CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 20 April 2019

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No tolerance for tribal religious politics

VATICAN (SE): Pope Francis may be a man of compassion and forgiveness, but when it comes to a matter of tribal religious politics he draws his Mason-Dixon Line.
Early in June, he told priests of the diocese Ahiara in Nigeria to accept and welcome their new bishop, not just despite the fact that he comes from a different tribal background, but because of it.
 
Tribal identity has been a big source of tension and serious division in many countries in Africa, not only in politics, but also in the Church, and Pope Francis is not tolerating any of it in the Church.
 
Located in the Mbaise region of Imo state in Nigeria, the Ahiara diocese has had only one resident bishop up until the present. Bishop Victor Chikwe was the founding bishop in 1987 and remained at his post until his death in 2010.
 
In December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Father Peter Okpaleke, from Awka in the neighbouring Anambra state, as the new bishop, but 400 of the priests, angered that he is not a Mbaise, protested against the decision.
 
Father Okpaleke was ordained a bishop at a seminary in a neighbouring diocese in May 2013 amid heavy security. At the time of the ordination, young people locked the cathedral in Ahiara in protest and placed a coffin with the new bishop’s name on it at the chancery.
 
The bishop of the nation’s capital, Abuja, has been administering the diocese in the interim.
 
On June 8, Pope Francis told a delegation from the diocese that came to the Vatican to talk about the problem, “Whoever was opposed to Bishop Okpaleke taking possession of the diocese wants to destroy the Church.”
 
In a statement published by the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis continued, “I know very well the events that have been dragging on for years, and I am thankful for the attitude of great patience of the bishop, indeed the holy patience demonstrated by him.”
 
He added, “I listened and reflected much, even about the possibility of suppressing the diocese, but then I thought that the Church is a mother and cannot abandon her many children.”
 
Nevertheless, he made his demands clear, saying that every priest in the diocese is to write a letter addressed to himself asking for forgiveness. He is also insisting that these letters are to be written personally and by each individual.
 
In addition, the letters must clearly promise total obedience to the pope and clearly state a willingness to accept the bishop whom the pope sends and has appointed.
 
Finally, the message includes an on my desk demand, allowing 30 days to get it done.
 
The message ends with an ultimatum—failure to comply with these demands will lead to dismissal.

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