By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh
It was a time of great rejoicing for the Catholic faithful of the Archdiocese of Abuja as their Chief Shepherd, His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan celebrated 50 glorious years in the Catholic priesthood while the Archdiocese at the same time, celebrated its Silver Jubilee of elevation as an Archdiocese. Cardinal Onaiyekan was ordained on 3rd August, 1969 in his hometown of Kabba, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, while the Archdiocese of Abuja, which started off as the Independent Mission of Abuja on November 6, 1981 and later raised to the status of a diocese on July 19, 1989 was elevated to the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Abuja on March 26, 1994 with Cardinal Onaiyekan installed as its First Archbishop on 7th August, 1994.
Activities marking both events began on Thursday, 1st August, 2019 at Holy Trinity Event Center, Maitama, with the unveiling and launch of a book titled “Thy Will Be Done: A Portrait of John Cardinal Onaiyekan”, a detailed biography of H. E. John Cardinal Onaiyekan, written by his former personal secretary, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ojeifo. On Saturday, 3rd August, 2019, the exact date of his 50th priestly ordination anniversary, the Cardinal celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving held at the Our Lady Queen of Nigeria, Pro-Cathedral, Area 3, Garki, which was well attended not only by Catholics of Abuja Archdiocese, but also by Catholics of other dioceses, non-Catholics and non-Christians. Present also at the Mass were dignitaries of the Church and State, including Bishop Michael Gokum of Pankshin Diocese, Bishop Martin Uzouku of Minna Diocese, Bishop Mathew Kukah of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Anselm Umoren, the Auxiliary Bishop of Abuja, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, the Co-Adjutor Archbishop of Abuja and H. E. Most Rev. Anthonio Fillipazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria. Speaking in his homily, the Cardinal thanked God who called him to ministry and has sustained him through the years. He briefly reminisced on his journey to and through the priesthood and stated that from the onset, his mind was clear as a little boy that he wanted to be a priest. The high point of the Mass was the reading and presentation of the personal goodwill message of his Holiness, Pope Francis to Cardinal Onaiyekan, which was read in Latin and afterward delivered by His Excellency, Most. Rev. Anthonio Fillipazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria. The Mass was followed with a reception in the Cardinal’s honour at the same venue
Continuing in the mood and spirit of celebration, the Church of Abuja gathered again on Sunday, 4th August to celebrate the silver jubilee of the elevation of Abuja to the status of an Archdiocese. Priests, religious and lay faithful from across the Archdiocese trooped to the Our Lady Queen of Nigeria, Pro-Cathedral, Area 3, Garki, the venue of the celebration to rejoice with and pray for the continued growth of the Archdiocese. In his homily at the Mass, the Cardinal Onaiyekan thanked the people of God in the Archdiocese for their continued support through the years from when Abuja was an Independent Mission. He expressed joy that the silver jubilee of the Archdiocese providentially coincides with his golden jubilee of priesthood and used the opportunity to remind the people again that he was due for retirement and was still waiting for the Pope’s assent to his resignation letter. He further seized the opportunity to appeal to all Catholics in the Archdiocese to give more support to the ongoing building of the Cathedral, which he says is now in a very critical stage. During the Mass, two deacons of the Archdiocese, Reverends Boniface Neibo and Joseph Obada were ordained priests.