The man beneath the skull cap

~~~Being A TEXT OF THE COMMENTARY on the Consecration & Installation of Most Rev. Dr. Peter Nworie Chukwu as the Catholic Bishop of Abakaliki Diocese

On Tuesday, July 6, 2021, the entire Catholic Community in Ebonyi State and beyond was thrown into wild jubilations as the news broke that the Holy See has elected Very Rev. Msgr. Dr. Peter Nworie Chukwu as the new Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki, a development that ended the 6-year long wait for a successor of Most Rev. Dr. Michael Nnachi Okoro who in 2015 tendered a resignation on attaining the canonical age of 75 years.  

The wisdom of the Holy Father, Pope Francis in choosing an unassuming scholar, administrator and a pastor who commands a wide acceptance among the clergy and the laity has been highly commended across religions and denominations.  

Msgr. Dr. Peter N. Chukwu, was born on Nov 5, 1965 in Umuezeokoha, Ezza North L.G.A of Ebonyi State. The young Peter had his primary education at Central School Umuezekoha (1972-1979), secondary education at Government Technical College, GTC, Abakaliki (1979-1981)) and GTC, Nsukka (1981-1984). 

He did a year probation at St. 
Augustine’s Seminary, Ezanngbo (1984-1985), studied philosophy at Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary, Owerri (1985-1989), theology at Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu (1990-1993), and was ordained a priest on July 3, 1993. 

Fr. Chukwu served as the vice rector, St. Augustine’s Seminary, Ezzangbo, (August- October 1993), the vicar, St. John de Evangelist, Okpaugwu (1993-1994) and St Michael’s Ogboji (August-October 1994), and the parish priest St. 
Mulumba’s Echara-Ikwo, (1994-1996) and St Paul’s Uburu (1996-2000). 

In 2000, Msgr Chukwu proceeded to the USA where he did his Masters in Philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio (2000-2001), and thereafter his doctorate in Philosophy at Marquette University, Milivaukee, Wisconsin (2002-2007). He was a teaching Assistant, Marquette University (2002-2005), an adjunct lecturer, Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, Michigan (2007-2009), and the parish priest, Fremont/St Joseph, White Cloud, both of Grand Rapids Diocese, Michigan (2007-2010).   

Back to the diocese, he became a senior lecturer in the department of Philosophy of Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki (2011 till date), and the Parish Priest of St Patrick, NdurukuAnmegu-Izzi (2010 till date). He was the Secretary, Diocesan Inculturation Committee (1995-2000), the President of the Association of Nigerian Priests of Abakaliki Diocese (2010-2017), the Spiritual Director, Sister of Jesus the Good Shepherd’s Novitiate (2017 till date), Chairman, Board of Directors, Umunnachi Microfinance Bank (2018 till date), Chairman, Education 
Advisory Board (2018 till date), and Chairman Golden Jubilee Committee (since December 2019). 

The appointment of a man with the logic and experience of administration, scholarship, and pastoral ministry as the third bishop of Abakaliki opens up a new chapter for a diocese with a peculiar but rich history. The making of the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki was a natural consequence of the evangelizing work of the French missionaries who on December 5, 1885, arrived Onitsha with a defined objective of planting the Catholic faith at the coast of then Lower Niger. With the consent of Bishop Le Berre who found it so difficult to administer Onitsha from St. Mary’s Gabon, Pope Leo XIII on April 7, 1889 granted a request to create the Apostolic Prefecture of the Lower Niger with Fr. Joseph Emile Lutz as the first Apostolic Prefect. 

With Calabar as an important trade and administrative centre, the need to extend a missionary outreach was inevitable. In 1934, the area comprising the present day Calabar-Uyo-Ikot Ekpene-Ogoja-Abakaliki was carved out from the territory once catered for by the Holy Ghost Fathers and given over to the KILTEGAN FATHERS as the Prefecture of Calabar. What remained of the Prefecture was raised to a status of a vicariate known as the Vicariate of Onitsha/Owerri. In 1948, Owerri was separated from Onitsha and made a diocese and in 1950, Onitsha became an Archdiocese.  

