The stone rejected by the builders has eventually become the Pillar of the larger house. This saying constitutes the winding episcopal story of the youngest Cardinal in our West African subregion the African continent. There may not be enough space in this journal to narrate his miraculous episcopal story but in him we witnessed God’s saving miracle. In him, it was evidently made clear to the Church in Nigeria that God can always write straight on a crooked line. Celebrating his two in office as a cardinal he echoes in an admixture of joy and despair, “I reflected on my unworthiness”.  

Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke, named alongside 20 others as Cardinal-designate during the 27 August 2022 Consistory, recalled his reaction upon receiving the news, saying that he considered himself unworthy.

In an interview with Vatican News, Cardinal Okpaleke who was named alongside the late Richard Kuuia Cardinal Baawobr from Africa said that he first dismissed news of his elevation as a joke

The Local Ordinary of Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia said the news reached him after presiding over a Eucharistic celebration at Patrick’s Parish, Nawfija of his Episcopal See where he had just confirmed 138 candidates.

“I was unvesting when my secretary ran to the table where I was and suddenly said, ‘Good day, Your Eminence’. I thought he was joking. Another priest came in and repeated such. I asked them what was happening. I thought they were joking,” he said.

The pioneer Local Ordinary of Nigeria’s Ekwulobia Diocese which was erected on 5 March 2020 added, “The long and short of it, from there, the news filtered in and well, first of all, I considered my unworthiness, my shortcomings.”

“But in the long run, I said by the grace of God, if it has pleased the Holy Spirit working in the Church counting on the words of Romans 8:28 that in everything God works for good with those who love him. So, that was my initial reaction,” Cardinal Okpaleke said.

The 59-year-old Nigerian Bishop was appointed the Local Ordinary of Ahiara Diocese in December 2012. His appointment was rejected by a section of Clergy and Laity of the Nigerian Diocese.

The rejection of the Clergy of Nigeria’s Awka Diocese was based on the claim that the Episcopal candidate comes from outside the dominant ethnic group of the Ahiara Diocese, the Mbaise, and that Priests of the Diocese feel under-represented in the Catholic Church hierarchy in the West African nation.

He was impeded from setting foot in the territory covered by the Ahiara Diocese and many Church activities were halted including the ordination of candidates to Diaconate.

The May 2013 Episcopal Ordination of Bishop Okpaleke took place outside Ahiara Diocese, at Seat of Wisdom Seminary, Ulakwo, in Nigeria’s Owerri Archdiocese.

The rejection persisted even after the Nigerian Bishop’s Consecration. In July 2017, Pope Francis directed all members of the Clergy of the Ahiara Diocese to pledge fidelity to him in writing and to express their acceptance of the appointment of 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.

In his letter of resignation, the Nigerian Bishop made reference to the sustained opposition to his appointment saying, “The situation in Ahiara Diocese to the best of my knowledge has not improved. Most importantly, this has been threatening my spiritual life.”

“I am convinced, in conscience that my remaining the Bishop of Ahiara is no longer beneficial to the Church,” Bishop Okpaleke stated in the 14 February 2018 letter he addressed to Pope Francis.