 7, 2013: “I am always struck when I reread the parable of the merciful Father. …The Father, with patience, love, hope and mercy, had never for a second stopped thinking about [his wayward son], and as soon as he sees him still far off, he runs out to meet him and embraces him with tenderness, the tenderness of God, without a word of reproach. … God is always waiting for us, He never grows tired. Jesus shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence and hope — always!” My initial thesis set the template of the struggle. It is also my belief that my thesis will now promote renewal, reconciliation, love and peace in the household of faith. We are writing bearing this in mind as well as these words of Daniel: “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:9). Now, we beg for mercy and forgiveness for our roles in the turbulence of the last five years, briefly outlined above. And now, I go on my knees, and we as a nation go on our knees, first, before the Vatican authorities.
Read below the full letter written by Professor A. AMADI-AZUOGU, The Agu Na-Eche Mba of Mbaise:
Oh Bishops of Nigeria: “On Bended Knees”
By Prof. AMADI-AZUOGU
(This is copy of a latter written on March 3, 2018, by Professor A. AMADI-AZUOGU to all the Catholic Bishops ofNigeria through His Excellency, Bishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara Diocese and Vice President CBCN. The letter had the following on copy: His Eminence, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State; His Eminence, Fernando Cardinal Filoni, Prefect of Propaganda Fide; His Excellency, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, Head of the Nigerian Legation; The Catholic Secretariat, Abuja; All Christian Faithful; Unspecified Recipients;
Oh Bishops of Nigeria: On Bended Knees
Pacem in Terris – Peace on Earth
(March 3, 2018)
By Professor A. AMADI-AZUOGU
The Agu Na-Eche Mba of Mbaise
Quote: “Before Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962, he was an angry, relatively young man. He founded the ANC’s military wing. When he was released, he surprised everyone because he was talking about reconciliation and forgiveness and not about revenge.” Desmond Tutu
A Minute of Silence for His Excellency, the Prophet, Bishop Joseph Bagobiri, R.I.P.
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies,
Oh Bishops of our Land; the Patriarchs of our faith; the Royal Fathers of our religion; greetings to you all from the commonwealth of Mbaise, the home of Ahiara Diocese. We are deeply humbled as this is a very sombre moment for all of us. Without a doubt, it has been a bitter five years that began on December 7, 2012 due to a perceived miscarriage of justice. Now, however, as the wise Preacher of the Old Testament once said: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”(Ecclesiastes 3:1). In our context, there is time to quarrel and time to reconcile; time to fight and time to settle; time for war and time to make peace in response to that famous encyclical of Saint Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, “peace on earth.” And now, bishops of our land, it is time for peace and we are now your partners in peace. We are now in the same book; belonging to the same club; the Justice and Peace Commission. Hence, let the process of reconciliation and forgiveness begin in Mbaise and across the land.
As we all know, every conclusion of a book requires a brief recapitulation of the main ideas in that book. The conclusion cannot be made in vacuum. Similarly, the conclusion to a historical event requires also a brief summary of what is to be concluded. Consequently, a short historical contextualization of what has led us to where we are now is desirable, at least, from a literary standpoint. And this serves as the conclusion of the chapter in church history that began on December 7, 2012 and ended on February 19, 2018 with the Papal definitive pronouncement on the crisis. Otherwise, this would look like writing a conclusion to an unknown premise. Hence, it will be disingenuous and against the conscience of good people all over the world to feign amnesia or dementia here as if nothing ever happened. Obviously, something very grave happened and this writing is predicated upon this something that happened. Indeed, the process of historicization has started. It is not possible to talk about the present moment without reference to the immediate past; just as it is not possible to talk about February 19, 2018 without December 7, 2012..
