Exclusive interview with Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike Onah

When the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka granted an exclusive interview to the Shepherd Communications, our Chief Editor, Reverend Father Sylvester Ozioko was happy to talk with the bishop who recently completed his first year in office as the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka. The Bishop knew he was talking to his entire flock. He did not mince his words. He was cute. He was astute. He was frank. He was personal. He was down-to-earth with examples to illustrate his views. He was exhaustive.

At the end we battled conscientiously to bring you excerpts. But every word, every idea, every expression was so important. We then decided that in this his first interview we are giving you just the thing, the entire thing as he said it. This is so revealing. Enjoy your reading.

Shepherd: Nnaanyi Bishop, we are glad that in the midst of your crowded activities, you could grant us this exclusive audience. We will just commence right away, what describes your childhood experience?

Bishop Onah: It is difficult to pinpoint one thing that describes one's childhood experience because experience is something one reflects on later. But with regard to my childhood I remember loving parents, discipline in the house and so on. My father was a teacher and that instilled in all of us the discipline that was associated with teachers' children in those days... Unfortunately, this experience was broken by Nigeria/Biafra war that shattered all that peaceful experience of my early childhood.

Luckily for me, though, most of the things I remember about the war are the positive things I had to do during the war. I had to learn how to climb the palm tree, how to hunt for rodents. My father, though a teacher, was a reputed hunter and marksman; so I had no reason to hunt for rodents. But during the war I had the opportunity of learning that because other children were doing so as well... I had an early experience of following my father to school as a toddler; my earliest memory is that of sitting in my father's class or under the mango tree.

Shepherd: Still on your personal life, what are your hobbies?

Bishop Onah: Over the years I did not develop any particular hobby. Very often as a student I was a very distracted person so I didn't need more distractions. I was doing so many things at the same time; I was in the choir, I was in the editorial board, I was in the theatre group or dramatic society, I was among the group of journalists. I played some football (I eventually ended up as a graded referee)...

I was doing so many things at a time and I was happy that I was doing them. (They say jack of all trades, master of none. Maybe that explains why I never became very good on soccer pitch or in the tennis court.) These were outlets of one's youthful exuberance. Right now as a bishop, one of the things that give me a sense of relaxation - you will be surprise to hear this - is discussing or interacting with people, so long as such discussions are not about problems. I like being in a group and discussing with them when I am not too tired to do so. I find it very enriching to encounter and interact with people.

It is something I love doing. Of course, from time to time I take a walk, a long one sometimes. I referee, but not regularly. I also enjoy cleaning my apartment and ironing clothes, although I hardly find the time to do that now and those around me protest vehemently when they see me do any of these. Sometimes I listen to music, but now there is little or no time to just sit back and listen to music. Very often the only time I can listen to music is when I am in the car: while on a long journey, after having said some prayer, I sometimes listen to music.

Shepherd: What types of music do listen to?

Bishop Onah: Everything! No music is 'no-go area' for me. The only thing I want to stress is that the amount of noise we make in this country now in the name of music is appalling. Music has to do with harmony and melody. We find proportion, harmony, plurality in music. So I listen to various kinds of music: local Nigerian music, jazz, country music (especially Don Williams), classical music, gospel music and other various forms of music.

Shepherd: Nnaanyi, what is your philosophy of life? How does it affect your life and responsibilities as a bishop?

Bishop Onah: What does philosophy of life mean? I don't know if there is one single answer to this apart from being a Christian and trying to do good, and living my life as a priest. If I am to manufacture a philosophy of life it is that the priesthood is a very wonderful service and the greatest joy a priest can have comes from his sincere effort to remain faithful to his priestly calling. Maybe that has been my philosophy of life and I never knew about it. But I believe that the best and greatest thing God can give to a human being is to call him to be a priest.

Shepherd: Nnaanyi, let us look at your work as Bishop. Having led Nsukka Catholics for one year, what can you say about the people, and Catholicism in Nsukka?

