The parishioners of St Martin’s Parish and the Ihiala Catholic Community have called on Pope Francis to create a separate diocese in the area, which will be known as Catholic Diocese of Ihiala, and will be independent of the Nnewi Diocese.
Recall that the Ihiala Catholic Community has been in a running battle with the bishop of Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, Most Rev Jonas-Benson Okoye, over the decision of the latter to remove the faculty of the Holy Ghost priests in St Martin’s Parish, and further sacked them from the parish. This situation did not go down well with the Catholic Church in Ihiala, leading to negative developments, including suspension of Holy Mass in the area for the past four weeks.
But in a joint press conference at St Martin of Tours Parish, Ihiala on Saturday after a three-day fasting, prayers and Rosery novena, the president of the Catholic Women Organization (COW) in the parish, Lady Comfort A. Okolie, said carving out an independent diocese for Ihiala would be the shortest and surest way out of the current crisis bedeviling Ihiala Catholic Community and St Martin’s Parish in particular.
She said, “The crisis in Ihiala Catholic Community is no longer a secret. This has gone to the extent that Holy Mass is suspended in St Martin’s Parish. Majority of the Catholic faithful have joined the Anglican Church; some have gone back to the tradition because they see the current development in our church as disdainful.
“The bishop decided to post diocesan priest in the person of Fr. Augustine Ndukaji to St. Martin’s Parish, Ihiala but St Martin’s is a home for Spiritan missionaries. Ihiala gave them the land where they built the church about 150 years ago.
“The parish is presently the headquarters of the Spiritan priests in the Southeast. They were the people that built the Catholic Church in Ihiala; they built the Juniorate Seminary in Ihiala; and also built Out Lady of Lourdes Hospital, among many other things. So, the Spiritan are Ihiala people and Ihiala people are the Spiritan.
“All of a sudden, Bishop Okoye sacked the Holy Ghost priests and told them to go anywhere. He sent his own priest to the parish and the entire Ihiala Catholic Community said it will not happen. The community has decided that if the bishop will take over the church building, we’ll take the land we gave to the Spiritan priests.
“The most painful aspect is that the bishop went as far as removing the faculty of the Spiritan priests so that they won’t have the power to celebrate Holy Mass. Since four weeks ago when this impasse started, the parishioners – the lay faithful have been celebrating Holy Mass themselves without any priest to administer Holy Communion.”
Flanked by the president of the Catholic Men Organization (CMO), Mr. Linus Obiora, member of the Parish Council, Mr. Michael Obiajulu, president, Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement (CCRM), Bro. Joseph Nwagbuo; president of the Catholic Youth Organisation of Nigeria (CYON), Mr. Izuchukwu Akudike; the coordinating secretary and spokesperson of the parish and concerned citizens of Ihiala, Mr. Nonye Chukwu, the CWO president said since the crisis started, the Ihiala Catholic Community had written to the bishop on two different occasions, but that none of the letters was replied. She beckoned on Pope Francis, as well as the hierarchy of the church to intervene and possibly carve out a separate diocese for Ihiala, so that the Catholic Church in the area would not be completely disinterested.
“Since the creation of St Martin’s Parish by the Spiritan priests, the mother parish has given birth to 13 other parishes within Ihiala region – which can stand as a diocese of their own if allowed,” she submitted.