Mr Francis Okeke has taken up his duties as the first residential Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the Holy See. Up to now the Nigerian Ambassador to the Holy See was also the ambassador to Spain.
Ambassador Okeke had a ‘baptism of fire’ on his appointment – as a new Ambassador and with no official residence he had to arrange for the Reception following the conferring of the ‘Red Hat’ on His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan of Abuja. And he, with the help of the staff of the Nigerian Embassy to Italy, he rose to the challenge and a wonderful celebration took place at the Urbaniana College, overlooking St Peter’s Square.
Nigeria has always valued its relations with the Holy See – there are more than 30 million Nigerian Catholics – and today Nigerian clergy are spreading throughout the world serving in parishes all over the industrialised world as well as joining missionary societies, including the SMA (we have nearly 40 Nigerian priests serving in many parts of Africa and beyond).
In one interview, Ambassador Okeke (whose father Patrick taught with Blessed Michael Iwene Tansi) spoke of his concern about the increase in the number of Pentecostal sects in his country. The Church must address this issue, otherwise it will lose the youth.
He also paid tribute to the contribution of European missionaries – initially French SMA’s as well as other groups who came to Nigeria in the 19th century. He acknowledged the contribution of the missionaries, particularly the Irish brothers, sisters and priests in the education and heath areas.