Bishop Onah: First, let me say this about the people of Nsukka in relation to me as their bishop; and you can say this anywhere and please shout it to the world: Nsukka people love me! I can touch it anywhere, I can feel it everywhere. I just hope I can show them that I love them too. And they have been the greatest source of strength for me. You needed to see the community I visited today, to see their joy.

It is the same joy whether it is Nsukka people gathered in Lagos, in Abuja or in any part of the diocese. They love me and I can feel it... I believe that Nsukka people are good people; sometimes naive, but very good people. With regard to Catholicism, Nsukka people are nominally and predominantly Catholic. But like many Catholics everywhere in the world, our faith is still very shallow.

This is partially because of lack of understanding, lack of proper catechesis, lack of proper understanding of what it means to be a Catholic, but also because of fear and the fact that traditionally, religion is everywhere in our culture and forms the basic mentality in our society and many have not yet been able to shift from traditional religious mentality and practice, to Catholic faith and living. So that is what I may say about Nsukka Catholics: they are basically good but still struggling to understand the faith and to live it out.

Shepherd: Your often talk about a Catholic Identity for Nsukka, what do you mean by that, and how do think you can achieve it?

Bishop Onah: When I say I want to give Nsukka a 'Catholic identity' maybe I should also add an 'Nsukka Catholic Identity'. I want every Nwa Nsukka or Nsukka resident to be proudly Nsukka and if you are a Catholic to be unapologetically Catholic. Time was when to be called 'Nwa Nsukka' was to be mocked. I cannot understand today why an Nsukka man or woman should feel inferior before any other human being anywhere in the world. Similarly, if Nsukka is predominantly Catholic, may God help us to make Nsukka a Catholic community, let people see it.

May no one have to ask when he comes to Nsukka: What religion is dominant here? Let it be seen in every market place in this Nsukka diocese. Let it be seen in the offices where we work. Let it be seen in the school where we teach and where we study that we are Catholics by our conduct and not by name alone. If the inner conviction of Catholics is manifested externally our society will be beautiful.

...What I mean by giving Nsukka a Catholic Identity is to convince the Nsukka people that they have a mission, the mission of being a good Catholic, being the salt of the earth and the light of the world and the leaven of Nsukka society. What I mean is that Nsukka Catholics should be Catholic from head to toe, whether they are sleeping or eating or praying.

It should not be that when we are in the church we are Catholic, when we are in the market we are non-believers, when we are on the road or at private prayer we are Pentecostals and when we are in the offices or when nobody is watching we are outright criminals! We have to be Catholics wherever we are and behave like Catholics. There are countries that have been like that in the past; Italy at a point; Ireland at a point; Poland right now and so many other countries in the world, which because of being Catholic have transformed their society for good.

Shepherd: You are 30 years a priest, about 25 of those years were spent overseas studying/teaching. What influence, do you think that the length of time you spent outside Nsukka would have on your pastoral policies as a bishop, for instance, the case of stopping certain type of fund-raising in the Church?

Bishop Onah: As our people would say: 'onye ije ka onye ishi-ewo ak 'ko'. As you move round you pick up things, some positive, some negative.

It is up to you to know the ones to keep and the ones to drop. But first, let me make a correction: I did not stop what we call 'fund-raising' in the church. In the first place, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria issued clear directives on that even before I became a bishop. They have directed that one could do that towards the end of the Mass (that is after communion); not in a rowdy way, but in a very decent way that respects the liturgical context and not too frequently.

Then I proposed in the Cathedral, that people should be encouraged to give generously without necessarily announcing how much they give. This would make it more spiritual. Furthermore, given the fact that we now have criminals who go from church to church, I found it a little dangerous that one could stand up and announce that he or she is giving a big sum of money to the church.

Such a person risks being harassed by criminals after the activity. I therefore suggested that since it is to God we are giving and he knows what we have, it would be better if we gave without publicizing it. Every method has its pros and cons. Weigh both sides and decide which one will be more fruitful. I was only making a proposal, which, by the way, has not yet been accepted.

Some argue that our people are not used to that method. And I ask: How would they be, if we do not even have the courage to start or to give it a trial? With regard to my having been outside for long, one of the things that being outside did for me, apart from learning from the experience of others, was that it gave me an opportunity to examine our society, its values and problems from a distance.

If you are too close to a problem you may not be able to understand and analyse it properly. But if you take some distance you may have the opportunity of understanding it better. My appreciation of my culture as an Igbo man and Nsukka man was sharpened by my long sojourn abroad. My defence of some of the best cultural values of Nsukka people and of the Igbo people in general comes from my experience outside, because I saw the many values in our culture.

On the flip side, the time I spent away from home also offered me the opportunity to observe more critically the negative things in our culture that cannot be allowed to be transmitted in the name of tradition. That is one thing that being outside for a long time has taught me. Lucky enough I had the opportunity of visiting home regularly so I was constantly comparing notes from my experience outside and what was going on at home.

I just hope that the baggage that I have collected will be put into good use in my life as a bishop. How it will be done, I look up to God. Whether it will be successful will be left to others to judge. This is a type of exercise and interpretation that only historians can do, when I must have finished my assignment and gone.

Shepherd: You are the 2nd Bishop of Nsukka, are there things you would want to improve on what your predecessor achieved?

Bishop Onah: There are so many good things that the first Bishop did that I wish I had the stamina to continue with the same level of involvement. This is one of the most pastorally stable dioceses in this country and I just pray to God to give me the stamina to maintain the tempo of the pastoral and spiritual life in this diocese and continue and increase it if I can.

Let me give you an example from a wonderful practice in the diocese: In every parish in this diocese there is the chanting of Vespers (the Evening Prayer of the Church) during benediction on Sundays which was introduced by the first bishop, Bishop Okobo. This is a beautiful prayer experience in our church.

Nsukka diocese began with 27 parishes in 1990 and by the time we were 22 years as a diocese, we had 113 parishes. That is an incredible record. So there are so many things that one would want to continue to develop in this diocese. Even structurally, I don't know from where Bishop Okobo got the courage to start the massive and beautiful Cathedral we are building and I wish I shall be able to do something substantial on that Cathedral in the years I have as Bishop.

Everybody who sees it says: Wow! Where did this Bishop get this idea? Apart from that, there are so many other things he initiated even in terms of structures as well as in the area of investment in the formation of his priests and personnel. There are so many areas that I wish to continue along the line he started and, where possible, try to increase and add other things also.

Shepherd: What is the current state of things in Ette? Any hope?

Bishop Onah: Here we are talking about St James the Apostle Parish, Ette. As you know, the crisis generated and sustained by those who want to drag the Catholic Church into their local politics got so bad that the priests were constrained to leave the parish.

When this happened, we became powerless. Since the priests were no longer there, we could not talk to them to let them understand that the church does not want to get involved in the politics of which state they have to belong to. Since they would not allow us to explain ourselves any more, we resorted to God through prayers and fasting. Recently, the youth, some of whom have been used to harassing and terrorizing the Christians and the priests, came on their own to say that they were sorry for what happened and would want the priests to go back.

They assured us that they would not disturb the priests again and that they would also provide as much protection as they could for the priests in the discharge of their religious duties, while at the same time using the normal channels offered them by the laws of the country to purse their political interests. They felt the time had come to allow the church to continue doing what she church is known for, namely, caring for the spiritual and moral wellbeing of the people and promoting their integral development through her pastoral ministry.

That is the state of things now. Nevertheless, at the height of the crisis, a lot of things went wrong that affected even the basic things in the church and the parish house. There is therefore, so much that needs to be done before the people and especially the Christians can resume their normal life without being molested by those who want to take the laws into their hands.

There is an urgent need for the presence of security agents in the community, so that Ette people, like other Nigerian citizens, would be allowed to practice and exercise their right as Nigerians without interference. We continue to pray and hope things will get better not worse.

Shepherd: What is the most pressing issue in Nsukka diocese today?

Bishop Onah: Faith! Strong faith especially by Catholics! You find Catholics who once they shift from Catholicism to another Christian denomination, will tell you they have found faith. Why didn't they have it in the Catholic Church? Catholics are very lukewarm in the exercise of their faith. If you don't exercise any gift you have, it dies.

Faith is a gift from God and, like every talent, you have to invest it and make it grow. If you don't invest it, it dies. We have to exercise our faith to make it take root in us. You may probably expect me to talk about the Cathedral Church. Well, the Cathedral is important. But we need faith first. For if we have a strong faith, that Cathedral could be completed in one year.

The issue I may probably face by the time we begin a fund-raising drive to complete our Cathedral is that some people may start to complain about too many contributions in the Catholic Church. That is basically due to lack of faith. It does seem that in Nsukka, our brothers and sisters of other Christian denominations are more prepared than most of our Catholics to invest their material resources generously (and without complaint) in the building up of their religious communities.

Every place I go, Catholics complain of so many contributions and I ask them to add up how much they pay in one year. By the time they do that, they find out that it does not at all come near to the ten per cent that other Christians have to pay as tithes in their various denominations. Yet our Catholics complain. Tithes, you know, are not ordinarily part of our tradition in the Catholic Church, although some Catholics now freely pay them in imitation of the other denominations.

We need faith, not just in order to complete the Cathedral but because, without faith, even the most magnificent cathedral in the world would only be a monument to our own ego. As I said on the day I was ordained Bishop, my mission is not to build Churches made of stone and steel, but to build churches made of hearts converted to God. And once that church of hearts converted to God is standing, the church of stone and steel will rise on its own.

Shepherd: Few months into your Episcopacy, some people thought you waved off the two weeks regulation for Christian burial. You have constantly said you did not, are there some theological reasons why you upheld that practice?

Bishop Onah: You know Bishop Okobo was the first Bishop of Nsukka Diocese. He came at a very difficult time and had encountered many difficult challenges which he faced squarely. In facing some of these challenges, he had to give our people props and support in form of rules and regulations to guide them. These rules and regulations could be compared to the three-wheeled wooden cycle which parents often made for their children learning how to walk. Once they have learnt how to walk, the prop is removed and they walk on their own. Taking over the responsibility of pastoral leadership in Nsukka diocese after 23 years, I felt that our people had got used to the practices for which some of the rules and regulations were made and, therefore, that there was no need to continue to enforce them as laws.

So I literally kept quiet about the discipline of burial within two weeks. Some people even thought that I said they could keep the corpses of their dead ones for as long as they wanted before burial. Indeed, I did sometimes mockingly say that if anyone wanted to keep the corpses of his dead parent for two years as if he or she wanted to preserve it for eating, I would let the person do so. And some who heard me say this clapped.

I was shocked beyond words. The excuse they give most often is that they want to prepare. And I ask: Prepare to do what? Prepare to dig a six-by-three-by-six grave? Not at all! They need time to build a new house, to canvass for tributes from highly placed persons with whom they may not have any affective relation and to print a glamorous brochure.

They need time to raise money (even if it means borrowing beyond their means) to hire expensive and outlandish funeral services. Thus, using the occasion of burial to show off their wealth, real or artificial. In doing so, instead of mourning our dead, we mock them. We allow our parents to die in poverty and penury, but lavish money at their funerals. This is un-Christian, against our culture, disgraceful and irresponsible and I will not be a party to it. Nevertheless, I am not going to deny any poor Christian proper Christian burial just because his or her children are irresponsible.

