The Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph, Ekwulobia diocese, was agog with festivities on Saturday, March 6, 2021 as the diocese rolled out drums in thanksgiving to God on the first anniversary of its creation by Pope Francis last year. The colorful celebration commenced with the Holy Mass at which the Papal Nuncio was the Chief Celebrant and the preacher, with the diocesan Bishop, Most Rev. Peter Okpaleke, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishops Augustine Akubeze, Valerian Okeke, Matthew Ndangoso, and 21 other Bishops, priests, religious and a good representation of the laity in attendance. At the beginning of the homily, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, delivered the paternal greetings from the Holy Father, Pope Francis, who also congratulated the first Bishop of Ekwulobia diocese and “the priests, the men and women religious, the seminarians, the families and all the faithful of the Diocese” on the solemn occasion.
While acknowledging that the creation of the new diocese was necessitated as a result of “the remarkable numerical growth of Awka” diocese, the Pope’s envoy to Nigeria nevertheless also noted that “we cannot remain silent about another fact, a non-positive fact that preceded the appointment of the first Bishop of Ekwulobia. I recall it not to recriminate and make polemics, but as a warning.” “What has happened alerts us to certain dangers that threaten the life and mission of the Church,” he reinforced. Taking a swipe on the negative effect of tribalism in the Church, the prelate admonished that “tribalism makes those who call themselves Christians forget that Jesus Christ has made us all brothers and sisters in His blood and in the sacrament of Baptism”. In view of this human limitation, Archbishop Filipazzi proposed for “the Church and every Christian”, St. Joseph, whom he said “was in his time the legitimate and natural guardian, head and defender of the divine Family” as a model from whom they “must learn to collaborate with obedient faith in the work of salvation and to do so with the same fidelity, humility, silence and purity of heart that St. Joseph had”.
Furthermore, the Nuncio reminded the people of God that while giving thanks and making merry on the first anniversary of their diocese, they must not forget that the history of their diocese has only just begun, and therefore, rather than looking at the past, they must look ahead to the mission that awaits them and plan the way to carry it out. Alluding to the passage of the gospel reading at Mass, the Archbishop, relying on the commentary by R. Cantalamessa, likened Christians to the tenants in the parable to whom the master entrusted his vineyard while expecting the fruits in due season; but he warned that “God will no longer reject the vineyard that is the Church, because the Church is the Body of Christ. But if the vine is sure of the Father’s love, not so are the individual branches, … (that is) individual members of the Church, or entire groups of her. If they do not bear fruit, they can be cut off and thrown away”.
The word of God therefore, says the preacher, calls everyone “as individuals and as a Diocese, to be first and foremost grafted into Him, remembering Jesus’ word: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit… Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither” “(John 15, 5-6). In conclusion, the homilist warned that Christians must beware of the danger of being Christians and of being Christian communities only in words and in appearance because “He is not saved, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity.” Though such person may remain in the bosom of the Church, it is only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart”. “We must always remember that the mission of the Church is to offer the word of God, the sacraments and the guidance of the shepherds, so that everything we think, say and do is enlightened, guided and sustained by this communion with the Lord.”