"Who Am I Lord God... that You Have Brought Me thus Far?" (2 Samuel 7: 18)
An Expression of Gratitude
Godfrey Igwebuike Onah
Catholic Bishop of Nsukka
4th July 2013

Folk Song: Ya nokwaya nke ye – ndegele!

My dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, peace be with you! "Who Am I Lord God... that You Have Brought Me thus Far?" (2 Samuel 7: 18)

For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with the Nsukka dialect of Igbo, the opening folk song tells the story of a person who was once visited by a mysterious being, so beautiful that he looked like a god. The being asked this person for a drink of water and he was told that there was no water for him, not even a drop or the dregs. But upon insistence, he was offered some water which he, surprisingly, turned down two times because of the cups used. In the third instance, he was offered water in a cup that was designed in a peculiar way. This time, he not only accepted the water but also swallowed the cup after drinking.

The person in question, in utter desperation, vowed that he would follow the mysterious being wherever he went, until he gave back the cup. I used this song to express my gratitude to my home community, Imilike, in 1984 after my priestly ordination. I repeat it today with the same message I gave to my people 29 years ago: God has drunk the water you gave him and has swallowed your cup. Don't let go of him. Follow him "bumper-to-bumper" if that cup is precious to you. It is not me God wants in Nsukka. It is YOU. He knows you love me. And I know that too. He has taken hold of me knowing that you will come to him looking for me. Eji nwa ok'ko arata nne ye (get hold of the chick and the mother hen will come after you).

Come, let us together seek for him: "Volumus Iesum videre" ("we want to see Jesus" - Jn 12: 21). If you do not know the way, follow me. I know the way; and I am headed there. A story is told about the patron saint of priest St John Mary Vianney. When he was sent to Ars, he lost his way and he found a little boy whom he asked to show him the way to Ars. He told the little boy that if he showed him the way to Ars, he would spend the rest of his life showing the people of Ars the way to heaven.

The liturgical feast of the Announciation of Our Lord was this year celebrated on 8 April. On that day, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Augustin Kasujja, informed me that the Holy Father Pope Francis had appointed me Bishop of Nsukka. I was supposed to give my consent to the choice of the Holy Father before the appointment could be made public. I wept as I felt all the secure walls of the world I had known up till that moment crumble in a twinkle of an eye. Nevertheless, aside from all other considerations, the significance of this request being made of me on the day the Church was celebrating Mary's "yes" to God's plan for humanity was not lost to me. Lee m, lee m Dinwenu, abiaram ime uche gi.

Since the announcement of my appointment was made at noon (Italian time) on Saturday 13 April I have received an uninterrupted flow of messages – goodwill, congratulatory, prayers – in the form of telephone calls, text messages, letters, electronic mails and telegrams - those sent and those meant to have been sent. By the way, those who have not seen their goodwill messages published today should not think it was an oversight. No. It was rather the result of a decision I made to treasure and savour those letters which I regard as personal and intimate correspondence between me and their authors.

The Late Bishop Eneja, once wondered aloud whether those who congratulate priests and religious persons on the day of their ordination and profession know they are congratulating those who have been called to carry the cross. One Cardinal I met soon after the announcement was made simply shook my hand and said: “Welcome to the Way of the Cross.” Many of the congratulatory messages I received did in fact refer to the appointment as a heavy cross. An elderly South African Bishop usually advises new Bishops: “See the mitre as a crown of thorns; for that is what it is.” In the light of this, maybe I should intone: Bianu solum bee akwa nw'oge...

In a way, yes! But let us not forget that the cross for a Christian is a sign of love, of hope, of victory over evil, sin and death. It is the throne from which Jesus rules the universe. Some of those who called to congratulate me, perhaps jokingly, begged me to remember them when I get into my kingdom. And I earnestly reminded them that he who first made that request and received a favourable answer was already hanging on the cross beside Our Lord. You cannot be enjoying your comfort zone in the palace of King Herod and at the same time asking for a place in the kingdom of he who reings from the Cross. You want a place in his kindgom, then take up your cross; serve; be ready to die for your brothers and sisters.

I thank the Holy Father for this invitation and opportunity to follow the Crucified Jesus more closely in my priestly life and to encourage others to do the same. Furthermore, I thank him for his simplicity in shepherding the Universal Church. This simplicity is for all of us an inspiration as well as a challenge. When I had the privilege of an audience with him, he said to me: “Don’t ever be discouraged”. I would also like to thank in a special way the Pope's representative in Nigeria, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Augustine Kasujja, who is not here today because he is out of the country but is representated by the Chargé d'Affaires, Msgr John Kallarackal, for the delicate but very important work he is doing in our country.