As we all know, then, on the 7thof December, 2012, Fr. Peter Ebele Okpaleke, a parish priest of Awka Diocese (later His Excellency, Bishop Peter Ebele Okpaleke) was appointed the bishop-elect of Ahiara Diocese by His Holiness, Pope Benedict. This caused consternation everywhere in the Mbaise world, both home and abroad because a miscarriage of justice was believed to have been done. This perceived injustice in the appointment provoked turbulence in the land. Consequently, a protracted struggle ensued. This led to my first publication on this matter on December 15, 2012 captioned: “The Anambranization of the Catholic Hierarchy in Igboland.” And here the justice versus injustice argument began. This provoked an earth tremor of seismic proportion in the land. A warlike situation ensued in a typical trench warfare fashion. Sometimes, it was “commando-like.” By every account it was ferocious. It was by fire, by fire; and fire for fire. A great turbulence began; with roller coaster upon roller coaster; and “missiles” began to fly.
The situation was very cantankerous, with ill-fillings on all sides; between those who supported the appointment and those who rejected it outright on the basis that a miscarriage of justice was done against the Mbaise people, who began demanding the removal of the bishop elect as a way of rectifying the situation. From the pros and contras, petition upon petition began to take place. Both sides dug their trenches, while holes were being dug to solve the problem. Even, “marksmen” on both sides took their positions on “roof tops” and the “snipping” began. It was very intense and fierce like lions in a free-for-all hunting expedition. Peace was threatened and it became a “war” of brother against brother, and sister against sister. Communities were divided, even families. Everything was polarised. Name-calling upon name-calling was the order of the day. Hatred began to take centre stage as if between two warring armies. Law and order were sometimes threatened, and the use of force was attempted a number of times to quail what was seen as a “rebellion” by the Mbaise nation by trying to impose Bishop Okpaleke. Calumny was weaponised in the course of this “war.” Evil was taking centre stage. Volumes and volumes were written on the struggle that could fill a small library. Our Church hierarchy became deadlocked as to how to break the stalemate. In the whole saga, the devil came to the church, though not Ahiara in particular, and took over the church of God pro tempore, for a time.
Using banking language and tunes from Martin Luther King, the bone of contention was that a bad check was issued to the Mbaise Nation, making it un-cashable. Notwithstanding, the firm belief of the people was that the “Catholic Bank of Justice” is not bankrupt. In Mbaise, we believed that although an error in the issuance of the dud check may have occurred, yet, we remained in the Catholic hope that our bank alert, to the effect of a new check, would come one day. Finally, the Pope decided that enough was enough, and decided to break what was becoming a jinx on the Church of Christ in Nigeria. And on February 19, 2018, the “bounced check” was officially withdrawn by the “Catholic Bank of Justice” with the issuance of another cashable blank check; with unspecified amount. And finally, Mbaise has her bank alert. On behalf of the Mbaise Nation, we are grateful. Luckily, everything is now history.
The Victorious Church
And now, oh bishops – Your Eminences and Your Excellencies: All of us are aware of the sudden development in our Church since Monday, February 19, occasioned by the Papal announcement on the resignation of His Excellency, Bishop Peter Ebele Okpaleke, as the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese and the declaration of the Local see of Ahiara, VACANT. For some, it is cheers, while for others it is tears; for some it is sadness, while for some others it is joy. A lot has been said and reactions are varied especially in the light of the short presentation of the past leading to the present moment. This should be a very sombre moment for all us; it is not the time to celebrate, but a time to reconcile and renew.
However, many forget that in the “father’s house” there are no losers and winners because when there is a win, the Father wins. Hence, we insist that “Christus vincit,” Christ wins. This is a time of sombre reflection to go back to what unites us as members of the “household of God” and not about what divides us. It is now about the unity of the household of faith and not about the disunity of the past. We do not rejoice over the events of the past five years. As Sophocles once pointed out, “there is a point at which even justice does injury.” We know that there are wounded lions, who would have wished it went the other way. However, the Pope has spoken and all of us should take it and move on because when peace reigns, the Church is peaceful and the same Church wins. Hence, this IS NOT A MOMENT OF CELEBRATION because in the Church of the Holy God there are no winners and no losers
It is our intention here to let you all know that we have humbly accepted the Pope’s verdict. And we are assuring the new Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara Diocese of our cooperation. Now the task of reconciliation and forgiveness begins. As Pope Francis said in his “Homily on Divine Mercy” on Sunday, April 7, 2013: “I am always struck when I reread the parable of the merciful Father. …The Father, with patience, love, hope and mercy, had never for a second stopped thinking about [his wayward son], and as soon as he sees him still far off, he runs out to meet him and embraces him with tenderness, the tenderness of God, without a word of reproach. … God is always waiting for us, He never grows tired. Jesus shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence and hope — always!” My initial thesis set the template of the struggle. It is also my belief that my thesis will now promote renewal, reconciliation, love and peace in the household of faith. We are writing bearing this in mind as well as these words of Daniel: “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:9). Now, we beg for mercy and forgiveness for our roles in the turbulence of the last five years, briefly outlined above. And now, I go on my knees, and we as a nation go on our knees, first, before the Vatican authorities.
