By Justine John DYIKUK
“Whether we are alive or dead, we belong to God” (Romans 14:8).
The imposing posture of Bishop Malachy John Goltok's portrait at the entrance to the Bauchi Diocesan Secretariat and St. John's Cathedral Rectory which reads ''No pen can write, no tongue tell, our sad and painful loss'' reminds this writer of the darkness that was cast over Bauchi Diocese at the rude shock of the demise of their Chief Shepherd, Bishop Malachy John Goltok at Our Lady of Apostle's Hospital, Jos on Sunday 21 March, 2015. The sad event which occurred after a brief illness threw the priests, religious and laity of the Diocese into confusion and consternation.
It is exactly two years today since the sudden exit of our beloved bishop. No doubt, his death reminds us of the saying of the existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: ''A man begins to die the day he is born.'' This statement underscores the shortness of life. This may be why the Psalmist prayed: ''Lord, make us know the shortness of our lives that we may gain wisdom of heart.” Death is one sad reality that puts us in confusion. It is even more shocking and painful when it concerns a dear one like Bishop Malachy.
No one saw this coming; not even the bishop himself – Bishop Malachy was strong and healthy. He went about his normal business. He was in the office a week before this unfortunate incident. Although he was ill for about three weeks or so, the illness did not show it would lead to death. Since then, for many of us, each day we woke up, we felt someone would tell us, ''the news of your bishop's death is not true. He is alive.'' He was too good to die.
Born on July 12, 1965 in Bauchi to the family of Nde John, Bishop Malachy was the second eldest of a family of ten. The young Malachy attended St. Peter's primary school, Wunti from 1972 to1978. In 1984, he enrolled into St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, Barkin Ladi and successfully completed in 1983. As part of responding to the call of God, 1984-1990 saw him at the prestigious St. Augustine's Major Seminary, Jos. Having fulfilled the necessary requirements for priestly formation, he was ordained a priest on the 4th, November, 1990 by Bishop Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka of blessed memory.
Between 1991 to 1996, he worked as a young priest at St. Stephen's Parish, Jagindi and St. James' Parish Gombe. While in Gombe, apart from his pastoral responsibilities and studies, he found time for playing football (his second love) at the stadium. This earned him both popularity and friends among Muslim youths. From 1996-2004, he was involved in the formation of young men for the priesthood at the Holy Spirit Formation Centre, Kuru. St. Finbar's Rayfield played host to him between 2004 to 2011. While in the Archdiocese of Jos, he doubled as the parish priest of St. Finbar's and the Archdiocesan Financial Administrator.
Providentially, the Holy Father, Pope Francis appointed him the second Bishop of Bauchi Diocese. On 19 May 2011, he was consecrated as the second Bishop of Bauchi Diocese by Keth Cardinal O'Brien the then Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburg. It would be recalled that the Diocese of Bauchi had close links with St. Andrews and Edinburg Archdiocese. It is on record that “Bauchi was originally part of Jos Archdiocese but in the 1960s was not developing very much due to lack of priests and resources. Bishop Reddington SMA of Jos met Archbishop Gordon Joseph Gray of St. Andrew's and Edinburgh at the Second Vatican Council. This meeting eventually led to some priests of the Archdiocese moving from southern Nigeria to take care of Bauchi Province, in 1964.
“Three years later, after the tragic death of Fr. John Gibbons SMA [Parish Priest of Bauchi] following a car accident [whose grave is in John's Cathedral, Bauchi], Fr. Danny Simpson was asked to move from Calabar [he originally came to Nigeria in 1957] to join the Edinburgh team in Bauchi. Without doubt his work of Primary Evangelization, and of the other priests and sisters and catechists, led to the eventual creation of Bauchi as a separate ecclesiastical jurisdiction. He opened so many rural churches. Fr. Simpson's cook was the father of the future Bishop. In 1990, the direct involvement of Edinburg priests with Bauchi came to an end and, six years later, it was made an Apostolic Vicariate.”
About his personality, the late Bishop was a neat and organised person. Anyone who knew him as a priest and eventually as a bishop can testify to that. Whether he appeared in his personal clothing or clerical apparel, he came out clean. Personally, I have never seen him carrying beard – he was often clean-shaven – something peculiar to military discipline. Such was the personal discipline of Bishop Malachy. He loved people who are organised because he demonstrated that in his personal life as well as his episcopacy. At least the priests of Bauchi would not forget the black-trouser-black-shoe liturgical rule. This discipline will keep the late bishop's memories alive in our minds.
He was calm, humble, collective and calculative in all he did. The late prelate's general countenance revealed a uniqueness that was characterised by gentility. Bishop Malachy was a gentleman to the core. From his speech to the way he walks, you do not need an angel to tell you that he is a gentleman. His carriage and finesse spoke of a man who combined soft- speech and gentle-action to achieve the goal of life.
Testifying to this fact, Bishop Oliver Doeme of Maiduguri Diocese in a heart-warming homily at the requiem Mass described the late Bishop as ''a true Shepherd of Jesus' flock – an epitome of humility who was dawn to earth…whenever he was in the midst of his priests you could hardly differentiate who was the Bishop and who were the priests - He always loved being in the company of his priests as one who is close to a lot of priests in the diocese; I have had a lot of wonderful comments from some of the priests about their Bishop when he was alive.''
Bishop Malachy had a good sense of humour. He demonstrated that in his chat with his priests, whom he treated as an elder brother, and in his homilies. On many occasions, when he is relating an incident to you, he would end up laughing before he finished. He enjoyed a good laugh when the opportunity presented itself and since laughter and humour are contagious, it made being in his company never a dull moment. ''He would crack a lot of jokes with them [his priests]. He was full of humour,'' Bishop Doeme added.
His homilies were rife with rich and heart-warming stories. Bishop Malachy had a rich fountain of homiletic-narratives that did not only cheer the listening faithful butalso held them spellbound. Sometimes you wonder where he got his stories from. This style of preaching made his homilies appealing to both the professor and the common man. I am quite sure his parishioners at the St. John the Evangelist's Cathedral are missing that part of him.
As the bishop of Bauchi for nearly four years, the late cleric was able to consolidate on the foundation laid by the pastorally-minded Bishop John Moore (SMA) of blessed memory. Without wasting time, Bishop Goltok gave the Cathedral a facelift. He also believed in human capacity building especially the ongoing formation of his priests. ''…in less than four years as a Bishop, he sent eight (8) of his priests on further studies both at home and abroad. To keep his dead wish, five (5) more were sent for studies in July. It was his desire to train his priests as experts in different fields'' Bishop Doemesaid of him.
Bishop Malachy's Episcopal motto was ''in love and in truth.'' In what appears as a coincidence, at his funeral, the governor of Bauchi State, Isa Yuguda, who described the deceased as a true man of God while commiserating with the diocese said ''Islam is a religion of peace while Christianity is a religion of love. Where there is love and peace, there is progress.'' It appeared that the governor was inspired to bear testimony about a prelate who not only had love' as his dictum but also promoted peaceful coexistence in his homilies. He demonstrated that in his personal relationships with Muslims most of who admired his love for football.
It would be recalled that at a wake-keep Mass in his honour which held at St. John's Cathedral, Bauchi and was presided by Most Rev. Charles Hammawa, of Jalingo Diocese, Bishop Stephen Dami of Yola Diocese said: ''the motto on Bishop Malachy's coat of arms is 'In truth and in love.' Bishop Malachy was really faithful to his motto because he faithfully served his people in truth and in love. His faithfulness is meant to elicit in us a sense of deep gratitude for the generous apostolic ministry of a gentle shepherd and prompts us to do likewise. We see in the life of Bishop Malachy faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love. It is in the life of a Christian that we should see scripture interpreted. Bishop Malachy preached many sermons and the greatest of them was his own life.''
He equally said, Bishop Malachy was a friend and a brother whose death came to him as a rude shock. Speaking about his passion for young and vulnerable people, Bishop Doeme disclosed that: ''He had a unique love for children, prisoners and those at the margin of society. This he demonstrated in his annual Christmas and Easter visits to orphanage, prison and NDLEA rehabilitation centres.''
The requiem Mass which had Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama who also doubles as the President of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of Nigeria, CBCN as chief-celebrant also had the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Augustine Kasujja and thirteen (13) Bishops in attendance. As a testimony to the kind of life he lived, the burial ceremony was well attended by dignitaries from all works of life, priests, religious, Knights and Ladies of the Church and lay faithful from all parts of the country. These included the former governor of Plateau State, Ambassador Fidelis Tapgun, the former deputy governor of Plateau State, Dame Paullen Tallen amongst others. There were traditional rulers from in and around the State as well as religious leaders from other ecclesial bodies.
There is no better testimony about the life and times of any deceased person than that from those he lived and worked with. It is in this light that Fr. Amos Dakup of the Diocese of Pankshin shared the wonderful memory of the time he had with the late Bishop when he served as his Assistant in St. James' parish under the then Jos diocese. In a well knitted oration titled Dear Bishop Malacy John Goltok, Fr. Amos Dakup wrote on his Facebook Wall:
“As I write this piece, I know that in less than 24 hours, you will be committed to mother earth. I know that St. John's Cathedral where you were baptized will be your resting place. I know that the clergy and laity of Bauchi Diocese are mourning. But I know that your ancestors in the faith are waiting for you. I know Msgr. D.P Simpson is waiting. Going down memeory lane, I remember in 1991, you refused to eat or take anything until you saw me when I was posted to St. James' Parish Gombe as your Assistant. Even when the boys asked you to eat, you said until you see me, Fr. Amos, who was coming to Gombe for the first time, you will not eat.
“I finally arrived at 5pm with the help of an Anglican Reverend. I can still see the joy in your heart that was all over you when you saw me and led me to my room that day. I can see that joy even as I write this. You may not be able to read this now, but I know I had shared this with my friends and your friends. I may not be able to be in Bauchi on the 26th of March, 2015 for the funeral Mass – my prayer is for your happy arrival in heaven where Msgr. Simpson and others are waiting. Rest in peace, my brother and friend.”
Our beloved Bishop, father and mentor whose mortal remains have since been interred in the Cathedral near the sanctuary according to Catholic burial rites for bishops, is a colossus. His tomb is now some sort of a pilgrimage centre where parishioners, family and friends unceasingly lay flowers while pouring prayers for one whom they loved.
His memory will forever remain on the sands of time and in the template of our hearts. Though earth lost at your demise, heaven gained. Intercede for the diocese as she awaits your successor. May the soul of Bishop Malachy John Goltok and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace with the Lord. Amen!
Fr. Justine Dyikuk is a blogger and a freelancer. He is also the Editor of Bauchi Caritas Catholic Newspaper and the Communication's Director of Bauchi Diocese. He can be reached through – firstname.lastname@example.org.