Francis Cardinal Arinze and Bishop Dennis Isizoh, middle, in a group photo with elderly priests after Mass at St Joseph's Catholic Chrch, Aguleri.
The Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and one-time Archbishop of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, Francis Cardinal Arinze, has says that the efforts of the 1958- 1973 priests in sustenance of Catholicism in Anambra State cannot be overstated, noting that the priests' dedication, perseverance and selfless service cemented Catholicism in Anambra State, nay Nigeria.
The Cardinal who stated this while interacting with elderly priests ordained between 2958 and 1973 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Aguleri, in Anambra East Local Government Area, said that immediately the missionaries left, it was the priests who carried on from where the early missionaries stopped.
The Cardinal who was ordained a Catholic Priest in 1958 and became an Archbishop of Onitsha at age of 34, thanked God for the gift of the elderly priests, describing them as the pillars of Catholicism in Anambra State.
'As at 1967 we had about 80 priests in Onitsha Archdiocese. Lagos Government chased out 50 foreign priests, leaving just 30. The thirty priests continued to carry on. Today you see our number,' he said.
In his homily during the Eucharistic celebration to mark the day, Francis Cardinal Arinze said being a Priest was a gift and a mystery, noting that it was God that chose them. He thanked Nigerians, especially the people of Southeast Geopolitical Zone, for the respect they accorded their priests and exhorted them to continue to revere and hold them in awe. This is even as he prayed for God's protection and guidance upon the priests.
'We are more gifted as priests. What these elderly priests we are here to celebrate did in their prime actually gave rise to what we are witnessing today. You can see a lot of young men coming into priesthood. Priesthood is a blessing.
Francis Cardinal Arinze thanked the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese, His Lordship Most Rev. Dennis Isizoh, for calling them together, noting that the meeting had afforded them the opportunity to interact and share fond memories.
Earlier, the Auxiliary Bishop of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, Most Rev. Dennis Chidi Isizoh, had appreciated the Cardinal for making out time out of his tight schedule to attend the get-together.
The Catholic Prelate said the essence of the gathering was to have the elderly priests celebrated and appreciated for the roles they played in ensuring that the Universal Church grew from strength to strength in Anambra State and Nigeria.
He assured the elderly priests of unreserved attention and welfare, noting that they would continue to take care of them.
The celebrated elderly Priests are as follows according to year of ordination: Msgr. Matthew Obiukwu – 1958; Francis Cardinal Arinze – 1958; Msgr. Hypolite Adigwe -1965; Msgr. Ralph Anasiudu 1965; Msgr. Nathaniel Obiagba 1965; Rev. Fr. Peter Okoli, 1967 (First Priest ordained by Francis Cardinal Arinze); Rev. Fr. Hilary Anisiobi -1968; Msgr. Basil Onwuasomba -1968; Rev. Fr. Joseph Ajakor -1970; Msgr. Basil Nwazojie; Msgr. J.P.C Nzomiwu; Rev. Fr. John Oraemesi -1971; Rev. Fr. John Uchem; Rev. Fr. Onyeka; Msgr. Nwosu Emmanuel -1972; Msgr. Boniface Asuzu -1973; Fr. Michael Esotu -1973; Msgr. Gabriel Onuorah – 1973; Rev. Fr. Jude Okafor – 1973; Msgr. Julius Ututo -1974.