TWELFUL YEARS OF ARCHBISHOP VAL OKEKE’S LEADERSHIP – George ADIMIKE
The celebration of milestones in people’s or institution’s life is an indication of growth – a barometer for measuring success. But for clerics, it is a time of reckoning, of giving account of stewardship, of evaluating the immensity and profundity of God’s grace in their labour in His vine yard. For Archbishop Valerian Okeke, the Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Onitsha, the twelve years of his episcopacy is indeed studded with milestones, thus making it eventful, and if the term is permitted, twelful!
Twelful? Yes, twelful because Archbishop Val has not only completed twelve years in his pastoral ministry and leadership, but it is full of twelves, as will be shown shortly, thus making it complete in reach, perfect in impact and dynamic in approach. Twelve is laden with meaning and full of signification. The history of the Archdiocese of Onitsha will recall 1st September, 2003 with gratitude for the ascendency of Archbishop Val Okeke to the cathedra of Onitsha See. In twelve he has done twelve.
Twelve signifies completion, perfection, dynamism. It is instructional to reminisce on the scriptural foundations of the number twelve. From the twelve tribes of Israel which formed the foundation of the old people of God, the root of the people of the old covenant, through the Twelve (also called the Apostles) who were the foundation of the people of the new covenant, to the twelve foundations of the wall of the New Jerusalem, which had in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and with appearance in 187 places in the scripture, twelve stands out dignifyingly prominent in scriptural and theological numerology. Twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles, twelve years as the Archbishop of Onitsha and sending of twelve priests for studies in Europe and Asia this year, became for me a great stimulus to reflect on his leadership from the prism of twelve, hence twelful or full of twelve. In most cases, twelve symbolizes completeness, perfection and authority, even as it denotes transformation. In the copious references to twelve in the scripture, there is the obvious tone, be it overtone, or undertone, of transformation.
Little wonder that twelve years down his episcopacy, as the incumbent Archbishop of Onitsha and the Metropolitan of the Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, Dr Valerian Okeke indisputably and eminently qualifies to be compared with the illustrious disciples of the primeval Twelve. No doubt, the task ahead of him at the ascension to the cathedra was daunting and persuading. He adopted a peculiar manner of addressing the challenges. The method was neither patronizing nor pretentious: it was not sanctimonious, and not even tinged with affectation of whatever hue. Rather, it was gilded in apostolic zeal with all the attentiveness of a moral theologian endowed with the heart of a bonus pastor bristling with plebian altruism which is encapsulated in his virtuous triad of guts, grace and gratitude, which constitute the flagship of his missionary husbandry.
The triad of guts, grace and gratitude herein summed as transformation verily characterize the Episcopacy of Archbishop Val Okeke in these twelve years. His accomplishments could have only been possible if there was a strong nexus and proper synergy between his triad of guts, grace and gratitude. For it certainly demands great guts to set in motion a chain of events, programs and/or projects that will significantly transform the lives of the people, and grace being a divine gift, is required to propel and nurture the guts which are protectively couched in gratitude to God for being chosen to be His catalyst of transformation. His self-perception being that of a subject of grace, he marches with guts to exercise gratitude, nay to be gratitude. Loved into love, the Archbishop causes forms to be turned into better forms in order to create a free and virtuous moral order. He unleashes his guts into trans-formation of songs of grace into symphony of gratitude.
Hence, good sense would permit, if not demand affixation of courage as a cognome to the Archbishop. Courage to be good and courage to do great, to forgive, to be merciful, and above all, the courage to love; in addition to courage to stand by his flock and defend them always, as well as courage to break new grounds of development, are striking traits of the Archbishop. The onerosity and dauntingness of the tasks notwithstanding, he trudges on, not really as a trailblazing alpha but in union with his collaborators, with the betas, hence alphabeta. Leadership for him is transformation through a shared vision and synergized mission. Even if many do not see as far as he sees to the effect of causing a lag and drawbacks, he dissipates the sluggishness by preparing the priests, his immediate collaborators for the task of leadership, for shared vision. Even if his vision is not equally appreciated at the beginning, he is not deterred or ruffled rather he pushes on that at the end ovation deletes the attendant challenges.
