Imo State governor, Mr. Rochas Okorocha, has told the priests and laity in Ahiara Catholic Diocese, Mbaise, to obey the directive of the Pope by accepting Bishop Peter Okpaleke as the Bishop of the Diocese.
A statement signed by Mr. Sam Onwuemedo, Chief Press Secretary to Mr. Okorocha, said the governor met with the priests and laity at the headquarters of the Diocese. According to the statement, Mr. Okorocha impressed it on them that the decision of the Pope is binding and lamented the situation, which has seen the priests leading the agitation.
Mr. Okorocha explained that the church will become an object of ridicule if the crisis ends with the priests and laity in the Diocese disobeying Papal instructions.
“I am a Catholic, and I’m also the governor of Imo State. I’ve come here to see my people and address you on the burning issues affecting this Diocese. But I wish you would listen to me attentively so that you can go home with something. I’ve had meetings with all the priests. I’ve listened to their anger, their grievances and I’m aware of all the historical backgrounds to this agitation. Today, we have a challenge that whatever has made Ahiara a center of the crisis, we must change it for better. Declaration of Biafran War, Ahiara; the killing of a steward, Ahiara; and now, Diocesan agitation spanning six years and attracting global focus also Ahiara," he said.
Mr. Okorocha added that the wished his advice to the priests and laity had been accepted earlier. He explained that the people of Mbaise have made their point and to continue insisting on rejecting the instructions of the Pope will cast the people of the area in a bad light before the whole world.
"I don’t know how you will take it after my speech. The whole world knows that the Pope has asked all the priests from Mbaise to write a letter of apology to him minus a few of them. It might be right, it might be wrong but that’s not the question. The fact is that before the world, we are no longer enjoying this peace because Mbaise has more priests in the whole of South-East. But sometimes, a wise person behaves foolishly for the sake of his children. So, we must change our style before we deny ourselves of our justice," counseled Mr. Okorocha.
He stated that it is unfortunate that the priests are leading the agitation because the decision of the Pope is binding on them. He advised them to obey the Pope to stop Mbaise people from being viewed as a group that disobeyed the Pope and the church.
“For now you have done well, but don’t overdo it. Just leave the stage when the ovation is loudest.I don’t think any Bishop would like to come to a place where the people don’t want him. You can’t force people to be with somebody they don’t want to stay with. But be careful how you reject people because of many a time, the rejected always turns out to be the best. There should be no more protests. No matter who the Pope sends to you, you must rise up to welcome him if not, the church will become an object of mockery," the governor admonished.
He explained to his audience that they should also consider the possibility that Mbaise sons can become Bishops in other places and they will be accepted.
On behalf of the priests and laity, Reverend Father Joseph Ezeji thanked the governor and pledged allegiance to the Papacy. He confirmed that all Mbaise priests have written their letters of apology to the Pope. He stated that what the people are asking for is for any Bishop groomed in Mbaise to lead them, saying the canon law seems to have been bent in the case of Ahiara Diocese.