When my parents named their first son Chukwunwike and the second Igwebuike, I am sure they were not bothered by the apparent contradition in the two names. But the contradiction is indeed only apparent; for although God is the ultimate source of all our strenth, energy, force and power, the only way a human being can meaningfully exercise his strenth, energy, force and power – including the divine power given to men in the episcopate – is through the instumentality and the collaboration of other human beings.

Today, my gratitude to God is also an appreciation of all of you, dear brothers and sisters, for having allowed God's love and mercies to flow through you to me. What one may regard as the more edifying aspects of my life, like that of any other human being, may be likened to a symphony rendered by a very large orchestra, made up of innumerable musucians and conducted by God himself. In such an orchestra, some of the most important tunes are played by musicians who are not noticed by anybody else except the conductor.

I may therefore not be able to identify, name and thank all those who have played fundamental roles in my life up to this point, or even those whose prayers, sacrifices, thoughts and actions have contrbuted to making this day a memorable one for all of us. But God knows all and has taken note.

The first place I experienced God's love is in my family. And I thank God for all its members. My near 100-year old father, Enyi Nna-Ogene, has clung tenaciously to life like the biblical Simeon, in spite of all odds. Through God's infinite mercies, he is here with us today. A brutal stroke last Novermber deprived him of the power of speech, making it difficult for those around him to know exactly how much of what is happening around him he is able to percieve and understand. Besides, each time he wants to express himself, it is a struggle, except for responses during the Mass. But in him I have learned that a teacher without the power of speech can still continue to teach through his dignified and dignifing presence.

Mama, Orocha Enyi, has been a formidable force in my life and that of my sibblings as well as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for all of us. In Novembre this year they would have been married for 60 years. Their fidelity to God and to each other, their sacrifices, and they have made many, and their example are to be thanked for most of who and what I am today. My brothers and sisters may not know, since we quarrel a lot, that our unshakable and very intimate friendship with one another has been a source of strength and serenity to me in my priestly ministry. As' n'eshi, s' s' n'ad'uso (if we are brothers and sisters, we should also be friends). May Nicky-O's soul rest in peace.

The Late Bishop Micheal Eneja was for many of us not just a Bishop but the Bishop, our Father and our Legend. He accompanied me in my journey to the priesthood; he ordained me priest; he sent me to Rome for further studies in philosophy; and, from heaven, he watches over me and prays for me as I now take up the pastoral responsibility for what used to be part of his diocese. Nsukka diocese in general and I in particular will never be able to appreciate and thank enough our first Bishop, Nna anyi Bishop Okobo, for having laid a solid doctrinal and pastoral foundation for this diocese. I also thank him for his fatherly solicitude towards me, especially during the very difficult periods of my teaching apostolate in Rome.

I would also like to thank the Vicar General, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Taddeo Onoyima, my teacher, Very Rev. Msgr Barth Nnaji, Nna m ne Fada, and my other brother priests in Nsukka diocese for their love and friendship, especially, for their nearness to my family during the long years of my absence from home. The unity among the priests in Nsukka is the envy of some other dioceses in the country. As' n'eshi, s' s' n'ad'uso (if we are brothers, we should also be friends).

Most of my life has been spent in the classroom - either as a pupil or as a teacher. I would like to express my deep gratitude to all my teachers - some of whom are here present - for all they have given me. Some of them saw me not where I was but where I could be. Through them I came to realize that if we take people as they are, we may actually make them worse; but if we take them as they could or should be, we could indeed help them become that. I am equally grateful to all my former students, scattered in all the continents of the world, for their love and challenging engagement. A few of them are here, from different parts of the country.

Special thanks are due to the high-powered delegation from the Pontifical Urbaniana University, Vatican City, led by the Rector Magnificus, Rev. Fr. Professor Alberto Trevisiol. The others in the delegation are the Vice Rector, Professor Lorella Congiunti, the Secretary General and Registrar, Rev. Father Roberto Cherubini and the Bursar, Very Rev. Msgr. Remigio Bellizio. More persons could have attended this ordination from Rome and from other European countries. But many were afraid. Security reports on Nigeria are indeed frightening.

These persons are here today because, blinded by love, they defied the warnings by their government against visiting Nigeria, North or South. They are aware of the risks they are taking. They lived with me the days of anguish during my own mother's five long days of captivity in the hands of kidnappers. It is difficult to know how best to show them appreciation. Through them I would also like to thank the large family of the Urbaniana and of Propagand Fide as well as the other organs of the Holy See through which I have had the opportunity to serve the Universal Church.

