By Chikezie Ogbonna
In a grand celebration that echoed with the resonance of half a century of devoted service, the Enugu Diocese gathered today at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Emene, to honor the 50th Episcopal Anniversary of the Emeritus Bishop, Most Rev. Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji. The air was thick with reverence as Bishops, Priests, the religious, the faithful, and leaders from every corner of the nation and beyond came together to pay homage to a remarkable man whose life has been intertwined with the tapestry of the Catholic Church.
At the age of 92, Bishop Gbuji stands as a living testament to a lifetime of commitment, having served as an ordained Bishop for an impressive 50 years and as an ordained priest for an astounding 65 years. The celebratory atmosphere was heightened by the presence of Nigerian conference of Bishops and His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, the visibly excited Emeritus Bishop of Abuja Diocese, who delivered a heartfelt homily.
Cardinal Onaiyekan, with palpable joy, expressed the rarity of such an occasion, emphasizing the significance of living through and witnessing fifty years of episcopacy. “Fifty years a Bishop – from 1973 to 2023. It’s not a common grace,” he exclaimed. The Cardinal invited all present to join in a holy mass to express gratitude to the Almighty for the grace bestowed upon Most Rev. Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji. Drawing inspiration from the Scriptures, he likened Bishop Gbuji to the figure Isaiah spoke of, stating that the spirit of God is undoubtedly upon him to bring good news to the oppressed.
Continuing with his Homily, His Eminence highlighted that Bishop Gbuji’s story goes beyond the fifty years of episcopacy. it spans an incredible ninety-three years on Earth. A journey that commenced from the womb, through being an altar boy, junior and senior seminarian, to the pinnacle of priesthood and episcopacy. Cardinal Onaiyekan painted a portrait of a man called, prepared, and equipped by the Lord to bring good news to God’s people, a Doctor of Canon Law. Bishop Gbuji’s path led him to be ordained as a Catholic Bishop in the Diocese of Issele Uku in 1973, ultimately retiring in the Enugu Diocese.
Cardinal Onaiyekan paid tribute to Bishop Gbuji’s pivotal role as the pioneer Bishop of the new Diocese of Issele-Uku during the tumultuous times of the civil war. He, along with his contemporaries from the famous class of 1971, played a crucial role in shaping the church into what it is today. Cardinal Onaiyekan, however, pondered whether the growth and development seen in the church could be mirrored in the country. Despite the abundance of natural and human resources, Nigeria still grapples with poverty.
In a resounding call for change, Cardinal Onaiyekan urged the nation to stop settling for things being done poorly but to strive for correctness, especially in the electoral process. He emphasized the need for fair elections, discouraging dependence on the judiciary to announce rightful winners. Drawing inspiration from Liberia, he urged a revival of the electoral system before new elections, advocating for competence over power.
Bishop Gbuji’s exceptional episcopacy of about 40 years, spanning Issele-Uku and Enugu Dioceses, was highlighted. His approach, characterized by moving when the spirit leads, has left an indelible mark. His ability to navigate tricky situations within the church, coupled with a keen eye for spiritual details, was lauded.
According to Cardinal Onaiyekan, a major aspect of Bishop Gbuji’s episcopacy has been his commitment to the propagation of the new era of evangelism. His efforts were not confined to his diocese alone but extended far and wide.
In his thanksgiving prayer, Cardinal Onaiyekan expressed gratitude for the remaining years and sought God’s mercy. He acknowledged the support of the Bishops and the faithful of the Enugu Diocese who contributed to his well-being.
In a goodwill address, His Eminence Most Rev. Lucuis Ugorji, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) and the Archbishop of Owerri ArchDiocese, recounted how Bishop Gbuji became synonymous with Canon law. Describing him as a living encyclopedia, Archbishop Ugorji praised Bishop Gbuji’s dedication to the New Evangelization drive of the church. He emphasized that Bishop Gbuji’s efforts extended beyond pushing frontiers; he crowned his commitment with extensive publications on New Evangelization, benefiting the CBCN immensely.
According to His Eminence, CBCN has immensely benefited from him in so many ways.
The host and Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Most Rev. Callistus Onaga, delivered a vote of thanks filled with faith, declaring with faith that the celebrant, Bishop Gbuji, now 92, will reach the age of 100. Expressing deep gratitude, Bishop Onaga acknowledged the presence of seven out of the nine archbishops in Nigeria, 20 bishops from various dioceses, priests, members of religious communities, and political leaders, including the Executive Governor of Enugu State, Dr. Peter Mbah, and former Anambra State Governor and presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the last general election, Mr. Peter Obi.
Others were the immediate past governor of Enugu State, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and his counterpart, Barr. Sullivan Chime amongst many other dignitaries
Enugu State Governor Commends Bishop Gbuji’s Enduring Legacy
In a short but thought provoking address during the 50th Episcopal Anniversary celebration of Emeritus Bishop Most Rev. Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji, the Executive Governor of Enugu State, Dr. Peter Mbah, eloquently praised the enduring legacies of the revered bishop. The governor, with genuine delight, highlighted Bishop Gbuji’s indelible contributions to both the growth of the church and the broader society.
Governor Mbah specifically commended Bishop Gbuji’s pivotal role in the establishment of the Diocesan-owned Godfrey Okoye University several years ago. With evident satisfaction, the governor reflected on how this institution has evolved into one of Nigeria’s foremost citadels of higher education. The university stands as a testament to Bishop Gbuji’s vision and dedication to advancing education in the region.
“Bishop Gbuji’s impact on the establishment of Godfrey Okoye University has been monumental. The institution has not only grown in stature but has also emerged as a leading center of higher education in our nation,” remarked Governor Mbah. He expressed delight in the positive influence the university has had on the academic landscape, producing skilled and knowledgeable individuals who contribute significantly to the development of the country.
In addition to acknowledging the bishop’s contributions to education, Governor Mbah extended his heartfelt prayers for continued blessings upon Bishop Gbuji and the entire diocese. His words resonated with a sense of admiration for the bishop’s multifaceted contributions, emphasizing the enduring impact of his leadership.
As the celebration unfolded, the governor’s address added a profound layer to the tribute paid to Bishop Gbuji. It highlighted not only the spiritual leadership of the bishop but also his far-reaching influence in the realm of education, underscoring the holistic impact of Bishop Gbuji’s legacy on both the church and the broader Enugu community.
The celebrant, Bishop Gbuji, in his appreciation message, thanked his colleague Bishops for their unflinching prayers and support and as well blessed all for their continuous effort in the faith and beyond.
The event continued beyond the mass with an exquisite reception where many speakers continued to pour encomiums in reminiscent of the emeritus Bishop’s legacies. This was indeed a fitting celebration in honor of the Golden Bishop. As the sun set on this monumental day, the echoes of gratitude, praise, and commitment lingered in the hearts of all present, a testament to a life well-lived in the service of God and humanity.