By Nna Anulumadu
Marian devotees from the Onitsha Archdiocese gathered at the paternal home of the nonagenarian and great servant of the Lord Rev. Fr Dr Hilary Mary Anisiobi to celebrate with him at this great moment of his life as he clocked 95 years of age and 55 years in the priesthood.
The delegation was led by Rev. Fr Peter Okafor. Presenting the birthday cake and other gifts to the priest, the coordinator of the visit and pioneer coordinator of the associate members of the Marian movement of priests of the Onitsha Archdiocese, Bro. Sunday Akpuogwu, JP, felicitated the priest on the great twin celebration. He recalled his contribution towards the spread of Marian devotions, especially the Block Rosary Crusade within the Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, disclosing that as chaplain general of the All Marian Societies in the archdiocese, many Marian devotions came in like Rosary Carnivals, A Day With Mary, etc., and so many became members of the third Order of the Carmelites as scapular wearers, which gave rise to the nickname Father Scapular.
Also speaking, Father Peter Okafor praised the good missionary footprint left behind in Nzam where Anisiobi worked as a priest from 1979 on return from studies in Rome. According to him, at that time Nzam covered many riverine towns like Igbedo (now Egeoja), Igbokenyi, Innoma, Ode, and Alanaonugwa.
Welcoming the delegation, Anisiobi, who concelebrated a holy Mass earlier before the arrival of the devotees, thanked them for making his day. He said that he never had the thought of a long life and said it was a miracle of God and to Him be the glory. He used the event to eulogise the archbishop of Onitsha, the Most Rev. Valerian Okeke, for his fatherly care, which was to him very exceptional. He also thanked his humble driver, Mr Okigbo, the parish priest of St Vincent Parish, Ogbunike, people from various parishes where he worked and others for their charity towards him.
He asked God to bless them abundantly for taking good care of him. He recalled that his ordination by the late Bishop Godfrey Mary Okoye of the Port Harcourt Diocese on January 28, 1968, took place under a tree due to fear of rockets following the Biafran war. Anisiobi recalled the agonies of the war and how it was very challenging discharging his priestly ministry in a war-torn area like the defunct Biafra.
He used the event to call on the faithful to always pray for the protection of the lives of priests and the religious. He regretted that priests have become prey in the hands of bandits and kidnappers, especially with the recent brutal killing of Rev. Fr Isaac Achi of the Minna Diocese. He also appealed for serious prayers as we prepare for the February presidential and governorship elections in the country, condemned the Nigerian politics of bitterness and rancour, and called on the masses not to sell their conscience because of money.
Although FatherAnisiobi entered the seminary at the age of 29, he became a priest at the age of 40. After ordination he worked first at Umunze, then Umuchu, Nzam, Aguleri, Unubi, Uruagu Nnewi and St Charles Borromeo Hospital, Onitsha, where he retired. In between this period from 1974 to 1978, he was sent to Rome futher studies by former Archbishop Francis Arinze, where he studied spiritual theology with inclusive Mariology.
Until his retirement, Anisiobi was the chaplain of many Catholic organisations both on archdiocesan and national levels. As the parish priest at St Joseph Parish, Aguleri, he played host to the arrival of the holy relic of the Blessed Michael Iwene Tansi to his native land.
Highlights of the event include a rosary recital together with FatherAnisiobi, cutting of the cake and spiritual advice to the younger generation.
Other members of the delegation include Chief Gabriel Onwugbenu (Iju Nnewi), represented; Bro. Paul Mary Oruche, former archdiocesan coordinator of the Marian movement of priests; Bro. Lawrence Ezeonyilimba; Bro. Vincent Akwuaka, represented; Dr Basil Mary Ojukwu, represented; Mrs Virginia Uzowulu; and Mrs Perpetua Obiamaka Agu.