Following Pastor for the Past Ten Years

Following Pastor for the Past Ten Years

My first encounter with Nnaanyi Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike Onah was in 1984. He first introduced himself to me through the Ahuja loudspeakers blaring from strategic places of the Primary School, which served as the Church for St. Mary’s Catholic Station Imilike Ani. I was one tiny dot in the mammoth congregation that attended the first mass of Nwa Gab Onah, as the people from my area called his dad. The serenading voice, rendering the Igbo version of the 2nd Eucharistic prayer, never left my ears, mind, and heart. It left such a huge impression that I came home that evening and told my parents I wanted to be a priest. I was just in primary three. My parents welcomed my statement and dismissed it simultaneously as okwu nwatakiri. Well, the rest, as they say, is history.

The intention of this piece is not an adulation of the priest whose sonorous voice awakened my vocation to the priesthood (Fr. Gilbert Ezeugwu told me he got inspired to be a priest from that same first mass). Nevertheless, if I praise him, I am entitled to it. Father Bishop has influenced me in many ways from my childhood and seminary years, and as a priest, I worked as his personal secretary for two years. Hence, if anyone has the bragging rights to shower encomiums on this illustrious Man of the Church, I count as one. However, this piece is only a minute perspective of the cynosure who has led the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka for the past ten years.

There is a plethora of amazing things that one can say about Father Bishop. For many, it is his brilliance, charity, gait, intelligence, kindness, handsomeness, holiness, humility, youth, wisdom, and wit. Expanding his scores in each of these aspects could form books. I believe every faithful in the diocese, and more outside the diocese has something noble to say about him. How one person embodies all these sterling personal qualities is a marvel. Yet, that is what Bishop Onah has meticulously encapsulated, and God has blessed us with him as our father, teacher, and shepherd for the past ten years.

I was busy with organizing on the day of his episcopal ordination, so I hardly participated in the ordination mass. However, I was lucky to run into the cathedral during his appreciation speech and address to the people of Nsukka as their new Bishop. I remember very clearly during that speech while enunciating his motto, Volumus Iesum Videre (We want to see Jesus – Jn. 12:21), Father Bishop pointed out that building the hearts of the people of God is more important than any Cathedral edifice. He said this under the roof of a Cathedral that had taken over two decades, and Nsukka Diocese was yet to finish it. In some quarters, there was a silent uproar that he may not be interested in completing the cathedral.

He got wind of these side talks, but on many fora, immediately after his ordination, he doubled down on his position that building the hearts of the people was his most important mission. His logic is that once the light of Christ illumines the people, they will build the cathedral. Well, well, well. Nsukka diocese dedicated the biggest, most expensive, and most beautiful Cathedral in Nigeria on November 19, 2020, barely seven years into his episcopacy! The most exciting part is that about 95% of the funding for the project came from within the diocese. He took seven years of dedication to pastoral work and catechesis, and the people built their cathedral.

One of the developmental challenges in Africa is finding a balance between the burgeoning youth population and those in leadership. By the time Father Bishop ascended to the episcopacy of the diocese, he had set his eyes on conquering this friction by creating youth spaces and opportunities to understand their part and role in the Church. The annual get-together with youths has continued to be exclusive moments where the youth interact with the Bishop, and he feels the pulse of the future of Nsukka. To buttress his interest in the youths, he has established the St. Joseph Youth Center, where they can learn a trade and be valuable citizens. His zeal for the youths, and youth at heart, took a global expansion with his resounding presence on social media. His inspiring, filling, and impactful homilies trend on most social media platforms, reaching many parts of the world and touching souls that would rather not enter a church building. The Pastor keeps leading the way for those who want to see Jesus.

Aside from shepherdship, Father Bishop has provided for the diocese in the past ten years; his leadership in Igbo Nsukka is another milestone. In Bishop Onah Igbo Nsukka, indigenes, irrespective of creed and politics, have found their pride and a uniting hinge. His wisdom in the language, folklore, and traditions of the people endears him to all. Thus, he has found a pathway of using dialogue to win or whittle many of the thorny frictions between Christians and traditional worshipers, land cases, and other challenges the diocese had previously faced. In the past ten years, as the Bible says, “mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed” (Ps. 85:10).

Nsukka Diocese has been a blessed diocese. Many of us were born into Enugu Diocese under our son Late Bishop Michael Eneja. The stony, rugged, and untilled pastoral field of the diocese was prepared, tilled, manured, and planted by Bishop Francis Okobo. Under Bishop Igwbuike Onah, in the last ten years, the diocese has witnessed unprecedented prosperity in the number of sacraments administered, priests ordained, parishes created, and Churches dedicated. We are indeed a blessed people.

As I end this piece, my mind returns to the first Youth Day with Father Bishop in January 2017. I picture him standing by the altar of the cathedral. The youths chanted back his motto – “We want to see Jesus,” and he replied, “I am here to lead you to Jesus.” For ten years, we have been following Pastor (his nickname) as he leads the faithful in Nsukka to greener pastures in our encounter with the Chief Pastor, Jesus Christ.

Jim Rohn once said that “the challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, and not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” We have seen a leader who beat these challenges in Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike Onah for ten years, and we are glad.

Congratulations and Happy Anniversary, Father Bishop. Long live the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka.


By Fr. Ernest Makata