The latest Catholic bishop from our West African subregion (RECOWA-CERAO to be precise has made a solemn declaration at his episcopal consecration when he said, “I stand before you today not as a man elevated, but as a servant”.  The Lagos, Nigeria-based Correspondent of RECOWACERA NEWS AGENCY, RECONA has reported that Bishop Simeon Okezuo Nwobi, the newly installed Local Ordinary of Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Ahiara, has called upon the people of God to consider him their servant.

“I stand before you today not as a man elevated, but as a servant entrusted with a sacred duty to uphold the deposit of faith, to shepherd God’s flock, and to act as a beacon of hope in the world’s darkness,” Bishop Nwobi said in his address following his installation on Thursday, June 20 at Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral of Ahiara Diocese.

He emphasized the need for collaboration between members of the Clergy, women and men Religious, and the Laity in his Episcopal See, and added, “The office of a Bishop is more than administrative. It’s a call to emulate Christ; it’s a call to be a good shepherd, shepherding his people with compassion and with steadfastness.”

“The role of a Bishop is pivotal. It is deeply embedded in our tradition; a tradition that can be traced back to Apostolic succession and is attested to by the early Church Fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch, who in his letter to Magnesium urge respect and obedience to the bishop as we would to God himself,” the Nigerian Catholic Bishop who was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Ahiara Diocese in October 2023 said.

He continued, “It is upon these foundational stones that I hope to build my service to you all. As a Bishop, I’m acutely aware of the complex and evolving challenges faced by our Diocese.”

It will be recalled that Ahiara Diocese was under the temporary leadership of Archbishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji of Nigeria’s Owerri Archdiocese as Apostolic Administrator since February 2018 following the resignation of Bishop Peter Okpaleke, now Cardinal.

The December 2012 Episcopal appointment of then Bishop-elect Okpaleke was rejected by a section of the Clergy and Laity of the Nigerian Diocese, who claimed that he, a member of the Clergy of Nigeria’s Awka Diocese, comes from outside the dominant ethnic group of Ahiara Diocese, the Mbaise.

Those who protested the Papal appointment argued that members of the Clergy of Ahiara Diocese were under-represented in the Catholic Church hierarchy in Africa’s most populous nation.

The Bishop-elect was impeded from setting foot in the territory covered by Ahiara Diocese; and his May 2013 Episcopal Ordination took place outside Ahiara Diocese, in Nigeria’s Owerri Archdiocese.

As Bishop, he was not allowed to access Ahiara Diocese, even after Pope Francis, in July 2017, directed all members of the Clergy of the Nigerian Episcopal See to pledge fidelity to him in writing and to express their acceptance of the appointment of then Bishop Okpaleke as their Shepherd.

Having failed to exercise his Episcopal Ministry in the Nigerian Diocese, Bishop Okpaleke made known to Pope Francis his decision to resign in writing. On 19 February 2018, the Holy Father accepted Bishop Okpaleke’s resignation and “relieved him of the pastoral care of the Diocese of Ahiara”. He was later appointed pioneer Bishop of Nigeria’s Ekwulobia Diocese, which had been erected on 5 March 2020.

In his June 20 address, Bishop Nwobi recalled the past challenges, saying, “The bishopric crisis has rocked our foundation and the trust of many in the institution of the Priesthood. It is a heartbreaking chapter in our history and as a Bishop and as your Bishop, I wish to appeal that we look to the future with hope.”

“How heartening it is to learn of the steps already taken by some Priests and lay faithful of this Diocese to foster unity, peace, and reconciliation. Given that to err is human and to forgive is divine, I earnestly plead with all who have suffered personal hurt, humiliation, and exclusion to forgive from the depths of their hearts and let those who offended them find their place once more in their hearts,” the member of the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Claretians) said.

He continued, “Mutual suspicion and distrust should now give way to mutual love and understanding. All should unite in hearts and minds forgetting those things; all should therefore bury the raw and painful memories of the past. Indeed, Ahiara has risen from the ruins; Ahiara will be great again.”

“It is our collective responsibility to bear witness to the truth of the gospel, to live out the tenets in our service to others, especially to the poor, the marginalized, and the downtrodden,” Bishop Nwobi further said, and added, “Today, my dear people of God mark not just the inauguration of my service as your Bishop, but also the beginning of a collective journey of rejuvenation, spiritual resurgence in our Diocese.”

We, the 64-year-old Catholic Bishop went on to say, “have been called to rebuild, to reinvigorate, and to rekindle the light of faith in the heart of our community in Ahiara Diocese.”

“It is incumbent upon us to reaffirm the public virtue of faith. We are called to the beacons of hope, exemplifying Christ’s love through our ministry and evangelization,” Bishop Nwobi said.

He said Ahiara Diocese is ready to “partner with government, corporate and religious bodies. NGO’s, individuals in realizing its mission of bringing hope to the people.”

Born in March 1960, the native of Nigeria’s Ahiara Diocese was ordained a Claretian Priest in July 1990.

In his homily during the June 20 installation celebration, Bishop Augustine Ndubueze Echema of the Catholic Diocese of Aba cautioned Bishop Nwobi against fear “for God is with you” in this mission.

“My dear Bishop, you are being empowered today. Do not be afraid to preach the good news. Our people are tough, but you have the mandate, the grace of office, and above all, the church’s support,” Bishop Echema said, and added, “Your success will depend on how you carry everybody along.”

The Nigerian Catholic Bishop encouraged the newly installed Bishop to foster reconciliation among Priests following the “deep wound and the sharp divide that the episcopal crisis inflicted on the once beautiful, peaceful, and united presbyterium.”

To the faithful, Bishop Echema said, “You possess a strong and dynamic faith that is admired worldwide. Do not allow anybody, Priests or lay to deceive you. I encourage you to support your Bishop with your prayers and materially too.”

The Catholic Diocese of Ahiara measures 425 Square Kilometers with 453,005 Catholics according to 2022 statistics.

Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu