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Oceans divide, faith unites

Fr Leonard Uzuegbu (left) with Archbishop Mark Coleridge in Umuahia, Nigeria. Fr Leonard was ordained in Brisbane's Cathedral of St Stephen on June 27, 2014.

Fr Leonard Uzuegbu (left) with Archbishop Mark Coleridge in Umuahia, Nigeria. Fr Leonard was ordained in Brisbane’s Cathedral of St Stephen on June 27, 2014.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge ordained 10 priests at Mater Dei Cathedral, Umuahia, Nigeria, on July 19. He was there as a guest of Bishop Lucius Ugorji of Umuahia, as a result of the partnership between the Umuahia and Brisbane dioceses. Brisbane episcopal centre project officer LISA FORBES writes about the ordination Mass.

ARCHBISHOP Mark’s voice rang out in Mater Dei Cathedral, singing “N’aha Nna, na Nwa, na Muonso” (Igbo language for “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”).

After a moment’s pause of astonishment, the congregation responded with a hearty “Amen!” And then applauded.

Bishop Lucius Ugorji and Archbishop Mark Coleridge process through the crowd after the Mass in Mater Dei Cathedral, Umuahia, for the ordination of 10 men.

Bishop Lucius Ugorji and Archbishop Mark Coleridge process through the crowd after the Mass in Mater Dei Cathedral, Umuahia, for the ordination of 10 men.

The Archbishop continued the greeting in Igbo, and the nun sitting beside me leaned over and whispered, “He has done it perfectly!”

Mass continued in English, but the opening exchange between our Archbishop and the thousands of Igbo people gathered in the cathedral highlighted the very special nature of this event held last Saturday (July 19) in Umuahia, Nigeria.

Ten men were ordained as priests by Archbishop Mark for Umuahia diocese, including Chukwudi Chinaka and Nicholas Okafor.

Fr Chinaka and Fr Okafor completed their seminary formation at Holy Spirit Seminary, Banyo, and had parish placements at West Chermside/Wavell Heights and Murgon respectively.

They also had brief diaconal placements at Gayndah and the Cathedral of St Stephen.

Bishop Lucius Ugorji welcomed the Archbishop and paid tribute to the extraordinary nature of the friendship between our two dioceses, initiated between himself and Archbishop John Bathersby over eight years ago, and growing in strength each year.

In his moving homily, Archbishop Mark noted how far Brisbane is from Umuahia, but explained that there is no separation in Christ.

As each deacon came forward and knelt before the Archbishop, placing their joined hands between his, they promised respect and obedience to Bishop Lucius and his successors.

The laying on of hands at the ordination.

The laying on of hands at the ordination.

Then ushers hurriedly rolled out large red carpets in an area below the sanctuary and the 10 men prostrated themselves while the Litany of Saints was sung in Latin.

A special moment during the Laying on of Hands was to see newly ordained Fr Leonard Uzuegbu lay hands on Chukwudi and Nicholas in turn. Fr Leonard was ordained for Brisbane in the Cathedral of St Stephen on June 27 this year.

Once the ordination rite was completed, the Procession of Gifts began, and the cathedral exploded with colour and song.

Each priest’s extended family (several hundred people in most cases) danced and sang as they brought forward their gifts – money, bananas, melons, yams, packages of toilet rolls, bottled water, sacks of rice, even goats!

They presented their gifts; then gathered at the steps of the sanctuary to receive a blessing.

They were so liberally sprinkled with holy water by their priest that, before the Eucharistic Prayers, ushers rushed forward with mops to dry the marble sanctuary steps.

At the end of Mass, Archbishop Mark prayed the final blessing in Latin and all turned to face the Marian shrine to the east of the cathedral and sang the Salve Regina.

Then, three-and-a-quarter hours after Mass began, the bishops, priests, deacons and servers processed outside into the cathedral precinct where each family group had set up a series of tents to accommodate their members.

Much feasting, dancing and singing continued for hours into the late afternoon.

Archbishop Mark visited the Chinakas’ and Okafors’ tents to congratulate each family.

Progress through the crowds was slow, however, as he was much in demand for photos and blessings for anyone who caught sight of him.

In time, the Archbishop’s pastoral assistant Fr Anthony Ekpo and Fr Uzuegbu managed to usher him safely through the crowd.

All in all, it was a marvellous experience of worship and prayer, and I was so glad to be part of it.

Fr Chinaka and Fr Okafor will return to Brisbane in early September. Fr Chinaka will join the Ipswich parish as associate pastor, and Fr Okafor will minister in Surfers Paradise.

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