From Mokwugwo Solomon, Awka
The misunderstanding between the bishop, Catholic Diocese of Nnewi, Most Rev Jonas-Benson Okoye, the Ihiala Catholic Community and the Holy Ghost priests of St Martin of Tours Parish, Ihiala, has taken a dangerous dimension.
It was gathered that in the evening hours of Thursday, November 17, 2022, heavily armed men in black clothes, with their faces all covered, stormed the church premises – apparently on the instance of the bishop of Nnewi Diocese, Jonas Benson Okoye.
It was further gathered that the armed men disarmed the parish security men, tied them, and forcefully dispossessed them of their phones, and had the whole church ground locked down.
This, according to reliable sources, was connected with the bishop’s ultimatum to the Holy Ghost priests to vacate the parish house before Friday, November 18.
When our reporter contacted the parish priest of St Martin of Tours, Very Rev Fr Valentine Eze, he confirmed the development. He said the armed men were in the parish premises all through the night, and even locked out parishioners, who came to the church for Friday prayer service.
“It took the intervention of respectable parishioners to douse the tension, and prevent a bloody showdown,” the priest said.
Our correspodent reports that no sooner had the armed men left the church premises than diocesan priests, in a convoy of 12 vehicles, stormed the parish house, apparently to eject the Holy Ghost priests, and subsequently take over the parish house.
The priests met hot resistance, as the rather angry worshippers drove them out of the church premises.
The ensuring drama and altercation forced the teachers and pupils of CWO Nursery and Primary School in the parish house to close abruptly at about 9:30 am, and ran away for their lives.
The spokesperson of the parishioners, who refused to mention his name, said that the diocesan bishop, Most Rev Jonas-Benson Okoye, had asked the Holy Ghost priests, who were believed to be founders of the parish church, to leave, and find any other place for themselves.
According to him, the bishop sent a diocesan priest, Rev Fr Augustine Ndukaji, to take over as the parish of St Martin of Tours.
According to him, the bishop’s directive did not go down well with the worshippers and people of the community, who held that it would be wrong for the bishop to pursue the Holy Ghost priests, who they said, built the parish church, and brought a lot of development to the town.
“The Holy Ghost priests were the first set of priests to come to Ihiala. They built St Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Ihiala, which is the mother of all other parishes in Ihiala. They built Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital; they built the Holy Ghost Juniorate Seminary; as well as many schools in the community.
“The parishioners of St Martin of Tours and people of Ihiala are saying in unison that the decision to eject the Holy Ghost priests from a house they built, and send them nowhere, will be resisted.”