The many persistent sad events unfolding in Nigeria particularly this year has reminded me of the famous Igbo saying, “Chi fo, anu ozo,” (Day break brings breaking news). In Igboland, “Chi fo anu ozo” indicates two things: one, all is not well with the society; two, what is harming the society is multiplying and doubling down. What is injuring Nigeria is happening at different levels of the society. It is happening at the political level, at the economic level, at the social level and at the religious level. It is occurring at a fast speed and with much intensity. It is either unknown gunmen have attacked a correctional facility in the East or Boko Haram or the herdsmen or bandits have kidnapped school children. On Wednesday 5, 2021, we woke up with the news: “The Controversial priest, Father Mbaka is Missing.” Today, the breaking news is “Catholic Church Suspends Father Mbaka Over Row With Buhari.” As expected, many people with zero knowledge of how the Catholic Church is governed are all over the social media attacking Bishop Callistus Onaga, Mbaka’s Bishop and the Catholic Church. Some commentators have even accused the Catholic Church of being an enabler of a wicked regime. Others queried why Fr. Mbaka should be censored in the face of massive killings going on the country. Someone even said, “They cannot suspend Rev. Fr. Mbaka because he is under divine supernatural and not flesh direction.” The reactions have been swift and commendation of the Mother Church brutal. However, what is common in all of these responses is the complete ignorance of how the Catholic Church is run. For those who do not know, the Catholic Church is not a Pentecostal church. It is not one roadside church founded by some guy. The Catholic Church is a hierarchical institution. The pope is the leader of the universal Church; the Bishop is the shepherd of the local diocese, he governs his diocese, not in compete detachment from the pope but in communion with him. Each Priest and deacon are generally under a Bishop. For those who do not know, the Catholic Church is the only church that can trace her origin all the way back to Christ and the Apostles. It is bigger and larger than one individual.
Furthermore, every priest at his ordination promised to be obedient to his bishop and his successors. On my ordination day, I made that promise. On the very day that Fr. Mbaka was ordained, he made that promise too. The Adoration Ministry is not Fr. Mbaka’s ministry but the ministry of the Catholic Church in Enugu Diocese. It is the prerogative of the Bishop of Enugu Diocese to decide where Fr. Mbaka will exercise his priestly ministry, how he exercises it, the nature of work he does and whether he should minister at all. The Sacrament of Holy Orders (priesthood) is a gift from Jesus Christ through the Church. No one confers the honor upon himself. The Bishop of Enugu diocese is Fr. Mbaka’s ecclesiastical authority. For Fr. Mbaka to continue to function as a Catholic priest, he must listen to him and be obedient to him. The true test of holiness for a Catholic priest or religious is obedience to the Bishop or major superior. Imagine what would have happened if the first disciples of Jesus had ignored the Lord’s command to gather in Jerusalem and to wait for him.
The news making round is that Fr. Mbaka has been suspended for 30 days. If that is true, then the suspension is coming at a wrong time. There were better times in the past when many people expected his Bishop to act decisively, but he did not. Before the 2019 General Election in Nigeria, Fr. Mbaka caused serious uproar when he publicly asked the former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, to make a financial donation if he wants a favorable prophesy. Even after Bishop Onaga banned every form of political prediction and prophesy, Fr. Mbaka disobeyed his order by publicly endorsing the incumbent President Buhari. That was the time I expected his Bishop to withdraw him from ministry, send him on a long retreat or studies overseas.
In my previous articles, I had argued that Fr. Mbaka whom I love so much needs a time-out. I had said that he has reached his saturation point and needs to step away, recharge, refuel and return. Withdrawing Fr. Mbaka from ministry at a time when he simply reechoed the sentiments of many Nigerians is a bad move. Don’t get me wrong. I am not challenging his Bishop’s decision. I am only saying that the decision to suspend him is coming at a wrong time. A lot of people are already giving very bad interpretations to the Bishop’s decision. The Catholic Church in Nigeria which fought the military regimes of Generals Sani Abacha and IBB are now being accused of aligning and supporting a deeply incompetent leadership of Buhari. This is going to cost the Catholic Church in Enugu Diocese and in Nigeria. I hope the Bishop of Enugu Diocese has enough security around his residence. As we saw yesterday, a good number of people who visit Adoration Ministry ground are religious thugs.
I am urging priests and lay people who are close to Fr. Mbaka to speak to him. What he does now will be keenly watched and will determine his fate. If you have access to Fr. Mbaka, please tell him to listen to his bishop and be obedient to him. He should learn from the mistakes of the former Archbishop of Lusaka, Emmanuel Milingo, who due to his disobedience was excommunicated and the late former Catholic priest of Aba Diocese, Peter Anosike. The Catholic Church is bigger than one individual. Fr. Mbaka should never allow the number of people who protested yesterday to get in his head.
When Peter Anosike was removed from his parish in Azumiri, thousands of people in Aba and its environs protested on the streets and demanded for his reinstatement. Eventually, Anosike disobediently left the Catholic Church and took the Church to court to claim ownership of what he built in Azumiri. He lost the case because everything he built was done in the name of the Catholic Diocese of Aba. After a few years of trying to regain his ground in Aba which of course failed, he relocated to Lagos. While in Lagos, Peter Anosike got married, but lived very unhappy life. He eventually died a sad man. If you know Fr. Mbaka, please share my article with him. I love him dearly. I don’t want him gone or lost. But right now, he should listen to his Bishop. As for lay faithful, priests and religious, let’s pray for him. He is our brother. Let no one encourage him to fight and disobey his Bishop If he does so, he will lose. In the process, he may lose his priesthood, his reputation and everything. And it could cost him his salvation.
By Fr. Marcel Divine Emeka Okwara, CSsR
St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota