Dear Monsignor ANAGBE,
I recieved with shock and amazement, but with a lot of joy and excitement too, the news of your appointment as Co-Adjutor Bishop of Makurdi Diocese by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, on July 10, 2014. I was and still am shocked at this appointment, just like I believe other Catholic faithful in Makurdi are too, not because you lack the credentials or qualities for the office of Bishop, no, far from it, rather it is because before now most of your flock had never come in contact with you directly or indirectly, for the obvious reason that you are a Claretian Priest and never had a chance before now to interact very closely with the flock in Makurdi diocese. This notwithstanding, the Holy Father and Vicar of Christ has spoken, and we the people of God, soon to be the sheep of your flock, have wholeheartedly and openly accepted you. On behalf of my beloved wife Carol and our daughter Ngu’Mbur, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment and to wish
you success in this onerous pastoral assignment.
This is the second time in the history of Makurdi Diocese that a Co-Adjutor Bishop would be appointed, Bishop Athanasius Usuh having previously been so appointed. What is however unique about your appointment is that it is the first in the new Makurdi Diocese whose geographical area of coverage has been reduced to just the four Local Government Areas of Guma, Gwer-East, Gwer-West and Makurdi that such an appointment would be made.
This would be the last Sunday anybody would ever again refer to you as MONSIGNOR! By this time next Sunday you would have been installed as Co-Adjutor Bishop and any communication with you, and indeed any reference to you, would be preceded by BISHOP or, as many others would prefer or are more familair with, MY LORD, and as we begin this count down to your installation on Saturday October 4, 2014 I take the liberty to say a word or two.
THE LEGACY OF BISHOP ATHANASIUS ATULE USUH:
You probably know better than I do that you are stepping into the shoes of a rather unsung and characteristically humble and very reserved man of God who has diligently and forthrightly served God and his peoples with the commitment, singlemindedness and dedication that can only be associated with a man who has been truly called to serve. Under Bishop Usuh, Makurdi has given birth to four and a half other dioceses – Otukpo, Lafia, parts of Jalingo, Gbooko and Katsina-Ala. In the whole of northern Nigeria Benue and Makurdi Diocese are the only other locations other than the Archdioceses of Kaduna and Jos and of course Kaduna and Plateau States with atleast three or more Dioceses. This is no mean feat and we play glowing tribute to Bishop Usuh and the clergy and people of God who have supported him all these years. But perhaps the clearest indication of the growth of the Church and the spread of the gospel in the nooks and crannies of Makurdi is the recent
creation of new Deaneries that have not only devolved authority to the local levels but have also brought the Church much more closer to the people of God .
It is my hope and expectation that when you succeed Bishop Usuh you will work closely with the clergy and people God whom he has entrusted in your care to ensure that Makurdi becomes an Archdiocese! Bishop Usuh has grown the Church vertically and you will continue with his good work and grow the Church horizontally, this is my wish for you and may God bless the work of your hands.
AN AGENDA FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF MINDA:
Your appointment and installation is in my view auspicious and it comes at a most auspicious moment too! And this is precisely because it is generally believed in Benue, and particularly in Tar Tiv, that the next Governor of Benue State would, by the grace of God, come from the area that is colloquially referred to as MINDA! This is a fitting coincidence! As you may have noticed already the political space is agog with all kinds of activities. Some of the Gubernatorial aspirants have clearly articulated their development agenda for the state while several others have yet to do so. But even with the best of intentions the person who will emerge as Governor of our State in 2015 will have the entire Benue as their constituency, thus leaving the much touted MINDA governor as a mere mirage. Regrettable as this may seem it nevertheless provides a gap that can and should be filled by the Church. While not cut out to discharge the responsibility that is
constitutionally that of government, the Church can and should spearhead the development of an agenda for the rapid socio-economic transformation of MINDA.
As you may soon get to know, or probably know already, the socio economic situation that necessitated the release of such Papal Encyclicals like POPULORUM PROGRESSIO, QUADRAGESIMO ANNO, RERUM NOVARUM and PACEM IN TERRIS, to mention just but a few, are still very much prevalent in Benue and more particularly in the four LGs I have mentioned already! This has been exacerbated by the recent attacks carefully orchestrated by mercenaries allegedly procured by MIYETTI ALLAH CATTLE BREEDERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (MACBAN).
A tour of the affected areas would provide you a picture of the abysmal situation left behind by these reckless marauders and how our communities have been set back by so many years, requiring all efforts to be on deck to take us back to where we ordinarily ought to be. And this is precisely where the Church as an Institution comes in. Needless to remind you of Christ’s Manifetoe in Luke 4: 18-19 “the spirit of the Lord is on me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord”
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CLERGY AND POLITICIANS:
In a pamphlet titled “GUIDELINES ON PASTORAL MINISTRY IN THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF MAKURDI” published with the approval of Bishop Usuh in 2012 Section 6.2 has this to say: “in line with two circulars on this subject (5th June 2003 and 19th November 2011), no other person is allowed to speak at any eucharistic celebration except the presiding priest, deacon, the readers and those responsible for making announcements. In a period where multi-party system is in operation, allowing other people, especially politicians, for whom thanksgiving Massess are requested or who have themselves requested thanksgiving Masses, to make speeches in the Church will most certainly create rifts among God’s family at worship. Worse still, the church will stand the risk of being erroneously identified with a particular political party. This, we must avoid at all costs. Masses are not occassions when people are allowed to make speeches in the church. Speeches can conveniently be
made at the reception venues”.
Unfortunately, this clear guideline has been observed more in brreach than in compliance. While it is understandable that Masses provide a captive audience which politicians would graciously target for political gain, the truth is that this practice does incalculable damage to the body of Christ and to the sanctity of the holy Mass. Recently, we have seen an even more audacious and even greater version of this practice where aspirants to Political Office move from one Church to another seeking the endorsement and blessings of willing men of God, all in the name of thanksgiving. You must rapidly move towards arresting this dangerous trend and the slippery slope on which the Church appears to have been placed and put in place a set of principles that would regulate the relationship between the clergy and politicians and in particular the acceptable mode which thanksgiving Masses should take.
THE IMPERATIVE OF BUDGET AND PLANNING:
Over the years funding and fund raising has increasingly become the main issue within the Catholic Church, and in extreme cases doctrinal principles are even set aside to enable for fund raising of diverse kind. Gradually such dubious and uncouth expressions like “drop something” and in Tiv “ta kwagh nya”, fit only to be associated with rogues, touts and politicians, are finding their way, surreptitiously, into the divine and ecclesiastical lexicon of the Church. This dangerous trend and the extent to which it could concievably degenerate must be arrested without any further delay.
One effective strategy in this direction is to introduce budget and planning into the operational code of the church and with it bring about some measure of control on fund raising activities. At the end of every year let every parish prepare its detailed budget for the incoming year with a clear indication of its sources of funding and the capacity. By the time the budget of all parishes is fed into the Diocesan budget we can have a holistic diocesan budget into which we can all key and identify with. This way it becomes easier to streamline the projects that would be embarked upon, identify areas where monies could be moved from one Parish or service to another and generally bring greater decorum and decency to fund raising and relieve the worshiping community of the huge burden they seem to be carrying and the irritation that sometimes comes with it.
As an immediate step let all second collections and priestly anniversaries be suspended immediately until we have guidelines indicating how we can go about it. Particularly on celebration of anniversaries I admit we must celebrate but the social nature that some of these celebrations take and the volume of resources channeled towards organising and holding them leaves a lot to be desired.
It remains for me to congratulate you once again and wish you God’s guidance as you embark on this ecclesiastical journey. In an era when Catholic faithful are begining to reject Bishop appointees in utter defiance to the authority of the Holy Father, and for reasons that are most irresponsible and untenable within an ecclesiastical domain, the elaborate preparations put in place for your installation next Saturday is a clear indication of the willingness of the Catholic faithful in Makurdi to work with you.
We pray and commend your family for their gift to God and his peoples and that from and through them even greater gifts would come to God and the faithful of Makurdi diocese. We equally pray for and congratulate the Claretian community as one of their own is raised to the Order of Bishops. And most importantly we pray for a hitch free ceremony and for journey mercies to all Bishops and other individuals who will travel from other parts of Nigeria to witness your installation. May the will of God in your life of service come to fulfillment!
Once again, congratulations Monsignor!
Mike Utsaha, Esq.