The centenary of the Church of Owerri in Nigeria.

The Ecclesiastical province of Owerri in Nigeria has been celebrating its centenary from the 4th to the 10th of November, 2012. It was an opportunity to remember the unparallel work of the Irish Spiritan missionaries in that region.

The first bishop of the diocese of Owerri was Mgr. Joseph Whelan, himself a Spiritan and Father Bede Ukwuije, the Assistant General was there to represent the Superior General who had been invited by the Archbishop of Owerri, Mgr. Anthony Obinna.

His Eminence Fernando Cardinal Filoni, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, represented Pope Benedict XVI. He arrived at Abuja on November 5th and was welcomed to the Apostolic Nunciature by Archbishop Augustine Kasujja, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria.

For a whole week, the Ecclesiastical Province of Owerri was the centre of attraction of the Catholic faith for the whole of Nigeria. There were many celebratory events. Friendly football matches were organised at the Assumpta Playing Ground. On November 5th, there were a series of games between different schools:  the Okigwe Diocesan Junior Seminary and the Ahiara Junior Seminary; the Umuahia Diocesan Girls’ School against the Orlu Diocesan Girls’ School and Christ the King College versus Holy Ghost College, Owerri. On November 6th, some charitable activities were organised to help the poor of different dioceses.

On the same day, Cardinal Filoni and Archbishop Kasujja arrived at Owerri and made a courtesy visit to Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha where they dined together.

On November 7th, Cardinal Filoni celebrated Mass with the children and young people of the Ecclesiastical Province of Obiri Odenigbo. In the afternoon, in the Cathedral of the Assumption, bishops, priests and religious shared their missionary experiences in Africa, Europe and America. It was a very enriching experience, presided over by the Nuncio in the presence of the representative of the Holy Father.

On November 8th, still in the hall of Assumpta cathedral, several invited guests took part in an international symposium on the theme:  “Evangelisation today and tomorrow, locally and globally”. The Archbishop of Abuja and metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Abuja, his Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, chaired the seven conferences of the Symposium. Cardinal Filoni was the first contributor. His exposé concerned Mission to the Gentiles and the New Evangelisation. He was followed by Mgr. Fortunatus Nwachukwu, the Director of Protocol at the Secretariat of State of the Vatican. He focused his talk on “Evangelisation today and tomorrow: the imperatives of Catholic Doctrine”. Fr. Innocent Osuagwu (the coordinator of the department of “Church and Society” of the Ecclesiastical Province of Owerri) and our confrere, Fr. Bede Ukwuige, Assistant General, both dealt with “the dynamics of relationship in evangelisation”.

The chairman himself spoke on “Evangelisation: locally and globally, the internal dimensions of the faith and its challenges”. The administrator of the diocese of Ahiara, Imo State, looked at the challenges that face the Ecclesiastical Province of Owerri. The Symposium came to an end with a contribution from our confrere, Paulinus Odozor of the Theological Department of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, in the United States. He spoke of The keys for the actualisation of Christian Morality.

November 9th was taken up by a cultural and festive celebration. There was a concert of religious music given by six choirs representing the six dioceses of the Ecclesiastical Province of Owerri.

The centenary celebration was blessed by the presence of many bishops, priests, religious, representatives of the civil and administrative authorities and lay people from throughout the country. The festivities came to an end with a Mass of thanksgiving on November 10th, celebrated and presided by Cardinal Filoni with a homily from Mgr. Gregory Ochiagha, the Bishop Emeritus of Orlu.

We congratulate Mgr. Anthony Obinna, Archbishop of Owerri, on the success of all these events and we pray for the whole Church in Nigeria.

By Gaston Temgoua.

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