By Jude Michael
The Catholic bishop of the Awka Diocese, His Lordship, the Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, has congratulated the bishop of the Ekwulobia Diocese and a prince of the universal Church, His Eminence Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke, who recently took canonical possession of the Church of Martyrs of Uganda, Rome.
Congratulating the cardinal, Bishop Ezeokafor called for continued prayers and support, noting that Okpaleke needed to be supported to enable him to succeed in his service to God and humanity, and adding that he was highly elated with the development.
“We want to thank God for our cardinal. It is really something one can be proud of. We thank His Holiness Pope Francis for finding him worthy. We as a diocese are grateful to God for everything. On behalf of the priests, religious and laity of the Catholic Diocese of Awka, I felicitate our own. He is a bishop and now a cardinal but he started from here. We’ll continue to support him,” the charismatic and influential prelate concluded.
The special ceremony took place on Sunday February 5th, 2023, in a concelebrated Eucharistic Mass led by Cardinal Okpaleke, alongside other priests from Nigeria and Rome.
It will be recalled that Okpaleke was on Sunday, May 29, 2022, raised to the prestigious order of the cardinalate by Pope Francis, alongside twenty others, with the consistory coming up later in August 27, 2022, at St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome.
As is traditional in the Church, and as a sign of his closeness to the pope, exercising pastoral collaboration with the pontiff (the head of the Catholic Church), cardinal priests—diocesan bishops who are cardinals—are assigned a particular church within the Diocese of Rome as its proper pastor.
They are equally expected to attend all major functions done in the church and officiate in them as soon as they come up. One major function that is critical is that canonical possession of the parish should be done first and this confers legitimacy to the priest (in this instance, the cardinal) as the proper pastor of the parish with full rights and privileges. A priest, however, is also appointed to work in the church as an administrator who does the day-to-day pastoral work in the parish and reports to the proper pastor.
Okpaleke, while taking possession of the parish, expressed gladness and gratitude to God for such a rare opportunity, and called on the parishioners to be alive to their responsibilities as true and sincere Christians.
He equally called on them to continue to pray for him to be a true witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in words and deeds at all times.
Taking into consideration the architectural structure of the church, Okpaleke’s name was written in the church as its proper pastor during the ceremony.
It will be recalled that the Martyrs of Uganda, from which the church in Rome derived its name and to which it is dedicated, was led by Charles Lwanga and his twenty-one companions. These are Catholics. There are however twenty-three Anglican Christians who suffered the same martyrdom. This was under the reign of King Mwanga of Uganda, who, mostly being a serial paedophile, wanted to indulge in immoral obscenities with them which however was stoutly resisted and who in anger sentenced them to death, mainly by installment between 31st January 1885 and 27th January 1887.
The youngest of them, Kizito, aged 14 (1872–1886) was said to have been thrown into a boiling cauldron. He was singing and thanking God for the gift of martyrdom till he breathed his last.
Others were executed due to their refusal to deny their faith in Jesus Christ. In October 18, 1964, Pope Paul VI canonised them (Catholics) for dying for their faith.