My diocese, my pride. My faith, my heritage

cathedral

ST ANNE CATHEDRAL

Yes, my diocese is my pride; my faith, my heritage! So, which is my Diocese and what is my Faith? Well, my Diocese is Ikot Ekpene and my Faith is the Christian and Catholic Faith. So, what makes these my pride and heritage? To answer this, dear friends, I welcome you to this historical tour and expository journey to the diocese called IKOT EKPENE.

Ikot Ekpene Diocese, located in the South Southern part of Nigeria, Africa, was created in 1963 by Pope John XXIII. Precisely, located in Akwa Ibom State, the diocese is one of the suffragan dioceses of the Ecclesiastical Province of Calabar since 1993. The diocese covers an area of 2, 263 square kilometres with a population of about 1,030,896 inhabitants (as at the 2006 census) of which about 80% are Christians and about 10% are Catholics, that is, about 117,609. The Cathedral Church named Saint Anne Cathedral is located along Cardinal Ekandem Avenue in Ikot Ekpene metropolis. The current Bishop, its third, Most Rev. Camillus Raymond Umoh was consecrated and took possession on October 9, 2010.

banner-1

A CROSS SECTION OF PRIESTS ON ANNUAL RETREAT

The earliest date for the foundation of any mission Church in Ikot Ekpene was in 1914 by the missionary fathers at Anua, St Anne Station, Ifuho, which is now the Cathedral. It was established in 1918 with Rev. Fathers Paul Biéchy, CSSP, and James Moynagh, SPS, as the first resident priests in 1920 and 1930, respectively, under Bishop Joseph Shanahan – the pioneer Holy Ghost Bishop of Southern Nigeria with his headquarters at Onitsha.

Ikot Ekpene has always been associated with Calabar Mission, which was established when Fr. James Moynagh, SPS, was appointed the Prefect Apostolic on July 9, 1934. When the Prefecture was raised to the status of Vicariate Apostolic on June 13, 1947, the Pastoral Care of the entire territory was entrusted to Bishop James Moynagh who became the Bishop of Calabar Diocese on April 18, 1950.

FB_IMG_1554817590620

BISHOP CAMILLUS RAYMOND UMOH

With the appointment of Bishop Moynagh, SPS, the Holy Ghost Fathers were replaced by the St. Patrick Fathers, who thenceforth have been indeed the Founding Fathers of Evangelization in Calabar, Ogoja, Ikot Ekpene, Port Harcourt and Uyo Dioceses.

The first indigenous Bishop of Ikot Ekpene was the Most Rev. Bishop Dominic I. Ekandem. He was ordained a priest on December 7, 1947, in Ifuho. He was consecrated an Auxiliary Bishop on February 7, 1954, by Bishop Moynagh as the consecrating prelate and Bishops Peter Rogan MHM of Buéa and Paul Biéchy of Brazzaville as co-consecrators. On March 1, 1963, following the creation of the diocese, the Most Rev. Bishop Dominic I. Ekandem was appointed the first resident Bishop of Ikot Ekpene Diocese with the then Civil Provinces of Abak and Ikot Ekpene and all of the Annang ethnic extraction under it.

FB_IMG_1554817623639

A CROSS SECTION OF THE LAITY AT EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION

Bishop Dominic Ekandem was the Bishop from 1963 to 1989. On October 31, 1971, Most Rev. Bishop Ephraim S. Obot, who later became the Bishop of Idah Diocese in Kogi State (1971-2010), was appointed Auxiliary to Bishop Dominic Ekandem. Under Bishop Dominic Ekandem, Ikot Ekpene Diocese witnessed a tremendous growth in the ordination of indigenous priests. Creation of parishes, establishment of schools and hospitals. He was a Cardinal on April 27, 1976, and his creation in the Consistory as the first Cardinal in Nigeria on May 24, 1976, by Pope Paul VI.

On the appointment of His Eminence Dominic Cardinal Ekandem to the See of Abuja Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria (FCT) in 1989, Most Bishop Camillus A. Etokudoh who was consecrated the Auxiliary Bishop of Ikot Ekpene Diocese on May 14, 1988 became its second Bishop. He was appointed to the See on September 1, 1989 and installed as its second Bishop on February 3, 1990. Following the appointment of Most Rev. Camillus A. Etokudoh as the Catholic Bishop of Port Harcourt Diocese on May 4, 2009, Msgr. Camillus Raymond Umoh was appointed as the Catholic Bishop of Ikot Ekpene on July 16, 2010, to replace Most Rev. Bishop C. A. Etokudoh. He was ordained on October 9, 2010, as the third Bishop of the diocese.

FB_IMG_1554817529546

A CROSS SECTION OF RELIGIOUS AND SEMINARIANS

Over the years, the clergy and lay faithful of the diocese work together for the evangelization of the people of the area. As such there has been a widespread of lay apostolates and evangelism that have seen many converted to the Catholic Faith. In Ikot Ekpene, there is a true, gradual and fruitful inculturation of the Christian Faith into the culture of the people. A diocese created almost along the line of geographic-ethno-politics of the state is predominantly made up of the Annang. The Annang culture is generally a culture of respect, hospitality and creativity. Its people are lively and happy people who are contented with the good gifts nature and God has bestowed on them. They love and appreciate arts, dance, music and foreigners. The Annang is a home for good African delicacies, the palm wine and locally made gin.

banner-2

REGINA PACIS AUDITORIUM

Vocation to the catholic priesthood and the religious life has increased over the years. With her catholic schools and the seminaries, there is a well-thought-out formation plan to embrace vocation even from an early age. Still a young diocese with only 56 years of existence she has so much prospects for the future.  The collaboration that exists between its clergy and its laity is a beauty to behold and has facilitated its missionary growth over the years.

As a Spiritual hub of the area, Ikot Ekpene Diocese has a Pastoral Centre named Cardinal Ekandem Pastoral Centre where visitors can find solace and comfort. The Diocese is currently embarking on a Retreat Centre Project which promises to be a Pilgrimage Centre open for all in need of a Spiritual tourism, Spiritual refreshment and rekindling. You can as well be a part of that project by contacting the Project coordinators through the Diocesan Website.

FB_IMG_1554817351667

PRIESTLY ORDINATION

Ikot Ekpene Metropolis is not only home to the Cathedral Church of Saint Anne but there are up to four other Catholic Churches (parishes) within the city to include: St. Vincent de Paul Church (Located along Umuahia Road), St Anne Catholic Church (Located along Essien Road), St Dominic Catholic Church, (Located along Cardinal Ekandem Avenue) and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (Located Off Uyo Road). These Faith communities are always very welcoming and will be delighted to have you join them in worship and prayers. The Diocesan Secretariat complex is located within the Cathedral Church premises.   

Growing up within the local Church and faith community, attending the various catechism classes and subsequently receiving my baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation as well as working in various capacities in the Diocese as a Seminarian, Deacon and now as a Priest, I have come to appreciate my diocese as my pride, my Catholic Faith as my heritage. In Ikot Ekpene Diocese Faith not only becomes action but faith comes alive. For more information please visit the Diocesan Website @ www.ikotekpenediocese.org

Ikot Ekpene Diocese is a community of Faith and LIFE

Valentine Umoh
Priest of the Diocese
Ordained 2014.

 

DO NOT BE AFRAID, NEVER BE DISCOURAGED: IT CAN ONLY GET BETTER!

nigerian-youths-891x470

Yes, times are hard! “I am not getting younger.” “I have finished secondary school, admission for higher education has become an uphill task.” After NYSC there is no work. There is no money for feeding. “I am the first child, everyone depends on me, while I have nothing substantial doing to meet these cumbersome budgets.” “My Father is well advanced and not working and my Mother is a petty trader with little or no income.” “Those who would have helped me are making demands that I cannot meet: I should join their secret cult (swear an oath of allegiance) or I should be their sex slave before they could help me.” “My uncle or aunt is excessively wealthy (all their children study abroad) but wouldn’t help me nor any of his brother´s or sister´s children.” “I was the best in my high school.” “Those I was better off (at least academically) are making it far in life. Here am I with little or no hope that things will change tomorrow.” “I am getting tired of this life.” God is unjust. The world is wicked.

These are some of the groanings from young promising talents that I have been opportune to have meet by virtue of my life and ministry as a priest. Times are hard, and the society makes it harder. A typical Nigerian youth is intelligent, hardworking and wants to succeed like his peers. He wants to explore. There is an inner zeal in him or her to live his or her dreams. Most Nigerian Youths are very virtuous and as such will not want to succeed via “Get rich quick” means that are easily and readily available. They are knowledgeable enough to know the aftermath of those evil means. In a society where you struggle for everything: food, housing, education, healthcare, a society where there is no social security, the youths feel the impact the most and they find life so hard. Indeed, in Nigeria, life is a real struggle!

In the last two or three months, I have read of so many cases of suicide. 70 % of these cases are youths in their mid-30s. While, I cannot defend nor support this attitude in any way, they are clear expressions of the state of hopelessness and desperation. A society where nothing seems working forces some of her youths to consider suicide as an option. God forbid, we always say but unless you put yourselves in their shoes, you will never understand why anyone will want to take his own life. Is there anyone who doesn’t want to own a house, have a car, eat well at least daily, have the luxury of a good wardrobe, have a comfortable bank account, have a promising career job, get married, have lovely kids, etc? Desperation sets in when these yearnings are far beyond reach and there is no convincing hope that things would change soon. Things gets worse, when you look around and see some of your mates who have started living their dreams. Despair and a sense of worthlessness or ill-luck sets in. If you have found yourself in these situations and these descriptions suits you, it is precisely because of you that I put this up: “Do not be afraid, never be discouraged, it can only get better!”

There is a story I heard of a man with three kids and a lovely wife who met a travelling agent in Lagos to ask him to find any country for him where he can move in with his family. They man said: “ANY COUNTRY OTHER THAN NIGERIA.” He wants to get out, he wants to move away. He is ready to sell the few things he has. He is ready to seek asylum in a country as poor as Gabon. He is ready to abandon his fatherland just to see if he can meet earns meet and secure a better life for his three kids. For him, any country other than Nigeria will be better. Why?

Yes, any country where the basic need of education from primary, secondary and even up to university level is free or at least affordable; any country where healthcare is guaranteed; any country where government know their work; any country where electricity is not a luxury; Any country where a “common” cleaner or gardener is guaranteed the established minimum wage and respect; Any country where the police know their work and do not harass innocent citizens, Any country which allows a man to fulfill his potentials and express himself; Any country where the needs of the poor and common man determines government policies; Any country where traffic rules are observed to the letter; Any country where youths are not condemned to hang around politicians for their daily bread; Any country where human life is valued and respected; Any country which does not become a GIANT in GDP, on economic tabloids and in IMF rating but with the greatest poverty and unemployment rate; Any country where jobs are advertised and employments are based on merit and not on “Who do you know? Or who is your father?” Any country where government workers due for retirement are not afraid to retire because of a never-ending tradition of owing gratuities and pensions; These countries will always be a better country than Nigeria.

Sometimes, it is sad to realize that almost all the countries that fought the second world war, where able to put behind them the ravages of the war to build a strong and solid economic and political structure for the years that followed; these countries have the strongest economies today. Unfortunately, in Nigeria the same issues that led to the civil war had never been overcome to date. The poor masses and the youths become exposed to a high rate of vulnerability and there is a mad rush out of the country to just anywhere better and safer.   

Wait a minute! Do not be afraid, never be discouraged, it can only get better! All hope is not yet lost because there is life. Take life easy and be easy on yourself. You can only do what you can. You are not a magician. Believe in yourself and avoid unnecessary comparisons. The pain of being human is the uncertainties that we must combat with every day. Sometimes we try so hard to predict, pierce or glance into tomorrow (the future) only to find out that we were wrong after all. Take and deep breath and for once congratulate yourself for being where you are at the moment: it can only get better. A flashback at yesterday could encourage you to keep moving for no matter how dark the clouds are there will always be a silver lining in the end. Be filled with more thanksgivings and gratefulness than regrets. Many people you see smiling and taking mouth-watering pictures of themselves and of places they have visited suffer so much pain behind the smiles and the beauty of those pictures you see. What kills people easily today is depression. Depression comes when you put so much pressure on yourself. So, my dear, cheer up, give a smile and keep moving: it can only get better. There is no better encouragement than self-encouragement; there is no better determination than self-determination.

That you tried and fail doesn’t mean you cannot try again. There is no harm in continuous trial. Build yourself, develop yourself, build your self-confidence. Learn from the mistakes of others, never wait until you make them yourself. Read wide and always be updated. We are in the age of social media. So many useful information is now closer to your door steps than before: make a good use of them. I am a strong advocate of a new and better society called Nigeria, but we must stay alive to see this come to reality. Never allow your vulnerability to be exploited by political pundits, aim to build your personal career. Forgive those who have wronged you and live joyfully because tomorrow promises to be a better time.

Valentine Umoh

17.01.2019
Pamplona

…WHAT MY GRANDPARENTS TAUGHT ME!

img_20181114_143427_719-759308811.jpg

Sometimes I doubt if I do have as much Faith as half the portion of my grandparents now gone before us marked with the indelible sign of faith. I may not be alone in this thinking. Theirs was not a sophisticated age as ours; there was little or no electricity, there were no mobile phones nor internet connections; there were little or no grand church edifices, no magnificent rectories and parish halls, there were no sophisticated sound systems or musical instruments, yet they had a strong and indelible Faith. I mean they had FAITH.

They were faithful in their pious practice of the Catholic Faith, they did not miss their daily morning prayers at the station Church, they did not miss their daily rosary, nor their divine mercy 3´O clock prayer, they never ate their food without the grace before meal and they never failed to give thanks afterwards. Staying away from Sunday Mass or Service as the case may be, was unthinkable. They took up leadership roles in the various Church levels; station and parochial as well as in their various Church organizations and pious societies. Theirs was a spirituality based on service. I mean total service and dedication and not what they will stand to gain from the Church. They sacrifice their resources to aid the Church and they treated everyone with equal respect and dignity. After a life well-lived they died at their appointed time in peace and now enjoying perfect rest with God.

Faith is a very important ingredient that many Christians are gradually missing in their life. Without faith, life becomes emptiness and nothingness. By Faith I do not mean those who flock around prayer houses seeking a miracle; I do not mean those who come to Church for the sake of economic and financial breakthrough; Faith is deeper than that. Today the prayer houses are filled to the brim and those who run them make a lot of money; this is due to just one reason – the failure of government and the economic system. Should there be a social security system that covers both health insurance and job security many prayer houses today will be empty. Should the hospitals be optimal in their services, the prayer houses will not be the last hope of the poor and the vulnerable. The Faith I am talking about is not that which seeks miracles, but it is Faith that lives in the ordinary circumstances of life in fidelity to God and the Church. It is a Faith that reaches out to others. It is a Faith that is convinced. It is a Faith that is the result of the freewill and human option.

My grandparents had such a strong and unique Faith and they were serious in handing on that same Faith to their children and the succeeding generations. Faith must be transmitted. A Faith that is not transmitted on to others was never a solid faith. Now we are beneficiaries of the ardent and strong Faith of our grandparents, how prepared are we to hand this Faith over to the next generation?

I am not against building sophisticated Cathedrals, Parish houses, Parish halls etc. However, experience shows that when Faith is not well-founded, built and made to grow and flourish sooner or later the Faith will perish and the Cathedrals, Parish houses and Parish halls will become mere monuments and converted to tourist attractions. The experience of Europe should teach us. It is becoming a thing of concern when every priest or pastor who is sent to a parish or any other place of apostolate feels that his first and important task is to build, and erect magnificent edifices or infrastructures and he is viewed as a failure if he never succeeds in building any. No one asks him, how faithful he was to his pastoral to the sick, to the aged, to the catechumens, to the youths, to the stranded, to broken marriages and families. No one ask him how he was able to grow the young Christian communities, the pious societies but everyone wants to see him build a grand edifice and so write his name in the signs of times. This is dangerous to the Faith.

If sincere Faith does not build the cathedrals and the parish structures, these structures will outlive Faith, but if Faith builds structures, Faith will stand even when these structures collapse. There is need to go back to the drawing board, to the teaching of the Faith, to the practice of the Faith, to the living of the Faith. My grandparents taught me so many things, but the most important was that they taught me the value and irreplaceable role of Faith in the Christian life. From faith comes hope and love. A love that does not grow from faith is a mere cosmetic but a love that is the result of faith will stand firm. Little wonder the Holy Scripture says: “without FAITH one cannot please God.” (Cf. Heb 11: 6). 

For all they taught me in words and deeds, I remain grateful and in this month in which we remember the dead, I pray that their souls continue to find rest in God. I ask for the grace to live by this same Faith and to pass it on to others.

CONTINUE TO REST ON MY HEROES IN THE FAITH!

Raymond Umoidem Etor – died 1995

Grace Norbert Okon – died 2010

Agnes Raymond Umoh – died 2012

Norbert Etim Okon – died 2013

May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

 

Valentine UMOH

16.11.2018

BEFORE OCTOBER ENDS – SOME WEIRD DREAMS

 

Even though there is no perfect society nor country nor continent; I seem unfortunate to be born in a country and continent full of paradoxes. When I wake up to see some smaller countries that cannot even stand the economic and natural/human resource weight of my country, I am tempted to conclude with my friend that “something is wrong with the black man.” From Libya to South Africa, from Senegal to Somalia, the same problems, the same unanswered questions. Children crying and suffering, the poor masses dying of curable diseases, the minority suffering oppression from the majority tribes; Politicians exploiting their own people and exporting the resources of the nation to countries that do not need them, leaving their own people in abject poverty; school systems are dysfunctional, the elites train their children abroad and these will return and continue from where their fathers stopped; the medical systems are not working; when the rich are sick they are flown out for medical treatment. And I asked: How many foreigners are admitted in our hospitals or how many of them study in our own schools? How many of them shift money from their countries to keep safe in our banks?

I am in the prime of my years, after about three decades I am yet to see any significant changes. The same story lines greet us every day. Country men buying guns to kill their fellow countrymen. People establishing prayer houses everyday just to make ends meet and they call it Christianity. Many who cannot stand the frustration are rushing out in their numbers to anywhere other than Nigeria, anywhere outside Africa just to be sure they have not wasted their lives all together. Young people who are fortunate to get into universities graduate in their numbers every year and there is no harmonized system to get them engaged in the industries. Those who work in government establishments swear never to retire; every year they are growing younger instead of older because retirement is no longer honourable. Declaring of age through affidavit has replaced Birth Certificate; WAEC certificate is gradually losing value because even many of those who govern never went to school. Appointments and employments are based on “who you know” and not “what you know.” Education is not oriented to any developmental goals, people just go to school to get “paper certificate” without being “certified” and that is why someone who studied history can comfortably work in the Banks and those who studied accounting work as journalists in the media houses. The easiest and fastest business is to open your own “church”, “miracle centers” or “ritual centers.” This now becomes the industries and the hospitals for the poor man.

The situation can be very annoying and appalling when you see small countries who are not equal to the smallest state in Nigeria fulfilling and satisfying the basic needs of its citizens: Security, Electricity, Education, Health care, Housing and Food security. Where did we go wrong and how did we get here? Is there still hope?  The hope there is seems only a dream.

Elections are here again, people are buying guns from other developed countries (countries who only manufacture guns they cannot use against their fellows) to use to kill their fellow countrymen. Ballot boxes will be hijacked as usual; INEC will count votes incorrectly and announce result that do not represent the will of the people. Many lawyers (supposedly learned men) will be hired to defend election inconsistencies in the court and everything will be settled, and we return to the same zero level waiting for the next four years. No accountability, no transparency. Trillions of dollars are announced as annual budgets, but the poor does not see them. The politicians sign contracts to their own companies and take the commission as well. Children yet unborn have accounts opened for them, yet the living cries for a basic daily bread to feed on. For a nation with a population of about 200 million people this is so sad and pathetic and makes people to ridicule us as the “BIG FAT FOOL.” A country with almost all the mineral resources not given to many countries, with an arable land, and one of the worlds´ best weather cannot be this irresponsible. There is something wrong somewhere! I am tempted to conclude with my friend that “Something is wrong with the black man.” But I don’t want to run into such a pessimism because I the writer I am a black man and there are so many reasonable Africans and Nigerians out there.

A man who has seen three decades is no longer a kid. If he lives to see another four to five decades that is the highest anyone can expect giving the tensed condition of life in my country. So what hope is there that there can be a significant turnaround? After over 50 years, the country is yet to find its compass and blueprint, and many will still blame that on colonialism and military dictatorship? We need a leader not a President! Any one can be a President, very few have been able to show themselves leaders in a country´s moment of crisis.

Be that as it may I still have a dream that someday, one day, may be before I am gone or afterwards, that the confidence in the Nigerian Educational system will be restored. I have a dream of a trustworthy judicial system that will stand independent of political affiliation and whose personnel will be true “priests” in the temple of justice. I have a dream that the electoral process will be restored to what it should be and that citizens can elect their leaders without political intimidation. I have a dream that my country men and women will only travel to foreign countries not to secure the basic needs of life but only for an enriched cultural interaction. I have a dream that merits will determine employments and a culture of true excellence enthroned. I have a dream when politicians will not be able to move a kobo out of public fund for their private use talk less of laundering these funds abroad for a haven. I have a dream that where you come from and what language you speak nor where you worship will not deny the citizens their authentic rights of association. I have a dream that a time will come when education will be a basic need guaranteed by the government to every citizen; a time when medical care will be part of the social security scheme for every citizen; a time when every type of honourable work will be able to provide for a man´s basic needs. I have a dream of a time when a brother will not buy gun or bullets to kill a fellow brother because of election; a time when youths will be gainfully employed and stop following politicians about like housemaids. I have a dream of a time where financial loans will be accessible to those who want to expand their business investment; a time when the country will not depend on imported goods. I have a dream of a time when people from other countries and races will come to receive education through scholarship in Nigeria; a time when visa to Nigeria will be prized like to USA or UK.  A time when a happy retirement will be every workers goal. A time when the economy and politics of Nigeria will be driven by people of high moral and intellectual acumen. A time when there will be a high influx of visitors for the summer break. This is my dream. It may not be realized in my time but one day my children´s children will testify that this dream did come to past.

Before October ends, Nigeria, my country, Africa, my continent, think like a mother, think about your many suffering children who pride themselves in you and wish they could live happily in thee and fulfill their aspirations! The sufferings and wailings of your children out of your shores should remind you that you have not lived up to expectation as a mother. Arise O Africa, Arise O Nigeria be the true mother of your children. Expunge from thee all those evil politicians and policy makers who continue to trade the destiny of your children for their selfish interest. Let them know that Africa is larger than any group of persons and that the destiny of Nigeria far exceeds the greed of few corrupt individuals. Before October ends, Mother Mary, Queen and Patroness of Nigeria, Mother of Africa guard and protect your innocent children as a mother protects her children under your protective arms!

Before October ends… think Nigeria, think Africa!

Valentine Umoh
21.10.2018