By Njideka Eze
His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, the President of CBCN and Archbishop of Benin Diocese , Most Rev. Augustine Akubueze, the Catholic bishop of Enugu Diocese Most Rev. Callistus Onaga and his Auxilliary Most Rev. Ernest Obodo, some bishops, some bishops, representatives of Bishops from various Dioceses, Superior generals of Religious Congregations, Priests and Religious in their numbers, representatives of the arms of the Church, friends and well wishers, gathered in their numbers at St Joseph Catholic Church Emene on Thursday the 4th of November 2021, to thank God and celebrate the Bishop emeritus of Enugu Diocese, His Lordship Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji and Monsignor Charles Ikeme as they both turned 90years of age. A rare gift and opportunity!
In a homily at the Eucharistic celebration, the Auxiliary Bishop of Enugu Diocese, His Lordship Ernest Obodo acknowledged and appreciated all who gathered to celebrate these Fathers of faith as they both turned 90. According to His Lordship, their lives are a celebration of the triumph of grace of God. This according to him, explains the lives of the celebrants who had their fathers as a catechist and the other, a teacher.
These two celebrants according to His Lordship were born the same year 1931, ordained into the catholic priesthood the same year 1958. They were foremost educationists, school Principals, formators and mentors to youths.
Msgr Charles Ikeme according to Bishop Obodo carries the aura of mystery around him while his all grey hair makes him look like an ancient sage, a school principal from 1963 till 1985 in different schools. One of the easiest things which many of his former students recall vividly about him was his attitude of never sparing the rod to spoil the child. Some of his students said that Msgr. Ikeme would exorcise the devil out of his students with the cane. Msgr Ikeme mixed pain with divine comfort.
In Bishop Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji we see a perfect fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer 1:5): “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Bishop Gbuji could be rightly called a Church-man, having been born as his mother was approaching the entrance door of a church. As the son of a catechist, he embraced the vocation to the Priesthood early in life. Having lived and interacted with saintly people like Frs Abraham Ojefua and Paul Emechete, the young Anthony, like little Samuel of the Old Testament, learnt to discern the voice of God early in life and was ordained a priest in 1958.
This great pastor, erudite canonist and foremost educationist spent the early part of his apostolate forming youth in various schools. Having served as a seasoned school principal in many schools from 1963, he was appointed Bishop at Issele Ukwu in 1973, says Bishop Obodo.
Continuing, His Lordship says ‘the psalmist in psalm 138 which we listened today, puts some words of praise in the mouths of Bishop Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji and Msgr Charles Ikeme when he says , “Lord, I thank you for your faithfulness and love O Lord is eternal”. This same act of gratitude to God for everything is the secret of the celebrants’ longevity.
In an address presented by the Director of Communications Very Rev. Fr. Benjamin Achi on behalf of the Clergy, members of the consecrated life and the laity of the diocese, he congratulated His Excellency, Most Rev Anthony O. Gbuji and Very Rev Msgr Charles Ikeme on attaining 90 years of age. What has happened in the life of this duo according to Fr. Achi is something for which we should appropriately roll out the drums like we have decided to do today.
Continuing he said, “The Holy Writ had placed our span at 70, and went ahead to inform us that 80, (that is an extra ten), would only be the exclusive reserve and privilege of the strong. Today, we have, seated in our midst, two of our brothers who have not only exceeded that 70-year benchmark of the sacred pages, but have added not just ten but a whole score to it.”
He therefore thanked God, without whom he says we can do nothing, for all the blessings he has bestowed on the celebrants especially the gift of life and good health and for all God has done through them.
He equally appreciated the celebrants, for cooperating with God’s grace which made what we are celebrating today possible. “Longevity is a divine gift no doubts, but human cooperation is needed to make it materialize.”
The guests were treated in a wonderful reception with food, drinks while cultural troops from Sacred Heart Seminary Nsude and St. Joseph Secondary School entertained.