Bishop Onah's Jubilee Message

«Unless the Lord builds a house, they labour in vain who build it» (Ps 127: 1)

On 19 November 1990, Pope St John Paul II erected the new Diocese of Nsukka, carving it out from the Diocese of Enugu, and appointed Msgr. Francis Emmanuel Ogbonna Okobo its Bishop. On 6 January 1991 Msgr. Francis Okobo was ordained Bishop by the same Pope in St. Peter's Basilica Rome and on 2 February 1991 he was installed the first Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka.

Looking back at these 25 years, all of us will admit that we really have many reasons for which to thank God. For although many people have contributed to the growth of the faith in our Diocese, it is clear to us that the progress we have registered so far is the work of our merciful Father, through the agency of some willing human instruments.

Judging from the human and material resources at the disposal of the Diocese when it was erected, nobody would have imagined that we would today be where we now are. From the initial modest number of 43 priests in 1990, we have grown to a total number of 269 priests today. We ask the Lord to receive in his kingdom 16 of our brothers who have gone before us (10 of whom were among the initial 43).

And from only 27 Parishes in 1990, we now have 163 Parishes (including St Peter's Chaplaincy, UNN), 3 other Chaplaincies and 3 Centres of Worship. This is indeed the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in our eyes (Ps 118: 23). There has also been a tremendous increase in the number of the lay Faithful in the Diocese. Yet the Lord's blessings on our Diocese are not limited to numbers.

Although we have obvious reasons to worry about the quality and depth of the Catholic faith in Nsukka Diocese today, God has also blessed us with many holy Priests, Religious and members of the Lay Faithful. We may not be able to take a census of such persons, but their silent witnessing has definitively contributed to the overall health of the Family of God in Nsukka.

Nsukka Diocese was immensely blessed in its first Shepherd, Bishop Francis E. O. Okobo. Everybody would agree that Bishop Okobo was the type of Pastor that the young Diocese needed at the time. A man imbued with pastoral charity and zeal, steeped in orthodox Catholic doctrine and practice, at home with the cultural practices and life of Nsukka people, always on the side of the poor and the defenceless, passionate about justice and transparency, Bishop Okobo, for 22 years, spent his life unreservedly to build up the Family of God in Nsukka.

He worked tirelessly as he laid a solid doctrinal, pastoral and structural foundation for this Diocese. In this Jubilee Year, it is providential that Bishop Okobo, in addition to his Episcopal Silver Jubilee, also celebrates the Golden Jubilee of his Priestly ordination.

As we celebrate this Triple Jubilee, therefore, our primary disposition is that of gratitude: gratitude to God for his blessings and gratitude to Bishop Francis Okobo and all those others who have allowed God to bless us through them. It is my opinion that the best way to show our gratitude to God is to make good use of the gifts he has given to us.

As I have often repeated, what we are is God's gift to us, but what we become is our gratitude to God (slightly modifying a famous quote). Our celebration provides us with an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the task of deepening and consolidating the Catholic faith in Nsukka. In the next 25 years, we should identify strategies and means of doing this effectively.

This task is an urgent one, given that it cannot be said with any amount of confidence that our quantitative growth has been matched by a similar growth in quality and depth. Whereas only God can effectively measure these, there are, however, some external signs that could help us assess them, at least to some extent.

We have often had to wonder aloud why our faith rather than producing a culture in Nsukka is being constantly polluted by and gradually absorbed into a culture that was created by the traditional religion and sustained by its new Pentecostal" versions. As a local Church, we must renew our commitment to the universal Church's project of new evangelization, while not neglecting the equally urgent task of preaching the Gospel to the many members of our local communities who have not accepted the message of the Good News.

Our culture presents a constant challenge to us as Catholics in Nsukka and we must face that challenge squarely. We thank God for the contributions of the Servant of God Bishop Michael Eneja and Bishop Francis Okobo, in this regard. We must build on the foundations they laid and consolidate the gains already made in this regard.

Demonizing everything in our culture and regarding it as "pagan" is an attitude that only evades the problem; while uncritically assimilating all elements of culture harms our faith as Christians. We must carefully distinguish what is purely cultural from what is religious, sometimes only implicitly. And even that which is cultural needs to be evangelized before our culture can become a vehicle of the Gospel message.

We in Nsukka Diocese have to take very seriously the following teaching of Pope John Paul II: «The synthesis between culture and faith is not just a demand of culture but also of faith. A faith which does not become culture is a faith which has not been fully received, not thoroughly thought through, not fully lived out.» On 21 November 2015, we formally inaugurated this Triple Jubilee Celebration.

Those who were present at the cultural festival that followed the inaugural Mass on that day will testify that there are many values in our culture that could, with proper reinterpretation, be assumed as Christian values and placed at the service of the Gospel.

We must as a Diocese intensify our efforts in the area of faith formation. Many of our Faithful have not really understood what it means to be Catholic. Superstition is often confused with faith and false doctrines are readily and widely peddled, sometimes even by those who should know better. This Jubilee Year is a propitious time to renew the collective proposal that we made during our First Diocesan Synod, namely, to see ongoing catechesis and formation as an important dimension of our work of evangelization.

In doing this, we have to constantly pray to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who will lead us to the full knowledge of the truth (Jn 16: 13). For «unless the Lord builds a house, they labour in vain who build it» (Ps 127: 1) It is equally providential that we are celebrating our Triple Jubilee in the Church's Jubilee Year of Mercy.

During this special year of grace, we are all invited, as individuals and as a Church, to get reconciled to God, to our neighbours and to ourselves yes, some of us are at war with ourselves and are in need of internal reconciliation. It may be helpful to remember that the only source of true reconciliation which we have is our Lord Jesus Christ, who has reconciled us (and everything else) to God: «Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come.

And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ... We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God» (2 Cor 5: 17-19). There are too many individuals, families, parishes, communities quarrelling among themselves in Nsukka Diocese. Very often Catholics are the very ones who cause, fuel and nourish these quarrels.

Some of these quarrels and feuds have led to some members of the communities being ostracised and persecuted by fellow Catholics. I appeal to all: Please use this grace-filled occasion of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and our diocesan Jubilee to settle your quarrels. Be reconciled to God, to the Church and to one another. We are all children of a merciful Father. As we return to him asking for mercy, may we also be merciful as our heavenly father is merciful (cf. Lk 6: 36).

In this Year of Mercy, the Door of Mercy is open in the old Cathedral Church as well as in the Churches at Umulokpa, Aji, Ibagwa-Aka, Ohom Orba and Aku, so as to afford all those who want the opportunity of symbolically crossing from the darkness of sin, hate and resentment to the light of mercy, forgiveness, love and peace. «Now [this Jubilee Year] is the favourable time.

This is the day of salvation» (2 Cor. 6: 2). This would be a most profitable way of celebrating our Triple Jubilee.

I gladly impart on all the special blessing of this Jubilee. May God keep you in his love.

+ Godfrey Igwebuike Onah
Bishop of Nsukka


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