Precisely because of his gift of courage he is able to appreciate the grace that is bestowed on him thus it keeps profounding and appreciating. It is daily renewed and enlarged. This has enabled him to live this grace in gratitude thus elevating the life of beatitude as his gratitude. This informs his selfless and unassuming disposition in discharging his duty. A glance of the transformative engagement with the Metropolitan See of Onitsha reveals his imprints as impactful. These footprints which are ways of expressing gratitude to God stand out as gracemarks. Hence, gut-propelled he has done twelve. These twelves are printed in fabric of times as gratitude and they manifest and witness grace, gracemarks. The twelful signature engraved in this fabric is sending of 12 priests to study in Europe and Asia disciplines ranging from Pharmacy, Spirituality, Education, Medicine, Canon Law, Mathematics, Dogmatic Theology, Music and Scripture, without any foreign sponsorship or subvention.
The full circle to the achievements of Archbishop Val, makes the fact obvious that he is a consummate pastor with infinite passion for the spiritual and material wellbeing and flourish of his flock that they may have life (Jn 10:10). This is clearly attested to by the quality and quantity of the projects and programmes he has caused to be put in place. Tweful or if you like, transformative gratitude-prints in the pastoral landscape of the Archdiocese these years wager any cynicism or scepticism. As the Europeans have academic exchange programme, Erasmus and others, he initiated and sponsored a visit of students to Ghana for intercultural, international and educational contact with other West Africans. The students’ experiences were enriching as they were edifying. And pushing this laudable programme of human capital development a little further, it may be interesting to note that Monsignor Val is only a heartbeat away from establishing a full-blown university, the Shanahan University of Science and Technology, Onitsha (SUSTO).
Among other formative/educational strides of the energetic prelate are the Holy Family Youth Village, Amansea-Awka which is a formation facility for the moral and academic growth of University undergraduates; the St. Joseph’s Special Science/Seminary School, Awka Etiti; as well as other several primary and post primary schools. While in the economic sphere, Archbishop Val, an uncompromising believer in the holistic care of his flock has established countless institutions to that effect. To this end, he has the following ventures to his credit: the Radio Sapientia Ltd; Oluchukwu Oil and Gas Ltd; transformation of Oluchukwu Microfinance Bank; and a host of capacity building initiatives.
In the social and humanitarian domain, Archbishop Okeke, ever with a sympathetic concern for humanity – ‘a shepherd that smells like the sheep’ built and/or capacitated the following centres: Holy Rosary Hospital, Onitsha; Borromeo Hospital, Onitsha; Fatima Hospital, Awka Etiti; hospitals and maternities in Umudioka, Obosi, Abatete etc; and numerous structures for the institutionalization of charity and mercy as principles of administration, showing practically that love lives in the heart as mercy while mercy lives in the head as love.
Perhaps the spiritual achievements of the Most Rev Maduka Okeke are sterling, stupendous and surpassing. In 12 years, he has established over 90 new parishes to bring evangelization to the grassroots and within reasonable distance to his flock. To give a touch of modernity, excellence and convenience, he has embarked on a vigorous rehabilitation, reconstruction, renovation and completion of the following institutions: All Hallows Seminary Onitsha; Bishop Shanahan Complex; the old church at the Basilica; St. Catherine’s Chaplaincy, Nsugbe; St Martha House; Bethany House; and the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity Complex, just to mention some of them. And for the spiritual formation of his priests and lay people, he has established robust programmes, corporate retreats for priests, religious and lay leaders and reinvigorated the spiritual retreats and recollections; first diocesan Synod; in addition to a yearly publication of pastorals and other enriching religious literature.
In fact, Archbishop Val is a priest ahead of his time and definitely outpaces his chroniclers in material and spiritual endeavours. Guts, grace and gratitude alloyed as transformation represent the anatomy of his episcopacy these dozen years. It is strikingly perplexing to many how guts and grace integrate and manifest as gratitude. Herein lies the twelfulness or its rich transformative nature which, as has been noted, is perfect in reach, complete in impact and dynamic in approach. The decision to ordain a dying deacon to the priesthood was indeed a revolutionary act of mercy and courage. And again, ordaining another priest on a wheelchair after a ghastly car crash ten days before his ordination is a merciful action in example of the merciful Good Shepherd. None will doubt that in our clime and time, these two actions require great courage. Sending 12 priests this year to study various disciplines in Europe and Asia without external assistance is an action in courageous and visionary leadership, revolutionary love for the Church and pastoral wizardry.
In conclusion, one sees in Archbishop Valerian Maduka Okeke a committed pastor after the example of Christ, a man of prayer and peace, a social reformer, a divine catalyst in the affairs of men, a passionate humanitarian and a gracious prelate. Indeed, twelve full years of the Archbishop’s Episcopacy is significantly twelful in more ways than one.
*Fr George Adimike is a doctoral student at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome.