POPE Francis 1 gas urged Nigerian Christians to stop being tribalistic in their approach to appointments and take the moral high ground by showing love to all human beings and treating everybody as equals.
Speaking over the weekend while delivering the homily at a special mass to celebrate the first anniversary of the creation of the Ekwulobia Catholic diocese, the pope, took a swipe at the antics of Nigerian Catholics over the appointment of Most Reverend Peter Okpaleke. In 2012, Reverend Okpaleke was appointed as the Bishop of Ahiara but he was never installed because local clergy objected because he was not a native of the area.
Bishop Okpaleke is from Amesi in Anambra State and the Catholics of the Ahiara Diocese in neighbouring Imo State insisted that they wanted a native. In April last year, Bishop Okpaleke was appointed as the Bishop of Ekwulobia in his native Anambra State, bringing about an end to the saga.
In his address, Pope Francis urged Christian communities in the country to act as true followers of Jesus Christ by showing love to all. Represented by the Papal Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Antonio Filipazzi, the Pope said it was wrong of any Christian community to reject a bishop because of his state of origin and dialect.
Pope Francis added: “While we acknowledge that the creation of the new diocese was necessitated as a result of the remarkable numerical growth of Awka Diocese in Anambra, we cannot remain silent about another fact, a non-positive fact that preceded the appointment of the first Bishop of Ekwulobia. I recall it not to recriminate and make polemics but as a warning because what has happened alerts us to certain dangers that threaten the life and mission of the church.”
“Tribalism makes those who call themselves Christians forget that Jesus Christ has made us all brothers and sisters in His blood and in the sacrament of Baptism. For the church and every Christian, we must learn to collaborate with obedient faith in the work of salvation and to do so with the same fidelity, humility, silence and purity of heart.
“Christians must beware of the danger of being Christians and of being Christian communities only in words and in appearance because he is not saved, who, though part of the body of the church, does not persevere in love. Though such person may remain in the bosom of the church, it is only in a bodily manner and not in his heart.”
Drawing lessons from the biblical parable of The Vine in John 15, 5-6, Pope Francis called on all Christians as individuals and as a community, to be first and foremost grafted into Christ. He advised them to look ahead to the mission of evangelism that awaits them and plan the way to carry it out rather than focusing on the past and on trivial issues such as tribalism and states of origin of clerics.
Among the clergymen who attended the event were His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishops Augustine Akubeze, Valerian Okeke, and Matthew Ndagoso Apart from Bishop Okpaeleke, also in attendance were 21 other bishops and other dignitaries drew from all walks of life.