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Martin Beck Nworah Monday, October 19, 2015 3

(Tribute to Archbishop Val Okeke's 62nd birthday)
Roots and fruits go together. Good roots, good fruits! Without roots, there will be certainly no fruits, and this is a reality that stares us daily in the enterprise of life and rightly so because nothing comes from nothing. Nothing nothings! Fruitfulness is always an indication of profound rootedness while fruitlessness often symptomizes deeper reality, perhaps problems from the roots. Without going to the root of a problem solution remains superficial and ad hoc. To impact or to resolve anything, one primarily goes to the roots. By their fruits you shall know their roots. It is in this context that I shall consider the activities and achievements of a great pastor of our time, the Most Rev. Valerian Maduka Okeke, by God’s grace the incumbent Archbishop of Onitsha, and the Metropolitan of the Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, as a reflection on his episcopacy in a short period of twelve years confirms his rootedness in God.

One appreciates the pastoral fruits in his ministry as indicators of the spiritual roots. For Archbishop Val himself, these uncommon pastoral fruits are only indicators of the power of God’s grace. They do not only indicate his robust prayer life, because bishops are essentially men of prayer, but even more his total, unqualified and childlike faith and confidence in God. For, he lives prayer as a relationship with God who loves him without measure.

If there is a close correlation between spiritual roots and pastoral fruits, as is this testimony slanted, it emanates from the fact that effective and pragmatic pastoral fructification should be edified and nourished by deep-rooted spirituality. This truism is amply illustrated in the pastoral ministry of Archbishop Okeke in this twelve years of his stewardship which is characterized by profound spiritual underpinnings and which has been the fons et origo of bounteous, beneficent and enduring pastoral fruits: for gathered here and there in the Archdiocesan landscape, like a catena of twinkling stars, are incontrovertible and indelible evidence of proactive pastoral accomplishments. Besides, these dozen years have shown beyond doubt that the Archbishop is an alpha leader that capacitates the beta followers.

Between September 1, 2003 and September 1, 2015 one has witnessed the effulgence of subservient betas being transformed into alpha leaders in the pastoral vine field and ecclesiastical galaxy of the Archdiocese, as the Archbishop himself neither takes all the initiatives nor blocks the initiatives of others. Contrarily, he fosters initiatives, driving the local church to the missionary frontiers, undergoing renewal. With unleashing of the renewed energy, a would-be old fashioned organisation and a self-focused maintenance body is turned into a youthful, fecund and living spiritual organism. Thus making the local church a missionary to herself, to all sectors and to all children of God dispersed everywhere.

In answering God’s summons to the priesthood and to its fullness in the episcopacy, Dr Valerian was only making available the passion for God and His people to the mission. He was thus deploying his gift for the glory of God and human flourish. He brought into the ministry the burning desire for the measureless love of God and fullness of life for man. He came with a passion in contraposition to the passion in the world. The principle that one burning is quenched by another burning clearly manifests itself in the ministry of Archbishop Valerian Okeke. Never did he ever live in the lamentation of the thickness of darkness in the world rather he goes on lightening up the world, setting off sparks and nurturing them into flames, always avoiding suffocation in the heat of societal change but turning them into light transmitters. Consequently, refusing to be intimidated by evil, he overcomes evil with good. The burning furnace of evil in the society is thus consumed and transformed by the burning flames by love, hope and prayer.

One thrill that says it all as a leader and a shepherd is his authenticity. The Archbishop’s life exudes the import of the metaphysical truism that it is in being that one becomes. One’s history is written and driven from his being. Agere sequitor esse! Action flows and follows from being. His absolute love for, and total confidence in God could be taken for granted but his faith in the goodness of every human and man’s capacity to be good and for the positive transformation of the society stands him out and tall. It all follows and flows from his living hope, frontierless compassion, profound humility, manly courage, and unequalled gratitude. Verily, the mellifluousness of his high moral and ethical ideals possesses osmotic charm which inspires and motivates. Authenticity reveals, confirms and authenticates his rootedness in God and imbues his pastoral fruits with lasting and enduring values.

Beyond question, the profundity of the roots in the nutritional source of life yields abundant fruits. In this case, the graceful administration of Archbishop Valerian Okeke is the fruit of a man who loves and seeks God in all his dealings. Right from inception, his activities attribute worth to God and thus offer him glory and then promote human flourish.

This remains the criteria of pasturing the over 1.8 million faithful in the Archdiocese distributed into over 160 parishes and served by about 500 priests: he inherited 70 parishes and created over 90 on his own! In addition, he opened up many avenues for pastoral outreach, including providing schools to the rural and riverine communities. He also awarded scholarships to enable indigent persons realize their potentials, established the Holy Family Youth Village catering for the spiritual, formational, educational, emotional and social wellbeing of well over one thousand students of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and Chukwuemeka Ojukwu University Teaching Hospital, Awka.

Not left out are the formation of seminarians and priests for the ministry, spiritual and corporate retreats for priests and other significant sections of the leadership of the Archdiocese, raising the Basilica of the Most Blessed Trinity Onitsha to the status of a proper ecclesiastical basilica. It is within this ambient that one situates the Feed the Poor Apostolate, the Prison Apostolate, the Hospital Apostolate (not even just transforming the existing ones with facilities and expertise to meet international best practices, erecting new edifices and establishing new hospitals, but even more his practice of clearing debts by accumulated by the poor in hospitals so that they will access treatment gratis through the compassionate intervention of the Archdiocese) emergency relief interventions through the Archdiocesan Caritas Services and the JDPC Apostolate.

Still zealous for his people’s goodness towards having life in abundance, Monsignor Valerian the Archbishop floated the Oluchukwu Oil and Gas and transformed the Oluchukwu Microfinance Bank for economic empowerment. The Radio Sapientia is already making waves and reverberating in the four points of the compass. These are only a tip of the iceberg but that is the mission of the church, and the signature of the Archbishop, too. He gives glory to God and works for the flourish and nourishment of the human family. The Catholic schools, old and new, parochial and otherwise are always being transformed to be the best of their kind in the country and they have not failed to deliver excellent services and results in character and intellectual formation.

If anything, the point is made that faith is a transformation, precisely because, as I wrote elsewhere, it is an insertion into a dynamic relationship in which one experiences salvation. Faith is love as a response to, and a reciprocation of, love who is Tri-in-unity, God who is Father, His Son and their Spirit. Safely, one says that love is an action, and faith works through action.

In summary, Archbishop Valerian Maduka Okeke is firmly rooted in God, and strengthened by prayer; he has manifested that rootedness in love in pastoral accomplishments. Starting from the spiritual upliftment and ethical missionary renewal, the various pastoral initiative and leadership programmes involving the priests, religious and laity, infrastructural maintenance and development, including human infrastructural development/capacity building programmes through self reliance projects, rural evangelization/poverty eradication programmes, peace building and reconciliation, engagements in fraternal and ecumenical relations, he has lived his episcopacy as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Onitsha as a grammar of gratitude in response to the gift of grace. Since the measure of Gods love for him is without measure, he has lived his life these dozen years in the ministry of shepherding the flock of Christ gratefully as thanksgiving.

Born on Tuesday the 20th of October, 1953, as the Archbishop completes his twelfth anniversary as the Archbishop of Onitsha and the Metropolitan of Onitsha Ecclesiastical See, and celebrates his birthday may I join the numberless flock and friends in wishing him more grace to his ministry. Ad multos annos, Sacerdos Magnus!

Fr George Adimike is a doctoral student at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome.

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  1. Happy birthday Your Excellency.

  2. HBD Your Grace.

  3. Happy Birthday our dear AB!


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