Nigeria’s newest cardinal, Peter Cardinal Ebele Okpaleke has hailed the Ahiara Mbaise Catholic diocese Imo State, that rejected him as their Bishop about 10 years ago.
Okpalaeke was appointed Bishop of Ahiara Diocese in 2012 and consecrated in 2013.
But Okpalaeke was never installed in Ahiara Diocese, because the priests and laity of the Diocese rejected him for the singular reason that he was not of the Mbaise ethnic group or chosen from among the local priests.
For years, the Cathedral where the Bishop was to stay was shut down, as even priests engaged in unruly means to protest Okpalaeke’s appointment, prompting Pope Francis on 3rd July 2013, to appoint Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, as Apostolic Administrator.
On 14 February 2018, Okpaleke submitted his resignation to Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, and Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria and on 19 February 2018, Pope Francis accepted Okpaleke’s resignation.
On 5th of March 2020, the Pope appointed Okpaleke, bishop of the newly created Diocese of Ekwulobia and he was installed in that position on the 29th April.
Pope Francis on the 27th of August 2022, made Okpalaeke a Cardinal, assigning him to the rank of cardinal priest with the titular church of Ss. Martiri dell’Uganda a Poggio Ameno.
At a reception mass in his honour held at St Joseph’s Cathedral, Ekwulobia, in the Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State, Okpaleke stated his love for the Mbaise diocese.
Cardinal Okpaleke who acknowledged his indebtedness to God for allowing him to be made a Cardinal in the Catholic Church, said “The church in Ahiara Diocese remains very dear to me because I remain the second substantive Bishop of the Diocese”, thanking God that the Church is still alive.
He added, “Since the announcement in May 2022 by Pope Francis, I have come to realize the fulfillment of God’s words in Isaiah 55:9.
“The news broke out while I was on a pastoral visit at Nawfija, since then I have been in deep prayer to God, to enable me serve Him.
“I am confident that the Lord will not abandon me on the way.
“Some of you made a great sacrifice to travel to Rome to witness the creation on 27th August.
“I thank you for that huge sacrifice and solidarity in the Lord.
“Together in the service of the Lord, we can make a huge difference.”
The mass celebration was attended by a sea of Nigerians, including, the Anambra State Governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dr. Onyekachukwu Ibezim, Deputy Governor of Imo State, Placid Njoku, Senators, Archbishops, bishops, priests, catholic faithful.
Speaking, Soludo expressed optimism that something new will happen in Nigeria, describing the creation of Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke as a new dawn in the country.
He said because the creation of the Cardinal happened in a very unusual time, it is marvelous to behold, stressing that it would become a point of contact for something new to begin to happen in Nigeria.
“Two Cardinals in Africa and one of them from Nigeria. There must be something spiritual about it.
“I pray that this creation will become a point of contact that something new will happen in Nigeria- the new ideas and courage to know the right thing to be done in Nigeria, South East, and Anambra State,” he said.
Recalling the ordeals and travails of Cardinal Okpaleke and ascribing his present status to the grace of God, Soludo said, “We’ve come to celebrate the unusual grace of God.
“It is very historic and nothing else would have made this possible than the grace of God.
“Ekwulobia is the youngest of the whole Dioceses in Nigeria and now the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.
“It was made possible by only the grace of God who prepared him in this way, for there is a blessing in every challenge.”
Speaking on behalf of Catholic Bishops in the country, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Augustine Akabueze congratulated the new cardinal, reminding him that the elevation was a call to additional service in the Lord’s vineyard.
Akabueze said, “I implore God to bless you. Always say no to retaliation and exhibit a positive and forgiving attitude in this your new assignment.”
“I thank the Governor of Anambra State. May all your plans for Anambra State find fulfilment in God’s name.”