Lawrence Nwimo, Awka
The decision of the Bishop of Nnewi Catholic Diocese, Most Reverend Jonas Benson Okoye, to sack Holy Ghost Fathers residing at St Martin’s de Poures Catholic Church, Ihiala, has caused tension in the Diocese and its environs.
It was gathered that the Bishop, at a recent meeting with priests in the Diocese, announced postings during which his Diocesan priests were posted to St Martin’s Ihiala.
But the Holy Ghost Fathers have been in charge of the St Martin’s Church parish for over 100 years, during which they established many churches and schools, including the popular Holy Ghost Juniorate Seminary, Ihiala, and some universities in parts of the country.
The Bishop was also said to have informed the Holy Ghost Fathers and members of the parish council that the Holy Ghost Fathers should leave the place immediately, having agreed to leave the Juniorate Seminary, Ihiala, and the Spiritual Farmers, Okija, for the Holy Ghost Fathers.
The Holy Ghost Fathers have, however, said they would not leave because it was not the Bishop that gave them the Parish.
The development in the area, however, drew the attention of some concerned citizens of Ihiala and other parishioners who staged a protest around the church and faulted the decision of the Bishop to sack the Holy Ghost Fathers from Ihiala.
In an interview with reporters in Awka, Secretary of the Coordinating Committee of the Concerned Ihiala Citizens, Mr. Nonye Chukwu, said the people of Ihiala have written the Bishop to shelve the idea to sack the priests, regretting that he refused to act on their letter.
He said, “We are having a problem with our Bishop, He issued an order that Holy Ghost Fathers who stay at St. Martins should pack out and that he doesn’t want them in Ihiala any more. This didn’t go down well with Ihiala Catholics.
“These Holy Ghost fathers have become endangered species. Immediately after the Nigerian civil war, the then government alleged that they were responsible for prolonging the war and then sacked them from Eastern Nigeria.
“Those of them who were foreigners left, while the Indigenous ones continued their missionary work up till now and they are the ones Bishop wants to sack.
“Where does he want them to go to? We have every reason to say no, irrespective of the fact that he has all the powers on earth as Bishop.
“These Holy Ghost priests sustained our people during the war as some of them were even emergency pilots who brought relief materials to the war ravaged areas of the country.”
Chukwu recalled that as far back as 1962, the late Bishop Charles Henry of Onitsha Archdiocese gave out St. Martins to the Holy Ghost Congregation in perpetuity and definitive way, which means that there was a contract between two parties.
He said that although they were aware that Holy Ghost Fathers are missionary priests, that does not mean that they should not have a base.
“When you talk about Ihiala, what first comes to mind is our Lady of Lourdes Hospital established by the Holy Ghost Fathers. The Holy Ghost Juniorate is also their brainchild.
“We have written to the Bishop and he doesn’t want to reply our letter. Rather he made an unscheduled visit to St. Martin’s and told the people around that he could no longer retain the Holy Ghost Priests there because he has no place to send his Diocesan Priests.
“Our question is, are these Holy Ghost Fathers not Catholic Priests? That is why we decided to do a procession around the church to drive home our objection to the sack.”