In the wake of the killings of innocent worshipers at St Philip’s Catholic Church, Amakwa Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State on August 6, 2017, the Catholic Bishop of Nnewi Diocese, Most Rev Hilary Odili Okeke has been playing host to scores of sympathizers trooping in from various parts of Nigeria and beyond to Nnewi where the diocesan bishop’s court is located to commiserate with the bishop.
The Diocesan bishop while speaking with newsmen lamented the desecration of the church by the tragic incident. However, he said its cleansing would have been possible, if the church had been dedicated in the first place, but because it was not dedicated, Bishop Okeke ruled out its re-dedication.
“It is very disastrous, I really believe it was a terrible thing that happened to us. That it happened in the church even makes it worse and it is unacceptable to us or any other one. Violence in the church is church desecration and the implication is that the devil is at work.
The devil can work anywhere. That the devil led people to come into the church to kill shows that the devil is very much at work.
“As for the cleansing, we would have done that, especially if the church was dedicated, but this church was not dedicated. If it were a dedicated church, it would be rededicated. All we have to do is to pray. We have already done that.
The day we went there, we discovered that it was sealed and we went to a nearby place and celebrated mass, not only for God to give eternal rest for the dead but a speedy recovery of the wounded and also for God to touch the lives of those who committed the heinous crime.”
However, some people have opined that the church generally should have internal security arrangements because of rising crime wave all over the country.
It is for this reason, according to the proponents, that some personalities go to church with their security details including the army and the police.
The bishop said the church would continue to hand over the worshipers and security issues to God. He supported his submission with what is written in the scripture that if God did not watch over the city, the watchmen are watching in vain.
He said that even in developed countries like America and in Europe, criminals still strike with all the security arrangements put in place.
According to him, some time ago Pope John II was shot despite the security around him. He, however, said that if the church would begin to make security arrangements that it needed no publication, that it should be done unannounced.
Asked what lessons could be learnt from the massacre, Bishop Okeke said people should always be careful wherever they are as the devil has been at work both in the church and everywhere.
“The lessons are for mankind to know that the devil has always been at work, so they have to be careful. I always call upon people to change, that the kingdom of God is at hand. Those who think that they can gain the whole world should know that live is vanity upon vanity.
The important thing is to live in such a way that when we leave this world, we will go and live with God forever. That is my life, that is my vocation and that is what I’m here for.
That I die today does not mean anything to me. The important thing is to be ready to die, ready to go to God.”
Even though the Bishop is writhing in pains over the massacre of his parishioners, some people in some quarters have begun to call for his resignation as bishop.
Confronted with this call, Bishop Okeke who was visibly angry over that said: “They themselves will resign first. If they want me to resign, let them resign first. Let them resign. People just open their mouth and begin to say what they like and you should not listen to all that people say.
If people who know everything will come out and bring any criminality upon the bishop, bishop will take action, the church will take action. Not that someone opens his mouth to say whatever he likes. They are free to say whatever they want to say.”
A major area that bothers some Christians and non-Christians alike is why church organizations accept offers of church buildings and other donations from groups and individuals without bothering to find out source of income of the donors.
On this touchy issue, he said:
“But if you get the information that the person is making his money through a dubious way in criminality, then you know what to do.
It is not just a question of anybody who brings money or offers anything to the church, you go to the police and ask them to investigate this man’s source of wealth before you accept it. It is not done. If you do it, then even in the church we should not be accepting any money because evil people can come to church and give. It is God who knows if the person is giving the money from criminal or immoral source. God knows everybody and will reward the person accordingly.
If you know that the person is a criminal that is when you now tell him, my man go and change.”
He said about fifteen churches in the Diocese were built by private individuals and noted that it is only someone who had been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction that the church would not accept offers from.
“Even in the Bible it is not the work of the church to begin to cast people away. The church is for the saints and sinners and it is our duty to continue to preach to the sinners.”
He told the parishioners not to be scared from going to church by the incident but rather exhibit their faith in this challenging period.