On the account of the vastness of Calabar, Ogoja- Abakaliki axis was in 1938 carved out of Calabar and named the prefecture of OGOJA with Msgr. Pat J. Whitney, the founder of the St. Patrick’s Missionary Society as the first Prefect Apostolic who was later succeeded by Msgr. Thomas McGettrick in 1940. Calabar was a made a diocese in 1947 and when in 1955, Msgr. McGettrick was ordained a bishop, Ogoja became a diocese with Archbishop Joseph Ukpo ordained 1965, and now Bishop M. N. Okoro ordained December 19, 1965, as the first and second indigenous priests respectively.  

On March 1, 1973, Abakaliki Diocese was carved out of Ogoja to join other sister Dioceses in Onitsha province and Bishop McGettrick became the pioneer bishop. On November 27, 1977, Bishop Okoro was ordained an auxiliary Bishop of Abakaliki; and with the retirement of Bishop McGettrick in June 1983, he was installed the Residential Bishop of Abakaliki on November 27, 1983. Bishop McGetrrick who quietly passed away in his bedroom at about 6.00 a.m. on Sunday, December 18, 1988, just 3 days to his 83rd birthday had before his retirement laid the foundation for the growth of the diocese. On assuming office, Bishop Okoro was first preoccupied with continuing what he for long had been assisting Bishop McGettrick to do. 

The innovations that would follow, came as time rolled on and circumstances revealed not only their usefulness but also their appropriateness.  
Inheriting a diocese with a meagre 144,000 Catholics, some 17,000 catechumens, 22 parishes, three hospitals, a minor seminary, a monastery, etc, Bishop Okoro has in the 38 years of his episcopate overseen the multiplication of these numbers as the spiritual and temporal goods of the diocese continue to grow. Finding a successor in a man he admitted into the seminary, trained, and ordained, he would be bidding farewell like an accomplished elder.   

The consecration and installation of Msgr. Chukwu as the second indigenous Bishop of Abakaliki on August 19, 2021 is greeted not only with joy but also a natural nostalgia typical of transition moments. The story of the Diocese will not end with the near-four decades of Bishop Okoro’s episcopate, though it is the conclusion of that chapter that the ceremony marks. The Diocese has survived not necessarily because of the wisdom of episcopacy alone, but the determination of the laity and the clergy alike to choose faith over disbelief, love over hate, hope over despair and oneness over division. The peaceful transition in this era of intense and reactionary politics is an eloquent testimony of the restless energy, the hard work, the audacity of the men and women with an unflinching commitment to the Gospel values. 

The outgoing episcopate provides the scaffolding for assessing the strength and weaknesses of the diocese and what the new Bishop does with the discovery will shape the future. It suffices to say that of all the five southeastern states, Ebonyi is the only state with one Catholic Diocese despite its seemingly Catholic-friendly population, a reputation that that could be a sign of unity and love, but also a reminder of big tasks ahead. 

The personality of the new bishop radiates a new type of hope and his disposition to serve the church and society with love, vision, dedication, strength and enthusiasm is also on a high velocity. With his diverse background, he will need no Herods to seek out Christ, but follow the star of Abakaliki Diocese as it climbs and direct his flock to God.   

As Msgr. Chukwu is consecrated and installed to the office of teaching, governing, sanctifying and representing the people of God, everyone, home and abroad, is wishing him to succeed not just in confronting the herculean narratives but balancing the twin needs of teaching not just the scriptures but alphabets, proclaiming not just the gospel but reciting a national anthem, giving not only communion but also bread, raising not just saints but also social pioneers, teaching both the value of prayer and the necessity of work, and combining the divine providence with a planned social security.  

As Jesus laid the foundation of his Church on the chair of St Peter, so he charges Bishop 
Peter today, “Tender my flock”. With the massive goodwill, one cannot but be confident that Bishop Chukwu will take the Church in Abakaliki home in his heart, for there is no limit to progress when an imagination is marched with a clear pursuit.  
© Fr. Felix Uche Akam, PhD
Uni-Freiburg Germany
@Kempis Consults: The Dragnet Page.

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