«Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch» (Lk 5: 4)

My dear Brothers in the Priesthood,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

At the beginning of my ministry as the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka, I reopened the discussion on the more convenient period of the year to do the annual postings of the major Church personnel in the Diocese. We soon found out that each of the possible periods for the exercise had its advantages and disadvantages. At last, after due consultation, reflection and prayers, I have decided, for some pastoral and practical reasons, to return to the August/September period, which was for us in the past the usual period for postings.

I am aware that this period too has its disadvantages and may cause some inconvenience. Nevertheless, I believe that the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages. I thank all of you for your honest contributions during the discussion and plead with everybody to make the necessary adjustments for a smooth transition. I am particularly grateful to the newly ordained priests, who have had to patiently wait for their first assignments long after the end of their usual one month post-ordination vacation.

This year has been a year rich in God's blessings for us in Nsukka Diocese. The colourful celebration of the grand finale of our Triple Jubilee was a special event that we shall all cherish for still a long time to come. Our gratitude and joy during that celebration are not meant to be momentary sentiments but rather are supposed to flow constantly and water our spirituality as individuals and as a group, so that it may grow into maturity as we courageously profess our faith in the gospel of God's love.

By divine Providence we celebrated our Triple Jubilee during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Within this year, we have all experienced God's love and mercy in many concrete ways. Emboldened and sustained by the assurance of God's abiding presence among us, we can now, as the fishers of men that we are, cast our nets into the deep sea of the Nsukka cultural zone to catch hearts for Christ.

At the end of the Great Jubilee 2000, Pope St John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter, which could be regarded as his proposed programme for Christians in the new millennium. Using Jesus' exhortation to Peter, «put out into the deep» for a catch (Duc in altum!) as point of departure, the Holy Father urged all Christians to start afresh from Christ and face the challenges of witnessing to God's love in the complex world in which we live today.

He writes: «Duc in altum! These words ring out for us today, and invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence.. Now is the time for each local Church to assess its fervour and find fresh enthusiasm for its spiritual and pastoral responsibilities, by reflecting on what the Spirit has been saying to the People of God» (John Paul II, Novo millennio ineunte, 1 & 3).

In a similar way, at the end of our Jubilee celebrations, I urge the Priests, the Religious men and women and the rest of the Lay Faithful in Nsukka Diocese to heed our Lord's exhortation and courageously launch out into the deep waters for a catch. I invite all, especially the Priests, to move out a little from the familiar comfort zone and get into the more complex areas where our people are held captive by such evils as ignorance, poverty, fear, gullibility and syncretism.

Today, in addition to our usual pastoral challenges, we now also have to contend with such new ones as unprecedented economic hardship, a heightened sense of insecurity, an increase in crime wave and an ever growing number of predator prophets, pastors, visionaries and "men of God," all of whom are feeding fat on the lean resources of our psychologically traumatized faithful.

Now more than ever before, our people are «harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd» (Mt 9: 39). And, like Jesus, our hearts have to be moved to pity for them and we must begin to teach them (Mk 6:34).

I would here like to repeat the point I made in my message for our Triple Jubilee celebration: «Our culture presents a constant challenge to us as Catholics in Nsukka and we must face that challenge squarely... 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 strictly religious.

And even that which is cultural needs to be evangelized before our culture can become a vehicle of the gospel message.» We all know that when our cultural practice is contradictory to our Christian faith, majority of our Christians will choose the cultural practice, especially in such areas as funeral rites, sexual morality and marital fidelity, "ikpo arua/nna," the "slave and free-born" relationship, odo, omabe and akatakpa.

Besides being contrary to our Christian faith, such cultural practices keep our people perpetually in bondage and unable to realize their full potentials as free children of God. In addition, these practices make our Christians easy preys to dangerous "spiritualists" as well as self-appointed and self-seeking "men of God." We must therefore as a Church in Nsukka renew our commitment to and fervour in bringing the liberating message of the Good News of Christ to our people. For the Spirit of the Lord in us has anointed and sent us to bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, restore sight to the blind, set those in bondage free (cf. Is 61: 1-2; Lk 4: 18).

In this regard, special attention has to be paid to the preparation of candidates for the reception of the Sacraments, continuous faith formation through ongoing catechesis and well prepared homilies, pastoral vigilance and nearness to the people, especially at important and difficult moments in their lives. More and more of our families are under stress and many of them are already facing serious crisis.

There is an urgent need for pastors of souls to take the family apostolate proposed by the Church very seriously as well as provide counselling for the families in crisis. Let us all defend the sanctity of marriage - the permanent and exclusive union before God of one man and one woman that is open to procreation.

As the Jubilee Year of Mercy gradually draws to a close, we must keep alive its spirit and harvest its fruits. During this year the Holy Father Pope Francis taught us to pray thus: «Lord Jesus Christ... You are the visible face of the invisible Father, of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy: let the Church be your visible face in the world...

You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.» The symbolic closing of the Jubilee Doors of Mercy (which I hope every Catholic in Nsukka Diocese has had the opportunity of passing through) does not imply the closing of the merciful heart of God and those of his children.

Having been touched by his mercy, may we continue to show mercy to others. Furthermore, in the face of the increasing economic hardship in the country and in the spirit of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, may I repeat the directive I gave earlier this year that all Parishes and Chaplaincies who have not already done so are to work out an organized programme of assistance to the poor. I also invite all the Priests and pastoral agents to take a hard and critical look at the methods so far used in raising funds for the work of evangelization. I have a feeling that these methods are no longer adequate in our present circumstances.

With this posting I am creating 9 new Parishes and 1 Centre of Worship, thus bringing the total number of Parishes to 172. We give thanks to God for his love and blessings. It is hoped that the smaller sizes of Parishes will enhance the work of evangelization and increase pastoral efficiency. All the new Parishes are reminded of their moral responsibility to fulfil all their outstanding financial obligations to their former Parishes. The Diocesan Finance Administrator and the Deans are to ensure that this is done before the date on which these postings take effect.

All those who are leaving their present places of assignment to other places are, as usual, hereby reminded that comprehensive, clear and updated hand-over notes are a sign of respect for oneself and of the in-coming Parish Priest. These should include information on major pastoral challenges as well as the programmes put in place to respond to them, landed property with the accompanying documents.

We should do all we can to avoid accusations and counter-accusations arising from poorly prepared hand-over notes or even total lack of them. To this effect, some members of the Parish Council and the Parish Finance Council should be involved in the preparation and endorsement of the hand-over notes.

These postings take effect Wednesday 21 September 2016, Feast of St Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Once more, I thank you very sincerely for your fraternal solidarity and cooperation as I gladly impart on you my Episcopal blessing. May God keep you in his love.

Brotherly yours in the Lord,

+ Godfrey Igwebuike Onah
Bishop of Nsukka


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