My own father died a few months after my ordination as bishop. He was buried within two weeks. If you want a fanfare, you can never prepare well enough. And let us remember that in this country we have millions of Muslim and every Muslim is buried within 24 hours of death. We have had two serving presidents of this country who died and were buried within 24 hours. It should be a great lesson to all of us.

Shepherd: Don't you think there may be need for regulations in some areas like the new contradictory trend of dancing with the corpse?

Bishop Onah: God gave us the Ten Commandments. And the Church, in other to guide her children, has given a number of laws. Why do we multiply laws for ourselves? Do we always need laws before we can do the right thing? Okay the Ebola Virus Disease is now around.

Do I have to make a law that people have to wash their hands before eating? Do I have to make a law that you must watch your temperature when you have fever? Do I have to make a law on how people should handle their dead ones? Do you need laws to do everything? God gave us reason as human beings. Let us be reasonable. How many laws are there in this country and who is keeping them? For instance, there is a regulation in our Diocese about Igba Nkwu, that extravagant aberration that has distorted the rich traditional marriage ceremonies in Nsukka culture and for many girls has pushed the sacramental celebration of matrimony to the second place.

The Diocese made the regulation in order to bring out the full Sacramental character of Christian marriage and to help curtail expenses for young couples, especially for the grooms. And the very people you want to help circumvent the law and celebrate Idobe ego as Igba Nkwu and accuse the church of high-handedness. I would therefore, try to convince people that it is for their own good to do the right thing, rather than simply make laws and rules that will not be kept, anyway. Where I would make strict rules is when people are going contrary to Catholic doctrine or when they harm other people. But with regard to other practices which, though unbecoming of Catholics, are neither sinful nor contrary to Church doctrine, I think Catholics should have the prudence and common sense of doing the right thing without waiting for a law, which they are most unlikely to keep or obey.

Shepherd: When you permitted parents whose children married without wedding in the church or married persons of other religions or denominations to receive the Sacraments, a lot of parents were happy across our diocese. But some people think that that could embolden those who think less of religious or denominational differences. How would you check such abuses?

Bishop Onah: Am I the one who permitted them? The Catholic Church teaches that a person who commits sin should be held responsible for his sins. You don't punish a third party. We have ways of sharing in other people's sins. But a good pastor of souls should be able to distinguish the various levels of moral responsibility, without having to impose drastic penalties on parents who may already be suffering the effects of the disobedience of their children.

If parents force their children into marriages, or constrain them to live in irregular marriages, thereby causing their children to live a life that denies them access to the sacraments, then such parents cannot themselves enjoy regular sacramental life. It would be unfair. But today you find children who don't listen to their parents.

Some even claim that their parents have not received the anointing and thus they leave the Catholic Church and marry whomsoever they like saying: If you like, you accept the dowry, if you don't like, don’t accept it. Some girls sometimes tell their parents no only that they love the men in question but even that they are already pregnant for them and would move in with them, irrespective of whatever their parents do.

And by the way, some of these parents already suffer under the psychological trauma of having failed in life because they think they have failed in training their children to become good Catholics. After having invested all their time, money and spiritual resources on the children, they end up somewhere very different from where they intended them to be. I don't think it would be proper on the part of the Church as Mother if the only thing we can do for these parents in this trauma would be to deny them the sacraments. Those who do things wrong should be held responsible for their wrong doing, and not somebody else.

I heard that some people started saying that the new Bishop said that all the churches are now one and that people could marry persons of other denominations without dispensation. I never said that. I only said if a Catholic has a child who decides to be irregular and to do the wrong thing; and if such a child is an adult, the adult should be held responsible for his or her wrongdoing and not the parents, simple and short. Some have told me that this position would encourage parents to allow their children to marry persons of other Christian denominations.

The truth is, with or without the denial of sacraments to these parents, the children are going anyway. And some parents are now fighting an already lost battle. I have also hear people suggesting that if the parents are not in support they should show it by not accepting the dowry, by the mother not going for omugo (going to assist the daughter when she gives birth) and by not having anything to do with the children.

