Catholics seek urgent papal intervention

As tension continues to mount over the rejection of Bishop Peter Okpalaeke as Catholic Bishop of Ahiara Diocese, concerned indigenes of the area have called upon authorities in the Vatican to take urgent steps to resolve the conflict before it results into loss of lives.
The calls came on the heels of a recent violent protest at the Cathedral which led to the arrest of four Catholic priests and eight others.
The Catholic faithful have been polarized since the announcement of Okpalaeke, an indigene of Anambra State, as the bishop of the diocese to succeed the late Bishop Victor Chikwe who died in 2010.
One of the Catholics and a witness to the latest protests, Mr. Ernest Ogu, who spoke to Christian Voice, said that it was time Pope Francis made a categorical statement on the controversy to avoid further fracas.
He expressed disgust that the house of God has turned into a political arena, adding that in his many years as a Catholic faithful, he had never witnessed such happening in the church which prides itself as one universal body of Christ.
He also advised the priests who are in the forefront against the new bishop to have a forgiving heart, like Christ had preached to us, no matter how hurt they feel.
The latest crisis erupted when the Vicar General of the diocese, Rev. Fr. Clement Ebii, had hosted the National President of the Catholic Women Organisation (CWO).
Anti-Okpalaeke youths who had gathered at the Mater Ecclesiae Cathedral Church had marched against the event, fearing that it was a ploy to legitimize him by the Vicar who is perceived to be working in Okpalaeke’s favour.
The youths barricaded the streets and the Cathedral entrance, setting up bonfires and carrying leaves and placards. To restore peace, the Divisional Police Officer (DPOI) in Ahiazu Mbaise LGA drafted his men to the scene.
It was gathered that the youths, led by a reverend father, defied the DPO’s appeal, hauling stones at the police and threatening to disarm them.
The DPO, it was alleged, was injured in the leg and hand by a shot that rang out from among the youths.
A statement by the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mr. Andrew Enwerem after the incident said that the police command had ordered that the Cathedral be put under lock and key until the issue is resolved.
The command vowed to fish out and prosecute those involved in the shooting.
Earlier a tussle had ensued between the pro- and anti-Okpalaeke groups over who to pick as heads and members of the diocesan council and other organizations.
Reports said that the Vicar, Fr. Ebii, who is at the moment acting as the bishop, insisted on his list and had gone ahead to inaugurate them.
Christian Voice gathered that the anti-Okpalaeke priests passed information to the youths and women in their parishes, mandating them to gather in black attires at the Cathedral for the protest aimed at putting pressure on the Vatican to remove Okpalaeke and give them a bishop from that diocese, a move which is uncommon in the history of the Catholic Church.  They insist that the process which brought Okpalaeke was against the canon law and heavily influenced by Cardinal Francis Arinze in Rome. Arinze is from Anambra State. According to them, the church had more than six bishops who hail from Anambra while Mbaise, with more than 600 ordained priests, has none.
Majority of the laity, including the influential Eze Desmond Oguguo, have, however, expressed disgust at the crisis, appealing to the dissident priests to allow Bishop Okpalaeke to assume his position peacefully.

About the author

Christian Voice