On bended knees, our gratitude and apology go first to His Holiness, Pope Francis, the Pope of Mercy and the “Hero” of this struggle. He has saved theNigerian Church that was on the brink of an abyss which would have had cataclysmic consequences. He preempted and prevented a potential “nuclear disaster.” His intervention has brought peace and calm in our land. He was very gracious and magnanimous in the way he calmed the sea and quailed the storm; actions for which Jesus was known in the New Testament. He is the “Pope of Empathy.” To you Holy Father, then, on bended knees, we are sorry to you. At the same time, we thank you for the benevolence and magnanimity displayed in the resolution of this crisis on February 9, 2018, which has given us a bank alert to the effect that the “Bank of Justice” now has sufficient funds to enable us cash our check. You have put smile on the face of the localchurch of Ahiara and the Church inNigeria. More especially, the deacons and seminarians are happy that their days of captivity and agony are now over. And so are the confirmation candidates of Ahiara Diocese. Now, reconciliation is in full swing in thechurch of Ahiara in the spirit of “no victor, no vanquished”because only the church is the winner.
His Eminence, Pietro Cardinal Parolin
Next is the amiable Secretary of State, His Eminence, Pietro Cardinal Parolin. Your Eminence: We are full of admiration for you. Indeed, you are wonderful in your ways. Excellence characterizes your deeds. You are wonderfully wonderful and fantastically fantastic. You are both magnificent and splendid. Everything was outstandingly great. You are fantabulous and exceptional in the way you handled the Ahiara crisis. We have crowned you “Cardinal Terrific.” The joy in the land now justifies your approach and manner of intervention. Nonetheless, this is a bitter sweet situation. Hence, we are sorry to you for the pains we may have caused you. And at the same time, we thank you for your actions.
His Eminence, Fernando Cardinal Filoni
Now, we apologize to His Eminence, Fernando Cardinal Filoni, the Prefect of Propaganda Fide. Your Eminence: You transcended the “name-calling” of the moment to do what is right and just in the eyes of the Almighty in the end. We are really humbled. Your collaborative effort with the Pope and Secretary of State and others has shown us that if we put our differences aside in Ahiara Diocese and Nigeria, and work together the result will be astounding. Thank you for helping to solve this prolonged crisis. And for all the pains we may have caused you, hereby, WE ARE SORRY.
His Excellency, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi
And to you, our brilliant Apostolic Nuncio, His Excellency, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi: You are the “Golden Voice of the Vatican” in Ahiara Diocese and Nigeria. You have lived up to your name, from the Italian verb, guidare – meaning,to lead, guide, drive, manage, or run. In the first person conjugation of this verb, it is GUIDO, meaning: I lead, guide, drive, manage, run. From your name GUIDO also is derived the noun “guida,” which could mean guide, guideline, manual, etc. Both “Guido,” your name, and “guida,” the noun derived from it define your good qualities. You are now the “driver” of the Nigerian Church, and a good one for that matter. You are not only a leader, you have become a guide and a manual of discipline for the Church of God in Nigeria.
And your action in helping to solve what no other person in Nigeria could solve OR had the temerity to solve has singled you out as a quintessential leader.Where everyone else failed, you succeeded in no small measure because YOUR MITRE IS JUSTICE AND YOUR CROSIER IS FAIRNESS, the two things we demanded for more than five years. In this way,you have done what Napoleon Bonaparte could not do. You are astoundingly awesome. There is no doubt in our minds that you are one of the finest in your profession as a career diplomat and pastor of the Church. YOU HAVE WON OUR ADMIRATION and we doff our hats for you. With you, it is “thump up.” You are fantastically fantastic. Above all, YOU ARE A VERY COURAGEOUS MAN.
You can see that your intervention has removed the turbulence of the past five years. The task was Herculean. However, because you are GUIDO, you led in every way. You were the stage-manager. You were experienced driver, a seasoned leader and a good marathon runner. In the end, you offered a perfect guide that led to the abrupt end of the “war.” Available intelligence supports this characterization. To you we say:THANK YOU! THANK YOU SO MUCH! AND THANK YOU FROM THE DEPTHS OF OUR HEARTS.Please, pray for us as we pray for you.
In this place, on this day, on behalf of the entire Mbaise Nation, we are publicly inviting you to visit Ahiara Diocese as soon as it is practicable for you. We are waiting for you. Please, kindly accept the people’s invitation. And now, on bended knees we turn to the Bishops of our land.
The Bishops of Nigeria
Your Eminences, Your Excellences, it is time to go on our knees and apologise to all those we have offended in one way or the other. This is necessary, for as Pope Francis said: “It is not possible to live without forgiveness, or at least you cannot live well, especially in the family. Every day we wrong each other. We must take account of these errors that we make due to our fragility and our selfishness. However, what is required of us is to heal the wounds we make straight away, to immediately weave again the threads we have broken. If we wait too long, it all becomes more difficult. And there is a simple secret for healing wounds and undoing accusations: never let the day finish without apologising. … If we learn to say we are sorry immediately and to offer mutual forgiveness, the wounds are healed, the marriage is strengthened, and the family becomes an increasingly solid home, that resists the shocks of our evils, great and small” (Wednesday general audience, Nov. 4, 2015). This is what we need to do in the family of God, the Household of Faith. Hence, now, in the interest of peace, love and reconciliation in the Church of God, we now go on our knees.
First, I personally apologise to you, the bishops of our land; and second, we, the Mbaise people apologise to you. Indeed, this is the time to reconcile and a time to write “on bended knees.” On February 19, 2018, the Church has spoken and here we have a perfect example of “papa locuta, causa finita. We have humbly accepted this verdict and the apostolic administrator appointed for Ahiara Diocese. This is a time to move forward as church and as children of God. And this verdict has mimicked the apostolic decision of Acts 6:1-6 in resolving a similar dispute in the early Church. The solution did not tear the Apostolic Church apart. Instead, it helped to bring the Hellenists and Hebrews together in an integrated church where the murmuring and grumbling stopped. The Church should be happy that the “prodigal son” has returned to the fold. This is why this is a victory for the Church because, as always,Christus vincit. In view of this, Colosians 3:13 urges us to “bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” This spirit of forgiveness guides us in this writing, marking the final episode of the “war chapters.”
Yes, the bitter “war” is over, thanks to the Pope’s intervention on February 19, 2018. The Pope has spoken, as loyal Catholics, all of us abide by it. No one should now be outside the fold for we in Mbaise are now FULLY INSIDE. With the “bank alert” from the “Catholic Bank of Justice,” which Mbaise got on February 19, 2018, all murmurings have stopped; the bickering has ceased; and offensive operations fully suspended. Whatever nuclear options there were, are now completely decimated. It was not easy both for us and for you. However, now, in your dealings with us, kindly remember these words of Scripture: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more (Hebrews 10:17). Do you promise us this? Indeed, invoking the authority of Numbers, we address you in these words: “In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked” (Numbers 14:19-20). I BEG FOR YOUR FORGIVENESS? AND WE BEG FOR YOUR FORGIVENESS?Please, kindly do not forsake us. If at the beginning of this struggle it was on justice and fairness in Episcopal appointments in the Church in Nigeria; now it is on forgiveness, love and reconciliation in the household of faith. In the present circumstance, everybody is a winner because only the Church, as Mother, has won. We, in Mbaise, are under no illusion about this. There is a renewed and reinvigorated spirit of Catholicism for us in Mbaise. We are heeding the Pope’s call. We feel bad, and we feel sorry for what happened.
The “trench warfare” was not ideal in any way. I was fighting on behalf of my nation, in the manner of the Old Testament Judith, in defence of justice and fairness in the Church of the Holy God. What happened was never intended. It was like a child being forced to drown or sit on his shit; who was kicking hand, leg and head to survive the drowning. In the process, this child happened to kick you in an unintended place. That was what happened in the case of the Mbaise Nation. There is no evil in our hearts and no malice. It was all a battle for survival.
Notwithstanding, on bended knees, on this day, in this place, on behalf of myself and on behalf of the Mbaise Nation, Ahiara Diocese, I apologise and we apologise to all of you for whatever we have done that may have angered or caused you pain. Kneeling and bowing we say to all of you: WE ARE DEEPLY SORRY. And lying prostrate, we ask for your pardon and forgiveness. Please, forgive us! By the same token, in this place, on this day, on behalf of myself and the Mbaise people we have forgiven all those who may have wronged us. There is no bitterness in our hearts and there is no rancor. We are operating on the principle of “no victor, no vanguished” becauseChristus vincit. And when Christ wins, the Church wins. Nobody emerged a winner. All of us emerged as “losers” because Christ is the only Winner.Collectively, we must say: Nostra culpa because we are all participants, in one way or the other, in what happened. Hence, the guilt should be collective.
Nonetheless, oh bishops! In his “Easter Urbi et Orbi” message on March 31, 2013, the Holy Father, Pope Francis said: “God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14). … Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.” And further, he said: “Let us … remember Peter: three times he denied Jesus, precisely when he should have been closest to him; and when he hits bottom he meets the gaze of Jesus who patiently, wordlessly, says to him: “Peter, don’t be afraid of your weakness, trust in Me.” Peter understands, he feels the loving gaze of Jesus and he weeps. How beautiful is this gaze of Jesus — how much tenderness is there! Brothers and sisters, let us never lose trust in the patience and mercy of God!” (Homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 7, 2013). Either individually or collectively, whenever my assistance is needed for anything, I AM AVAILABLE to help or to assist. I have no bitterness in my heart. And we have no anger. And now on bended knees, we turn to Bishop Okpaleke.
His Excellency, Bishop Peter Ebele Okpaleke
And to you, His Excellency, Bishop Peter Ebele Okpaleke: The end was as sudden as the beginning. Everything that happened was as a result of the “heat of the moment” that revolved on the question of justice and fairness in the Church of the Holy God. The highly emotionally charged atmosphere depreciated reason on all sides and in all camps; and the bullets were flying in an indiscriminate manner. And now, we thank you for your resignation on February 14, 2018, which was announced on February 19, 2018. Now that the Pope has spoken, it is now time to seek closure to the unfortunate events of the last five years, which began on December 7, 2012. In the spirit of reconciliation, first, on bended knees, personally, I say to you: I AM SORRY. Please, find forgiveness in your heart and forgive me personally as I have forgiven you. Second, as a nation, we, the Mbaise people are saying to you: Sorry. We apologise to you for all our actions that may have caused you pain during these turbulent five years. Please, forgive us as we have forgiven you. Without a doubt, you are our brother-Catholic. And here, in this place, on this day, we offer you the right hand of fellowship. And publicly, we invite you to come to Mbaise and reconcile with us in the Eucharist; at the table of the Lord. We look forward to the day when we shall have our own version of the “handshake across the Niger.” It is never too late to say: SORRY, and never too late to say: I FORGIVE. These are the templates of operation from now forward. Let us not forget, as Paul said, “where sin abounds, grace abounds much more” (Romans 5:20).
