Your Grace, Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria,
Your Grace, Most Rev. Valerian Okeke, the Metropolitan of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province,
Your Graces and Your Lordships
Your Excellency, Dr. Peter Ndubuisi Mbah, the Executive Governor of Enugu State,
The Deputy Governor of Enugu State, Barr. Ifeanyi Ossai,
Members of the National and State Houses of Assembly here present,
Your Excellences here present,
His Royal Highnesses,
Very Rev. Monsignori & Frs.,
Members of the Consecrated Life,
Members of the Lay faithful,
And dear people of God,
With hearts filled with utmost joy and gratitude to God, we welcome all of you to this joyous occasion. It is indeed an epoch-making event in the history of Enugu Diocese and the Church in Nigeria. Today, we are gathered to celebrate the awesomeness of God’s grace in the life of our Bishop Emeritus, Most Rev. Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji, as he marks the 50th Anniversary of his episcopal consecration. To the Lord, the Master of the vineyard, be all honour and glory both now and forever. Amen.
In explaining the significance of the office of the episcopacy, the Dogmatic constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, stresses that “Among the principal duties of bishops, the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock (LG 25).
Quite frankly, the episcopacy of Bishop Anthony Gbuji clearly reflects the minds of the Council Fathers of Vatican II. The reason is this, the story of the episcopacy of Bishop Anthony Okonkwo Gbuji cannot be completed without the mention of his role in New Evangelization. The theme of New Evangelization was the major focus of Pope St. John Paul II during his papacy. The Pope emphasized a New Evangelization which would be new in method, in zeal and expression. As a response to Pope John Paul’s call for New Evangelization, and with the encouragement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Bishop Gbuji dived fully into national and local search for pathways to deepening and strengthening the faith of the people. He found the solution in what was set out as the programme of Evangelization 2000 – something which was already begun in Rome in 1985 by Father Tom Forest, a Redemptorist Priest.
As a pioneering Bishop of Issele-Uku Diocese and Apostolic Administrator of Benin Arch Diocese, he established canonical structures of governance, and embarked upon massive grassroot evangelization. For him, the Church exists for mission, the Church exists for evangelization; outreach programmes, revival programmes and re-orientation programmes are all necessary for the Church to fulfil her mission. Launching the New Evangelization programme in Enugu Diocese was a turning point. He sent some priests to Issele-uku for training on this discipline. He personally trained seminarians on New Evangelization at all opportune contacts he had with them. Enugu Diocese, therefore, became the hub of New Evangelization among all the dioceses in Nigeria.
In fact, we have gathered here to celebrate a shepherd who has earned for himself the sobriquet: The Father of New Evangelization in Africa. Through prayerful reflection and assistance upon his retirement, Most Rev. Callistus Onaga became a gift to the diocese as he took over the mantle of Leadership in 2009. The announcement and appointment of Most Rev. Ernest Obodo as the first Auxiliary Bishop of Enugu Diocese is a witness of the seed of evangelization planted by Bishop Gbuji. May God be praised.
Most Rev. Anthony Okonkwu Gbuji, our dear Jubilarian, as we thank God for the gift of you to us, we thank you for your willingness and openness in accepting and discharging faithfully the work of God in our diocese and beyond. Your spirituality, firmly centred on the Eucharistic Jesus, laid an enviable foundation and growth in the diocese. Your Eucharistic pastoral life re-echoes the words of Lumen Gentium that “A bishop marked with the fullness of the sacrament of Orders, is “the steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood,” especially in the Eucharist, which he offers or causes to be offered and by which the Church continually lives and grows (LG. 26). The daily celebration of Mass is your priority. The Divine Office for you is not just an obligation to be fulfilled but a call to a personal relationship with Christ who speaks through the Psalms and the Sacred Scripture. We realized that your undying pastoral zeal definitely comes from your closeness to Christ in the Eucharist and your great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. All these have to a great extent informed and inspired the faith we are celebrating today in Enugu Diocese.
My Lord, the Church in Nigeria will remain ever grateful to you for your dedicated services as a priest for the past 65 years, and as a bishop for 50 years. We know that you did not set out to achieve the many important milestones that adorn your life’s journey for your personal credit. You were simply being a priest, called by God to the work of primary evangelization in the footsteps of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Divine mercy Incarnate who came, not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. You considered yourself, in the words of Rev. Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., as ‘a pencil in God’s hand’ Who was using his ‘nothingness’ to show God’s greatness. You taught us that there is nothing impossible for God to do if we are willing to be used; and that we place our total trust in divine providence.
As we say ad multos annos to you, we pray you to accept the little token we are offering you to mark this memorable day in your life.
Most Rev. Callistus Chukwuma Onaga
Catholic Bishop of Enugu Diocese
Very Rev. Fr. Wilfred Chidi Agubuchie
Rev. Fr. Joseph Ugo Ahukanna, OP.
Vicar for the Religious
Prof. Adonai Okonkwo
Chairmain, Laity Council