The rapidly-growing archdiocese in Nigeria’s capital turns 40

Writing from Nigeria,  Lucie Sarr of La Croix International reports on how Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja paid tribute to all those who have built up a local Church that has gone from several thousand Catholics to nearly a million believers in just four decades.

When the Archdiocese of Abuja, located in the capital of Nigeria, was established as a “missio sui iuris” (independent mission) back in 1981 it had a fledgling Catholic community of only several thousand people.

Four decades later it is moving quickly towards a Church membership of a million baptized faithful. Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, who became the local ordinary only two years ago, recalled those who helped grow the Church here, during a Mass on November 6 to mark the Archdiocese of Abuja’s 40th anniversary.

He paid tribute to the late Cardinal Dominic Ignatius Ekandem (d. 1995), the first Nigerian to get the red hat, who was entrusted with leading the new independent mission in 1981. The cardinal, who attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), was bishop of Ikot Ekpene at the time and would continue to jointly hold that title until 1989 when Abuja was made a diocese in its own right.

Ekandem, who had become an auxiliary bishop in 1953 at the age of 36, worked with a number of missionary orders to develop the Church in Abuja. They included the Society of African Missions (SMA), the Holy Ghost Fathers (CSSP), the St. Patrick Fathers (SPS), the Servants of the Holy Child Jesus, the Sisters of the Holy Rosary and the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart. With the help of these religious communities the cardinal was able to establish a number of ecclesial structures on which his pastoral work was based. In the four decades since its foundation, the Church in Abuja – which became a metropolitan archdiocese in 1994 – has grown by leaps and bounds. According to the Annuario Pontificio, the Vatican’s annual book of statistics, there were less than 9,400 Catholics in the diocese in 1990.Today that number stands between 895,000-900,000… and growing. During that same period, the original 10 parishes have expanded to 79 parishes. There are also 23 chaplaincies and 51 pastoral zones. There were only 24 priests serving in Abuja back in 1990. Today there are 303.The archdiocese also has 380 religious sisters and 132 major seminarians for 900,000 baptized Catholics.

“We give thanks to God our Father for the grace he has given us in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit, for accomplishing many things through us in the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, and for having acted towards us in accordance with his mercy,” Archbishop Kaigama said before the thousands of people who came for the anniversary to give thanks to God. He said this 40th anniversary was also an opportunity to pay tribute to the very first native-born priests: Father Matthew Kukah, Archbishop Dominic Inyang, Father Willy Ojukwu and Mgr. Kenneth Enang. The 63-year-old Kaigama also underlined the important role played by the religious and lay faithful who were the pillars of the first Christian communities in Abuja. In particular, these include Sisters Mary Tuku and Theresa Nwanuro, as well as lay people Peter Aliu, Barr Joseph Daramola and Ignatius Nomhwange.

Personal commitment
Archbishop Kaigama, who was transferred to Abuja in 2019 after serving 19 years as head of the Archdiocese of Jos, said he has tried to continue the work of his still-living and well-known predecessor, Cardinal John Onaiyekan. “We will intensify our services for more positive pastoral and spiritual impact,” Kaigama said. “I call on all our pastoral workers to redouble their efforts, and on individuals and groups to contribute to the evangelization campaign by sponsoring modest church buildings or the purchase of land or the construction of parish houses,” he added. Archbishop Kaigama also spoke about the role of the priest in the Church by sharing an anecdote about a nephew who recently surprised him with a very critical letter.” I am absolutely appalled by your willingness to help strangers, but not the family,” the nephew wrote. The archbishop used the story to remind his priests that they are not to be making “tainted profits” for their biological families. “We become priests when we empty ourselves,” he said. “We are no longer looking to protect our own identity.”

With permission from La Croix International: 

Abuja @ Dusk | Abuja Nigeria | Jeff Attaway | Flickr CC





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