Ahiara, Nigeria. The episcopal ordination of Msgr. Simeon Nwobi, CMF, brought new life to the church in Ahiara. It was a historic event, marking the first time in the land’s history that an episcopal ordination occurred. The ordination occurred on 19th December 2023, following a series of events. On 17th December 2023, Msgr. Nwobi arrived in Ahiara, escorted by the Claretian Missionaries, his confreres, who officially handed him over to the people of Ahiara Diocese. This was done by the Provincial Superior of the Claretian Missionaries of East Nigeria Province, Rev. Fr. Nathaniel Eke, CMF, who spoke on behalf of the Claretian Congregation. The people of Ahiara joyfully received the bishop and welcomed him by kissing the land of Ahiara, a gesture of good wishes for peace, unity, strength, and progress for the land and its people. The bishop then went to the Maria, Mater Ecclesia Cathedral Ahiara Mbaise for benediction, after which the traditional rulers welcomed him.
The episcopal ordination was held on December 19th with a procession that started at 9:30 am. Two cardinals, four archbishops, over 30 bishops, and approximately 402 priests attended the event. Archbishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) and the Archbishop of Owerri, was the Principal Consecrator and chief celebrant. Bishop Wilfred Anagbe, CMF, of Makurdi Diocese, and Bishop Augustine Ukwuoma of Orlu Diocese served as co-consecrators.
During his homily, Bishop Augustine Ndubueze Echema of Aba Diocese welcomed all priests, bishops, and consecrated persons who were present. He mentioned that the Ahiara Diocese had been without a Bishop for 13 years, but now there is good news for the people of Ahiara with the episcopal appointment. The Bishop stated that the new Bishop’s mission is to secure liberty for thousands of God’s people under his pastoral care. He also emphasized the need for the Bishops to become the voice of the voiceless and for the new Bishop to give constant attention to the country’s socio-political situation and not remain indifferent. The Bishop reminded the Priests of Ahiara Diocese that they now have a Bishop, and therefore, they should give unconditional obedience to him and show total loyalty and respect to his office. He concluded by saying that the diocese is in safe hands.
Following the sermon, the episcopal ordination ceremony was performed with all its distinctive elements.
After the post-communion prayer, the Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) took the floor to acknowledge all present and invited the chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria. The chairman welcomed the newly ordained bishop into the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria and gave some words of appreciation. Archbishop Ujorji announced that history had been made in the diocese of Ahiara as the ordination of Msgr. Nwobi, CMF, was the very first episcopal ordination held on Ahiara soil. The pioneer bishop of Ahiara diocese, Bishop Victor Chikwe, was ordained in Rome, which made this event a historic day for the entire diocese of Ahiara. He thanked Pope Francis for his paternal solitude towards the pastoral needs of the church in Ahiara, demonstrated by giving them an auxiliary bishop. Archbishop Ujorji recalled that during the turbulent succession crisis, His Holiness sent the Ghanaian-born Peter Appiah Cardinal Turkson twice to the Ahiara Diocese on a peace mission and pardoned all responsible for the crisis. He also expressed gratitude towards Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Prefect of the Dicastery, the immediate past Apostolic Nuncio, Most Rev. Antonio Filipazi, and others for their relentless efforts in facilitating this appointment.
Archbishop Lucius expressed gratitude to the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria for their caring and supportive attitude towards the welfare of the Church in Ahiara Diocese. He also appreciated their efforts in resolving the crisis by engaging in lengthy discussions during the plenary sessions. He urged the clergy and consecrated persons of Ahiara to let go of past grievances and work towards unity, love, understanding, trust, and cooperation. Likewise, he strongly condemned nepotism, particularly at the federal level. He referred to the words of Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti and the African Synod Fathers in emphasizing the need for mutual love, understanding, trust, and cooperation.
“The church must stand up to counter this disease of the secular society and live to its true nature as a church to show the oneness of God’s family. There is neither Jew nor gentile. If there is any form of nepotism or discrimination within our ecclesial communities, we shall be grossly failing as a church with a mission to unite all nations, and so must shun clannishness and nepotism in our church and nation.”
In conclusion, he welcomed the Anglican bishop present and all from other ecclesial families, thanked all present, and wished them journey mercies.
Fr. Henry Omonisaye, CMF, who serves as the Vicar General of the Claretian Missionaries, conveyed the message of congratulations on behalf of the entire Congregation. He passed on the Superior General’s wishes to the newly ordained. He prayed for the Lord’s blessings to shower upon him, granting him wisdom and grace to fulfill the responsibilities given to him. Fr. Henry encouraged him to work together in communion with the Holy Father, the Diocese of Ahiara, and the people and to renew their spirit of unity. By being rooted in Christ, the diocese will reap the fruit of an audacious mission radiating the joy of the gospel. Fr. Henry commended the newly ordained to the heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary and gave him the model of St. Anthony Mary Claret, the Father Founder of the Claretian Missionaries, who was a bishop sent to the Canary Islands to guide him in his work.
During the event, the governor of Imo State was represented by his deputy, Prof. Placid Njoku. He addressed the people and expressed his gratitude to the Pope for his patience, which was tested to the limits. He also thanked the CBCN for their prayerful approach towards resolving the Ahiara crisis. Likewise, he acknowledged the people of Ahiara for their resilience and patience, which he believed helped to resolve the problem with God’s intervention.
During his words of appreciation following the conclusion of the speeches, Msgr. Simeon Nwobi, CMF, expressed his gratitude to those who had traveled far and wide to attend the occasion. His speech emphasized the power of prayer, patience, hope, and trust. Additionally, he acknowledged the past governor of Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha. He expressed his appreciation for the Mbaise Nation and all the organizations and sodalities that helped make the event possible. A moment of silence was observed to honor the late pioneer bishop of Ahiara, the Late Most Rev. Victor Chikwe. Msgr. Nwobi also expressed his gratitude to the past and present Nuncios, the Major Superiors of the different religious congregations in Nigeria, and the Apostolic Nuncio to Sri Lanka, Most Rev. Brian Okoroig, who was also in attendance. He solicited their support and guidance to help him be a good bishop, a holy bishop, and a bishop after the heart of Jesus.
In conclusion, he said he is grateful to the Holy Father for sending him to the people of Ahiara, and without any reservation, he said to the Apostolic Administrator,
“Here I am, I am ready to serve.”
After the Mass, a reception was held for the guests at the cathedral premises. Various groups from the diocese displayed colorful exhibits to commemorate the day’s celebration. The event was graced by the Provincial Superior of the Claretian Missionaries of East Nigeria Province, Fr. Nathaniel Eke, CMF, and the Major Superior of West Nigeria Independent Delegation, Fr. Augustine Medaiyedu, CMF. Governors, representatives, as well as traditional rulers from within and outside Imo State were also present at the occasion.