Friends of the Mbaise Nation
It will be naïve and even an act of ingratitude to forget that we had numerous supporters all over Nigeria and beyond that identified with our struggle. It would be arrogance at its peak not to mention them here. During this struggle, while we had opponents, we had also friends, whom we will never forget. Hence, while we say, “sorry” to all those who feel hurt by our actions, by the same token, we will never forget those who were our friends in our greatest hour of need. Among them was the fallen Iroko Tree of Kafanchan, His Excellency, Bishop Joseph Bagobiri. May he rest in perfect peace! He was a friend of justice and fairness.
And to all those who stood together with us, from region to region, from diocese to diocese and every individual, bishop, priest, religious, laity, or groups that gave us support in our days of darkness, hereby, on the same bended knees, we say to all of you: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! And THANK YOU SO MUCH! We were overwhelmed by your support and messages of solidarity. We appreciate all you did for us. While we reconcile with our opponents, we remain united with all of you so that we can be truly one family and one fold.
The Mbaise Nation
We shall have our own avenue of discourse. But as it is now, “no victor, no vanquished” must be our mantra going forward. And our motto is: No revenge, no retaliation. We are “Umu Mbaise.”And here, Fr. Clement Ebii, I offer you the right hand of fellowship, together with your pro-Bishop Okpaleke group. I look forward to a handshake and embrace with each and everyone of you. Whatever divided or separated us in the past is now passed for WE ARE ONE. The light shed by the Pope on February 19, 2018 has dispelled the darkness of the past. All of us have become the candle bearers of a new dispensation of unity, peace and solidarity in the great Mbaise Nation.
We must always remember thatChristus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat, which means,Christ conquers, Christ reigns and Christ commands. As Pope Paul VI once said: “If you want peace work for justice.” Mbaise, we demanded justice, and now we must work for peace in Mbaise and in our Church in Nigeria. We are now “Peace Ambassadors.” However, it is also important to note that it is not good to step on the tail of a sleeping tiger because a tiger will always be a tiger. Hence, Mbaise will always be Mbaise as the land of “ofo na ogu.” And here, Bishop Lucius Ugorji is reminded that this Book is still “OPEN-ENDED.” The “Volume Two” is just getting started and it is now a different book, with him as the MODERATOR. We are carefully watching!
A Teachable Moment
To have learnt nothing from the events of the last five years is to have a questionable docility that qualify us as un-teachable. And to pretend that this struggle for justice did not take place is to have developed false amnesia. This will be against the conscience of good people all over the word. First, this problem was local. Second, it was nationalised. And third, it was internationalised, making it a newsworthy event in the world. Even if it is conveniently wiped off from our psyche, this has become an indelible chapter in world Church history. It will be researched, and researched, and researched. Questions upon questions will always be asked by both historians and researchers alike. It has been a roller coaster moment in this period of our Church history. However, “human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” (Martin Luther King).
As turbulent as the struggle was, it is still important not to mischaracterize what happened as the mumbling of a group of disobedient people. It is never an act of disobedience to demand for justice anywhere in the world. We were not disobedient, though our actions may well have gone somewhat overboard. It is important to call a spade a spade because this was the greatest struggle for justice and equity that our country has ever known. Hence, we cannot sweep aside what happened as if nothing happened; as if it was all a joke. If we make this mistake, we would have learnt nothing and the danger of a repetition or re-occurrence in one form or the other remains a future possibility. It will be important to sit down and ask: Why did this struggle for justice take place? This will be necessary to avoid a future re-occurrence.
As part of the teaching of the moment for all of us, we must now work with this saying from Charles Dickens: “Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.” It is now about “next door justice” that is well encapsulated in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. Dicken’s saying is now our own version of “home and abroad.” While we practice charity at home, we must extend justice to the next door neighbor. Hence, the struggle for everyday justice now moves to us as individuals and groups. And now all of us can see that “justice is sweet and musical; but injustice is harsh and discordant” (Henry David Thoreau). Peace reigns supreme now in our Church.
We have not forgotten that this sad chapter in our church history passed through three important moments aptly described by this quote from Arthur Schopenhauer: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” I say it the way it is. Hence, these three moments are the three volumes of this book. It is up to us to apply Schopenhauer to what happened. One of the lessons of the past five years is that “in order to establish peace, you must have fair justice for everyone” (Al Sharpton) and this is what has brought automatic calm and peace, which has set reconciliation on a fast-track. Indeed, Saint Augustine was right in saying that “charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” It is important always to remember that “the moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice” (Martin Luther King). After all, as Saint Augustine once asked: “In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?” Hence, serious moral issues are involved in this struggle which cannot be swept under the carpet.
And now I carry this crusade for justice to the national stage. This is the cornerstone of my upcoming book, titled: The Un-united States of Nigeria. With Malcolm X, I say: “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.” We cannot wipe the slate clean as if nothing has ever been written on it or begin to act like a tabula-rasa. This was the struggle about justice and fairness in Church appointments in Nigeria. And now that justice has been done to the Mbaise Nation, you can now see peace, you can smell peace, you can feel peace and you can even “eat” it. The lost peace of past years has now been recovered and the moribund doctrine of salus animarum or salvation of souls now resuscitated. And the Mbaise people have smiles on their face with the refrain of “no victor, no vanquished.”
The words of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, is ad rem here as we conclude this sad chapter in our church history. Accordingly, in his Angelus on March 17, 2013, he said: Jesus’ attitude is striking: we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to Him with a contrite heart. “Great is God’s mercy,” says the Psalm.” In his “Homily on Divine Mercy” on Sunday, April 7, 2013, Pope Francis reminds us that “God’s patience has to call forth in us the courage to return to Him, however many mistakes and sins there may be in our life. … It is there, in the wounds of Jesus, that we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of His heart. Thomas understood this. Saint Bernard goes on to ask: But what can I count on? My own merits? No, “My merit is God’s mercy. I am by no means lacking merits as long as He is rich in mercy. If the mercies of the Lord are manifold, I too will abound in merits.” This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, to trust in His patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of His love.”
This urgency of forgiveness is made fierce in the light of Matthew 6:14-15, where Jesus has urged us in these words: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” In view of this, Ephesians urges us in these words: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). As we read from Micah: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19). Applied to the present situation, please, do not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy. Have compassion on us and forgive our transgression. We believe with Nhat Hanh that “the practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions.”
And now, in the words of Roy Barnes, “we are all one – or at least we should be – and it is our job, our duty, and our great challenge to fight the voices of division and seek the salve of reconciliation.” Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Where there is love there is life.” In the spirit of that great encyclical from Saint Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, it is our duty to make peace and I will also be in the vanguard in this respect. This is necessary, as Menachem Begin once said: “Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.” Indeed, in the family of God, this is now our togetherness. In the words of Pope Francis: “God’s forgiveness is what we all need, and it is the greatest sign of His mercy. A gift that every forgiven sinner is called upon to share with every brother and sister he or she meets. It is beautiful to be forgiven, but you too, if you wish to be forgiven, forgive in turn. Forgive!” (General audience, March 30, 2016).
So, let us show love that we may live. We must now be in prayerful reconciliation, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “prayer is the key of the morning and the bolt of the evening.” So let us unlock the morning of light and bolt the evening of darkness becauseChristus regnat – Christ reigns.Whichever way we can help, including me, WE ARE READY.
To all and sundry, WE OFFER THE OLIVE BRANCH AND THE RIGHT HAND OF FELLOWSHIP. As Martin Luther once said, because “forgiveness is God’s command,” we have forgiven everybody. We are now in the service of reconciliation. Now, the next chapter begins with His Excellency, Bishop Lucius Ugorji, the new Apostolic Administrator pro tempore, for the time being. And now borrowing the words of Matt Lauer: “There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions.” Consequently, to the people I have hurt, and we have hurt: I am truly sorry and we are deeply sorry. We love our Church; we like our Church; and we want our Church. Indeed,Christus vincit, regnat, imperat: ab omni malo plemem suam defendat. (Christ conquers, He reigns, He commands; may He defend His people from all evil). Although Mbaise is still waiting for the new re-issued check to be cashed since the amount is not yet known, this sad and regrettable chapter in our Church history is now concluded.So help us God!
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