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Okpaleke And The Journey To Rome




The journey to Rome was pleasant and joyous: a Nigerian and the Bishop of Ekwulobia, Most Rev. Dr. Peter Okpaleke was among the 20 Cardinals so-created by Pope Francis. It was really a glorious interlude for a country where news items are subsumed in the shocking  – kidnapping, beheading, rape and rapine. There is no vocabulary of decadence that is not accommodated by our dear country.

Indeed, one of those afore-mentioned shocking news was the rejection ten years ago (7th December, 2012) by Ahiara Diocese of Bishop Okpaleke’s appointment as their Bishop and his prevention from canonical possession of the Diocese. This led to his resignation on 19th February, 2018.

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At a point, when seen through the prisms of the world, he was considered as the most tortured Bishop in Nigeria, he did not appear so, but continued to pursue his episcopate. When he was eventually appointed a Cardinal, joy was universal. It appears to be the Pope’s unique method of lifting one up as an example of Christian living, apostolic patience and deep humility.

It is by no means easy to appoint a Cardinal. During the 1563 Ecumenical Council of Trent, Pope Pius IV exposed to us the minds of Popes when appointing Cardinals. His words:”Nothing is more necessary to the Church of God than that the Holy Roman Pontiff apply that solicitude which by the duty of his office he owes the universal Church in a very special way by associating with himself as cardinals the most select persons only, and appoint to each church most eminently upright and competent shepherds; and this the more so, because our Lord Jesus Christ will require at his hands the blood of the sheep of Christ that perish through the evil government of shepherds who are negligent and forgetful of their office”. Cardinal Okpaleke was appointed due to the plenitude of Apostolic virtues.

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The fore-going explains why over 300 Nigerians from across the Federation attended the Consistory at which Opkaleke received the Red Hat.
The organisation of the event was itself superb. Professor Fr. Anthony Chiegboka, Fr. Christian Umeojinaka, Fr. Lawrence Nwankwo, Fr. Michael Muonwe,  Fr. Nicolas Abazie, among other priests were at their best.  Even in a hurriedly written piece, my I recognize the presence of Fr. Emmanuel Udechukwu. Before other priests I did not mention their names including some of my old teachers will start raising objections, May I inform them that I served Fr. Emmanuel Udechukwu at mass in the early eighties. He  in fact took me to the seminary for registrations at Akpu.

We must also respectfully appreciate the presence of our Governor, Prof. Charles Soludo. His actions at the event yet again mirrored his good wishes for the state. In fraternal spirit, he joined us at masses and shared our happiness as we celebrated Fr. Alphonsus Ezeoke at 60.

Many other distinguished Anambrarians and Nigerians were also in Rome, to mention everybody would empty the pen, but we remember, especially the presence of two traditional rulers the Cardinal specially recognized: Igwe Ohazulume of Amesi, Eze P. C Iwu from Ahiara and his own Igwe, Igwe Raphael Okpaleke.

Thanks to the organisers, some of who I had mentioned for maximizing the trip. Rather than pay millions of Naira to partake in the Consistory only, they artfully turned it into a pilgrimage. Thus, the opportunity was taken to visit the historic and religious sites of Rome. Some of us even sallied forth beyond Rome. I read what Fr. Augustine Nnadi wrote about the visit to his lover – St. Maria Goretti. Those of us in love with classics, went as far as Naples, where I visited the ruins of Pompeii, a UNESCO heritage site, as well as  Mt. Vesuvius, which erupted  in AD 79 and with the molten magma that escaped its confines, buried the city of Pompeii that was later excavated. In spite being an active volcano, why does the Italian Government still allow people to live within the vicinity of that catastrophe?

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However, since our visit was primarily about the Cardinalet, let us do a little exposition for fuller understanding and appreciation of the lofty position our brother has been elevated to, being effectively the Prince of the Church.

Lend your ears to experts in Church history they would tell us that time was when even laymen were appointed Cardinals. They would tell us about so many changes that institution had undergone, with different Popes promulgating various bulls to effect those changes. An example was In 1059, when through the bull entitled “In Nomine Domini”, Pope Nicholas XII granted Cardinals the right to elect new Popes. We have even seen Popes exercising their powers to set aside Church Laws by appointing more Cardinals than prescribed.

The point to note here is that the Sacred College, also called the College of Cardinals, is very important in the lives of Popes.  This body acts as advisers to the Pope. He, in the spirit of apostleship, asks their advice whenever needed.

We have three classes  of Cardinals, namely: Cardinal Deacons, Cardinal Priests and Cardinal Bishops. Cardinal Deacons from where Francis Cardinal Arinze started, are either officials of Roman Curia or priests who at over 80 years are no longer qualified for the Conclave. Cardinal priests, which are the designations of other Nigerian Cardinals like our own Okpaleke, are mostly Diocesan bishops though some are also Curia Cardinals. Cardinal Bishops which Francis Cardinal Arinze eventually became are the highest-ranking  cardinals who were appointed titular Bishops of one of what is called Suburbicarian Sees as in that of Velletri-Segni for Arinze.

The Pope meets the Cardinals officially in the consistories.  Consistories could be  essentially ordinary or extra ordinary even if it is secret, semi-secret or public.

It is at secret consistories that new Cardinals are named; and the Pope gives them their sapphire rings as a symbol of their offices.  If a Cardinal comes from a far country, the Pope assigns him an honorary position as the head of a diocese in Italy.  Okpaleke is the Cardinal priest of Santi Martiri dell’ Uganda a Poggioreale Ameno, with which he would maintain a titular relationship. At secret consistories, the Pope creates Cardinal Camerlengo, that is, Chancellor of the Catholic Church. Assisted by the Vice-Camerlengo, they head the office known as the Apostolic Camera. The Camerlengo’s function is limited to the period of “Sede Vacante”, when he expectedly presents the state of the finances of the Papacy to the College of Cardinals, as they gather for the Conclave.

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In semi-public consistories, the Pope, Cardinals and Bishops meet.  This consistory discusses candidates for beatification and canonization.  It took place on the 27th, immediately after the reception of red hats by the new princes.

It is pertinent to note here that Popes sometimes appoint Cardinals “in Pectore”; that is secretly to avoid his being victimized in places the Church is still under persecution. If not named publicly, his position expires with the death of the Pope, otherwise he takes position  based on when he was appointed.

The major function of the College of Cardinals is the election of a new Pope. This was done by only Cardinal Bishops until 1179, when the Third Lateran Council extended it to the entire body of Cardinals.

When a Pope dies, a member of the College must verify his death.  He touches the forehead of the Pope thrice with a silver mallet and calls him by his baptismal name.  He then announces that “the Pope is truly dead”. In the interim, the Sacred College takes over his functions.

During the election of a new Pope, the College of Cardinals is known as “The Conclave”.  While in the conclave, the Cardinals severe any relationship with the outside world.  On the day of the election, mass of the Holy Ghost is celebrated for guidance in decision-making.  The actual voting takes place in the Si

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