And I ask: Would that be Christian? Your child disobeys you and you cut off completely from her or him. God does not do that to us when we disobey him. He waits for us. He looks for us. He went looking for Adam. He sent his Son to search for us in our sin. And somebody disobeys me and the only thing I have to do is to reject him or her. And we forget that once you reject the dowry you have rejected that child (you have literally disowned her) and you have no claim or moral power or authority over the child again.

But so long as you retain some relationship, you still have the opportunity of persuading the child, through advice and prayers, to do the right thing. If, on the other contrary, the parents cut every relationship, the situation gets worse and there is no chance again for reconciliation. The couple develops hatred for the parents and for everything Catholic. That, for me, is not Christian.

Let those who do wrong be held responsible for their actions not their parents or their siblings. (Talking to the Editor): Father, you remember the point I made to the priests? Now let me make it public: I do tell priests that in our respective families many of us have more moral authority on our siblings than our parents. This being the case, can we now establish that any priest whose sister or brother lives outside wedlock should be suspended from the celebration and the reception of the sacraments? Would that be right?

If I cannot do it to my priests, why should I do it to parents? Should I be held responsible for the actions of adults? If any other adult participates in the sin of another adult, we have to be careful not to transform a moral issue into a legal or canonical issue. Remember, for instance, that the Catholic Church has a law that imposes the penalty of excommunication for abortion. However, that excommunication is only for those who positively or actively collaborate in procuring abortion.

The Church, in her concern for the salvation of souls, restricts, as much as possible, the application of very strict sanctions. May I also remind those Catholics who fall in love with non-Catholics and want to marry them that this may be a God-given occasion to lead their intending spouse back to the Catholic family. Some Catholics have been able to convert their spouse after marrying non Catholics. The case of the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair, is a well-known recent example.

Don't forget that it is not a question of which church is better or worse. The Catholic Church is the mother of all churches. It is not proper that when a Catholic marries a person of another denomination, the Catholic should be allowed to become part of that other denomination. The Church offers two possibilities: either to bring back the person to the Catholic fold or to ask for a dispensation from the Bishop for a mixed marriage under the conditions laid down by Church law, which, among other things stipulate that the marriage should be celebrated according to the Catholic rites.

The Catholic party should be allowed to practice his or her Catholic faith and, if God blesses them with children, they should be baptized and brought up as Catholics. So this type of relationship has also led to conversions, which strict regulations may not be able to achieve.

Shepherd: From our investigations, some people do not understand what you said during the priestly ordination this year about believing or not believing in private revelation?

Bishop Onah: All that God intended for our salvation has been revealed in Jesus Christ, and Christ is the fulfilment of all revelation. The Old Testament leads to the New Testament which is the story of Christ's life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection. And the position of the Church is that the apostles recorded this revelation and with the death of the last apostle, any person claiming to receive any other private revelation from God, cannot be adding what is not already contained in the teaching of the apostles. A Christian, therefore, is not bound to accept that private revelation for his or her salvation.

If you find it useful for your Christian life, well and good; if you don't, you are not bound; because what you need for your salvation has been handed down to us in the Word of God in the Bible and in the Tradition of the Church. That is what you need to believe to be saved. If any other person comes and says he has a revelation from the Holy Spirit, or from our Blessed Mother, or from Jesus himself about your salvation and you find it useful, very good; if not, stick to the one that was handed down by the Church.

Any other thing clearer than this, I cannot say. I did not say that every private revelation is false. Some are false claims but many are true. Nobody can limit God concerning whom he can reveal himself to. But what we need for our salvation has been revealed in Jesus Christ. Every other thing is either an explanation and help with regard to the gospel or it is not from God. Remember that Paul himself said 'if any other person, even an angel, from heaven or even myself Paul coming back to teach you anything contrary to what you have heard already, let him be anathema.'

Shepherd: Your inaugural speech at your episcopal ordination was like a window that let you out to those who did not know you, and some amongst them thought that you may be made an Archbishop, a Cardinal, and sent out of Nsukka, where do you see yourself in 5 years to 10 years from now?

Bishop Onah: There is a priest in our diocese who tells people when they greet him: 'I ga-echi'. Anytime I greet him and he says 'I ga-echi', I remind him that I have the fullness of the priesthood and that there is nothing else a person can become in the Catholic Church as rank (if I am may use that word) higher than the Bishop.

The only thing I wish for myself is to become, each day, a better priest. A Cardinal is a Bishop. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome. Are you therefore asking me whether am I praying to be transferred from Nsukka to another place? Did I ever pray to become the bishop of Nsukka, in the first place? No! So if I didn't pray to come to Nsukka I will not pray to leave Nsukka. I am praying that God gives me the strength to persevere as a bishop and continue to do the right thing. That is all I am aspiring to. So, where do I see myself in the next 5 years, 10 years? An older, hopefully, wiser bishop resolutely leading Nsukka people to encounter God's love in Jesus Christ.

Shepherd: You created 31 parishes in the first posting of priests in your diocese; the Shepherd Communications finds there are more communities planning to request for parishes, what chances do they have?

Bishop Onah: Even when 31 were granted, there were many others whose requests were not granted - either because certain basic necessary conditions for the creation of a new parish were not there or because there weren't enough priests. But as I have said several times at the meetings of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, we have to be very careful about politicizing the creation of parishes in the diocese.

Parishes in the Catholic Church are not like autonomous communities. Parishes are created to bring the priest closer to the people. Parishes are not created so that every village will have his own priest. We have come to a very unchristian situation where you find a parish that is nearer to a family, yet the members of the family will prefer to go to Mass to another parish farther away, simply because that one is in their own village. Some people have allowed old inter-community rivalries to be carried into Christian communities.

Sometimes these rivalries have led to the crumbling of older big parishes because these big parishes were erected in more central places; and all those who live around there come from the various villages. And each of these villages wants to be a parish. By the time you make every one of them a parish, the centre no longer has anybody who wants to belong there. Is that Christianity or political association? My desire is to bring Christianity closer to the people not to divide families and villages.

In this age and time when Nigeria is fighting to remove the concept of state of origin, when people should be made to feel at home wherever they are living, some Christians still want to divide parishes according to village roots. That is retrogressive and un-Christian. Catholics should realize that parishes are created to bring the Church closer to them, not to make every village parish.

Shepherd: One word on the Diocesan Pastoral Plan?

Bishop Onah: We need some sort of pastoral guide to set goals for ourselves. You probably remember the saying that he who does not know where he is going will not know when he has arrived. But as I told the priests and the members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, that the Pastoral Plan is to be produced by the diocese not by the bishop.

Such a plan to be worth anything will definitely take some time to produce. It is at the moment being discussed in the deaneries and it is my hope that it will not be too long before it comes up for discussion in the Diocesan Pastoral Council.

Shepherd: What message do you have for your priests, religious and lay faithful?
Bishop Onah: Be more committed to Christ. You have nothing to lose in being a good Catholic and being a good Nsukka person. We should be proud of our Catholic identity as Nsukka people.

Remember what I told you that this song of Enugu-Ezike origin that we have adopted as Catholic in Nsukka should become our unofficial anthem for the diocese 'Jeyi m ije onye nwere Jesus'. Catholics should be proud of their Catholic faith. And an Nsukka man or woman should be proud that he or she is from Nsukka. Here I do not mean only those of Nsukka origin, but also all those who have made Nsukka their home. So, my dear Nsukka priests, religious, lay faithful and even non-Catholics, let us be committed to our Christian calling.

I want you to know that I appreciate the fact that you love me and I love you too. All that I do is a way of showing you that I love you, so that through our love for each other, we may experience God's love for us which he revealed in Jesus Christ

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