- Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke from Anambra state has been in a long-standing battle with Catholic faithful in Ahiara, Imo state
- As the crisis continues to linger, Pope Francis has reportedly met with a delegation of top Catholic priests in Nigeria
Pope Francis has reportedly intervened in an ethnic crisis involving Ahiara, a Nigerian town in Imo state whose bishop, Peter Ebere Okpaleke, appointed by Benedict XVI in 2012, has been rejected.
Bishop Okpaleke was rejected lay people and priests of the diocese.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that though Okpaleke is an Igbo from Anambra state, the Catholic leaders in Ahiara rejected him because he is not from Mbaise.
Legit.ng learnt that the Vatican Insider said the pope has received a delegation from the Diocese of Ahiara, accompanied by archbishop of Abuja and apostolic administrator of Ahiara, Cardinal John O Onaiyekan.
At the meeting were the metropolitan archbishop of Owerri, Monsignor Anthony Obinna, archbishop of Jos and president of the Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Monsignor Ignatius Kaigama and the Bishop of Ahiara, Bishop Okpaleke.
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The report added that Priests Clement O Ebii, Jude N Uwalaka, Uhuegbu Innocent Olekamma, Sister Bernadette O Ezeyi and Stanley Pius Iwu, chief of the staff were also part of the delegation.
After a pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and a visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the Nigerian delegation attended the pope’s private mass celebration, the report said.
The delegation had previously met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, prefect of the congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Fernando Filoni, and the superiors of the same dicastery, with whom the Church’s situation in Ahiara was widely examined.
Pope Francis spoke of the inadmissibility of the situation in Ahiara and reserved to take the appropriate measures.
He said he was entrusting the diocese of Ahiara to the motherly care of Mary.
The report said it was Benedict XVI who appointed Monsignor Okpaleke in 2012, only to meet a storm of opposition by the leaders and congregation.
He was not even allowed to hold mass in the church.
"His predecessor, late Victor Adibe Chikwe, came from Mbaise and was accepted by the worshippers, because he was son of the soil.
"Pope Francis appointed John O Onaiyekan apostolic administrator since July 2013. But the crisis has lingered.
"Since Okpaleke’s appointment in 2012, the priests and Catholic faithful from Mbaise had insisted they wanted a Bishop of Mbaise extraction," the report said.
Okpaleke was however ordained a bishop on May 21, 2013 in Owerri, the mother Diocese to Ahiara diocese.
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His ordination was graced by the cream of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, including Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Jos and president Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN); Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop of Owerri and Metropolitan of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, His Grace, Archbishop Anthony J.V. Obinna and the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, His Grace, Archbishop Augustine Kasuija.
In a post-ordination speech, Okpaleke said: “My ordination is a celebration of my marriage to the Church of God in Ahiara.
"Just like wives married into families, I have left my people and have become 'onye' (member of) Ahiara Diocese.
"I remember a piece of music by monks of Western Priory in the State of Vermont USA, which I love so much.
"The monks set into song Ruth’s response to Naomi: “wherever you go, I shall go, wherever you live I shall live.
"You people will be my people and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I shall die and there I shall be buried.”
Legit.ng had recently reported that the US President Donald Trump and Pope Francis met on Wednesday in the Vatican City during Trump’s 1st foreign presidential trip.
The president, who was accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, was warmly welcomed at the Pope’s palace where they held a private meeting before he emerged to talk to the press.
“It is such an honour…It was a great honour. Thank you very much,” President Trump could be heard saying as he exchanged firm handshake with the jovial-looking Pope and as they posed for photos.
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