The atmosphere was electrifying as the laity, priests, religious and traditional rulers thronged the Mater Dei Ecclesia Cathedral of the Catholic Diocese of Ahiara, yesterday, to attend the first mass to be celebrated at the cathedral in six years following the protracted crisis that ensued over the appointment of Bishop Ebere Peter Okpalaeke.
As earlier as 8a.m., the cathedral was already filled to the brim as the faithful were already seated eagerly waiting for the arrival of the new Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese, His Lordship, Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia, for the Mass slated to begin at 10a.m.
As soon as Bishop Ugorji stepped into the cathedral accompanied by all the priests of the diocese and knights of the church, he was given a rousing welcome, just as a traditional cannon salute boomed in his honour.
Addressing the people, the Apostolic Administrator paid a glowing tribute to the people of Mbaise for their remarkable religious and enterprising spirits, noting that he looks forward to working closer with the people during his pastoral visits to the parishes.
“I feel highly privileged to serve a people known for their remarkable religious and enterprising spirit. I look forward to drawing closer to you during my pastoral visits in your parishes to administer the sacraments. I extend warm greetings to the seminarians on internship and look forward to meeting with them soon. I cannot wait to share fraternal communion with all priests of the diocese of Ahiara at the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday, where we shall bless oils for our ministry and together renew our commitment to priestly service,” he said.
He pointed out that in appointing him as the Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara Diocese, the Catholic Pontiff sent him as a messenger of peace and reconciliation with the mandate and mission of initiating the process of healing and renewal in the local church.
He, however, noted that the Pope reserves the right to evaluate the spiritual and ecclesiastical progress in Ahiara Diocese before he makes any decision regarding governance.
“In carrying out my mandate, I wish to stress that every authentic healing and renewal begins within reconciliation with God, who gives peace to our souls. It is, therefore, a very happy coincidence that this call for healing and renewal in the Diocese of Ahiara is being made during this holy season of Lent, when the church urges us to heed the proclamation of Christ: Repent and believe the gospel.
“In fostering unity and peace in Ahiara Diocese, we must eschew attitudes and utterances of triumphalism or self-righteousness that can fan the embers of disunity and disaffection. Therefore, there should be no more hate speeches. With Isaiah, the prophet, I urge you to beat your swords into ploughshore and spears into pruning hooks. Please turn away from the path of belligerence which brings ruin and embrace the path of peace, unity and development,” the Bishop said.