I came to know Cardinal Onaiyekan better and to appreciate him more deeply not in Nigeria, but in Rome. I have had the rare privilege of sitting with him and a few other Cardinals and Bishops (including the then Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis) in long meetings and working sessions at the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. I thank Cardinal Onaiyekan for who is and what he does for the Church and for accepting to be the principal Consecrator at my episcopal ordination ceremony.

To the other Consecrating Bishops - the President of the Nigerian Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Onitsha Archbishop Valerian Okeke, and all the others - I say a hearty thank you, not only for your presence and solidarity (some of you had to change their travel plans out of the country to be here today) but also for your sustained pastoral and missionary acitivities which have helped save the Nigerian nation from chaos and disintegration. Bishop John Okoye was my teacher and he has remained a close and trusted friend. Ifeanyi Nw'Okoye, the words of your sermon today sank in my heart like early morning dew into a thirsty soil.

Who says fierce rivals cannot be intimate friends? The Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua and Titular Archbishop of Acquaviva, Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu and I have managed to be both. Bishop Camillus Umoh of Ikot Ekpene - emedi-o! and with him, I also salute the rest of the 1984 graduating class of Bigard as well as all the other priests here present, religious Brothers and Sisters and Seminarians. A small but precious group of Nigerian friends have come from outside the country, especially from Rome and from the US. To all of you I say: "Alan-o!"

The excitement and the enthusiasm generated by this episcopal ordination have gone far beyond the wildest imagination of any of us. Everybody, from the hightest public office holders to the poor farmers and market women, everybody has been involved in some way. Indeed some have been asking: "Who is this man and what is so special about him?" But, verily verily I tell you, it is not about the man. It is not even about an episcpal ordination. It is about Jesus Christ. Everybody is excited because we know that Jesus is passing this way!

And we have all come to meet him and to be touched by him - Volumus Iesum videre.This is a moment of grace for all of us and my prayer is that none of us may leave here the way he or she came, but rather that we be filled with the Spirit of God and the determination to live more coherent Christian lives. In the gospels, people always rushed every time they knew Jesus was passing by: some out of curiosity, some in search of a free meal, some in search of a miracle and some out of intrigue - to lay a snare for him. A few, however, rushed because they wanted a closer encounter with him. Such people ofted did extraordinary things. Zacchaeus, the high-profile public office holder climbed a sycamore tree (Lk 19: 1-10).

One woman of low repute came with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil (Mtt 26: 6-13; Jn 12: 1-8). Those who thought they knew better than Jesus grumbled and felt that Jesus ought not to have allowed those things from those persons in those circumstances. But these encounters transformed those persons completely and enshrined their names in the book of life. I am grateful to all the State Governors, Local Government Chairmen, the Police and the other organs responsinle for security and order as well as all the other high-ranking government officials and political heavy-weights who, through their generous gifts, services and presence here today, have shown their solidarity with the People of God in Nsukka.

I would want to see your gifts and your presence as part of your desire to uplift the people you are called to serve. Besides, each of us sometimes needs his or her own sychamore tree (like Zacchaeus) or alabaster jar of precious ointment (like the woman who annointed Jesus's feet) which will bring him or her closer to Jesus. Those of us watching from afar may not always be able to assess your inner struggles and your honest efforts, especially as Christians, to discharge your duties according to the principles of the Gospel. But always bear in mind that the best and greatest gift you can ever give to the People of God is GOOD GOVERNANCE.

The Ordination Committee planned big and very worked hard. Above all, its members worked in harmony and with prayer. I thank the Coordinator Rev. Fr. Charles Ushi, the Chairman, Chief Nnia Nwodo, and all the other members. You set very high targets, which at the beginning may have appeared to many as unrealizeable. You may not have got where you intended to get; but perhaps nobody even thought you would get as far as you have got. The much you were able to achieve within such an incredibly short time and in our peculiar circumstances can only be regarded as a miracle, wich was made possible by the willingness of many to be instruments in God's hands.

Priority must be given to the building of the Church made up human hearts converted to God in Jesus Christ. Once that Church stands, the Church of bricks and steel will rise of its own accord. And even if it does not rise we would still be fulfilled worshipping God in spirit and in truth. On the contrary, without conversion our church buildings and other structures would only be monuments of our self-adulation.

I sincerely thank the Vice Chancerllor, UNN, Prof. Bartho Okolo and his team for having thrown open to us the beautiful facilities of the University's guest houses. Others, too numerous to name here, also deserve our heart-felt thanks, including the Choirs, the Altar Servers, all those responsible for the arrangement of things and decorations in the Cathedral, members of the press, those who provided the public address system.

Ob't' gbatagb'r' ob't' gbalag'de, mba tokwur'onye otr'r', on'n' nokwur' onye on'r', ok gbar'agada yige onye eshi (after neighbours and sympathizers must have gone, the individual subject of a personal tragedy will have to live with the reality in his solitude). But nobody here should regard himself or herself as a neighbour or an outsider who came only to sympathize. You are all hiers and members of the Family of God. Do not abandon Nsukka Diocese for me. I am the Bishop, not the Church of Nsukka. We - YOU AND I - are the Church: the Bishop, the Priests and the faithful, with Christ as the head, together make up the Church. La nostra festa non deve finire e mai finirà, perché la festa siamo noi (our feast should not end and it will never end because we ourselves are the feast).

In all these 25 years of living and working in Rome, I have learnt one major lesson: it was not simply the Greek and Roman cultures, as rich as they were, that made Europe what it is today, but Christianity. Whereas it is true that European cultures have shaped and reshaped the Gospel message over the years, it is equally or perhaps even more true that the Gospel message transformed European cultures completely. The Rome of the Emperors lies in ruins and not many people even know or, if they know, remeber, that Rome was for some time ruled by Kings. But the Rome of the Popes is still flourishing as the Eternal City!

In this regard, one should look beyond the structures and even the institutions and get to the values, those core Christian values that the Europeans have been able to appropriate as cultural values, even to the point of enshrining some of them in their laws. When the Germanic peoples encountered the civilization of the Roman Empire, they were regarded by the Romans as Barbarians, because of their violence and their belligerent attitude. An encounter with the message of Christ brought out the best in their cultures.

In fact, Europe began its downward tumble about three hundred years ago, when some of their intellecuals thought Europe would be better off without its Christian heritage. Nwa nza rijuo eho, o whuyin' chi ye ote. Rose Mary Chukwu in one of her famous songs, while flipping through the pages of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, recounted a number incidents in which God acted miraculously in the lives of persons who trusted in him. In conclusion, she reassured her listeners: "He has done it before; he will do it again."

In a similar way, thinking of what the Gospel of Christ has done for the Europeans I would say: "If he has done it for them, he will do it for us." If we let him. I therefore invite all of us to have the courage to allow ourselves and our culture to be touched and transformed by Christ's message of love, in order to bring out the best in us, and so that we could appropriate the values of the Gospel as our cultural values and also present some of our values as universal values through Christianity.

A Request to the Youths of Nsukka: On this day that is very special to me and, I believe, also to all of you, my dear brothers and sisters, I have a special request to make. And it is directed to Nsukka youths. My dear young people of Nsukka, I am begging you, as your father, to please stop terrorizing your fellow victims of misrule. There was a time when one coming home to any part of Nsukka felt safe.

In recent times, however, Nsukka has become the scene of some of the most horrible crimes and even the remotest village in the Nsukka area is no longer home. Some of the young men and women responsible for these crimes are sometimes only willing instruments in the hands of some callous but cowardly older persons who have hijacked the present life of young people and also want to mortgage their future. Please, my dear young people, take back your destiny and shape it yourselves with God as guide.

Say "no" to all forms of manipulation by greedy older persons who want to destroy your lives and our proverbial peaceful environment. Some other young people claim that they are driven to crime because they have no jobs. Tei! O d'kwag'n'oyi! Na dat old woman or old man wey you dey harrass for village, na him or him pikin wey dey suffer-suffer for Abuja, Lagos or Obodo-Oyibo, suppose give you job? You no know who suppose give you job? Fowl - okuko - wey go leave the knife wey kill am go dey bend neck for inside soup pot.

Even if there are no jobs, there is a lot of work in this country. So, please, my dear young people, I want you to know that there are alternatives to crime and violence as responses to the difficult situation in which we all find ourselves today. Let us together work out these alternatives.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, the world expects so much from Nigeria. The Universal Church is looking up to the Church in Nigeria. Time has come for all of us to allow God to use us as the Angels who will roll back the stones that have been placed over the tombs of God's children buried alive in Nigeria, so that we can rise and proclaim his wonders to the whole world!

Dar'n-o! Unu emeen-o! And may God bless you all.


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