Friends a major major development has occurred in the Catholic Church in Nigeria in the last 10 days which has gone largely unannounced and I believe a lot of people are oblivious of. In fact the Catholic Church in Nigeria will never be the same again with this major shift. I am not referring to the heroic and honorable resignation of Bishop Okpaleke as his sacrifice of love for the faithful of Ahiara, no, far from it.
Now this is it. On 28th February 2018 Pope Francis announced the creation of a new catholic diocese in Nigeria. The Pope named Simon Faddoul as the first Bishop. But this diocese is not like any other we have come to know that exists in Nigeria. Here are the peculiar facts about this diocese:
1. The name is Eparchy of Our Lady of the Annunciation. This is the first thing that is unusual. Normally as we have come to know dioceses are named after the cities where they are erected each e.g diocese of Minna, diocese of Makurdi, diocese of Enugu, diocese of Abeokuta etc. This new diocese is named after Our Lady. This diocese is also called Eparchy and not diocese. So how come?
2. The diocese is so named because it belongs to the catholic church of the EASTERN RITE. The catholic church in Nigeria has been that of the Western (Roman or Latin) Rite and consequently majority of the faithful know little or nothing about our Brethren in the other half but that will no longer be the case going forward.
3. The new diocese will be erected in Ibadan where it will coexist with the Archdiocese of Ibadan which is of the Western Rite. The Eastern Rite name their dioceses as EPARCHY while the Western Rite call them DIOCESE. Both Eparchy and Diocese are on the same level just as an Admiral (navy) and General (army) though belonging to different services and differently called but equal in all statuses.
4. The new Eparchy is of the MARONITE order who have roots from Lebanon.
5. Bishop elect Simon Faddoul will be consecrated and installed on Saturday 7th April 2018 after Easter celebrations.
6. Once the Bishop settles into office he will begin putting structures in place for the formation of men for the Catholic priesthood. Once arrangements are completed he will start accepting candidates and putting them through the seminary.
7. Now this is a big one. Bishop Faddoul can accept men MARRIED and UNMARRIED as seminarians. The married seminarians on successful completion of studies will be ordained to the catholic priesthood while still married and will become married priests living with their wives and children. For the unmarried seminarians Bishop Faddoul will again ask them to choose at the end of their seminary studies whether they wanted to be married or not. If they choose to be unmarried then Bishop Faddoul will administer the oath of celibacy on these seminarians and ordain them as priests of the Catholic church. These priests will never marry again just like priests of the Western Rite we are used to. However if the unmarried seminarians say they want to be married then Bishop Faddoul will allow them to go and get married how long it takes and then come back to him with their wives. Bishop Faddoul will then ordain these now married seminarians as catholic priests who will exercise the FULL functions of a priest while living with their wives and children. It should be noted that when a married priests wife dies before him that priest can NO LONGER marry. Canon 1087 forbids those with Sacrament of Sacred Orders from receiving the Sacrament of Matrimony.
8. The implication for the Catholic church in Nigeria is that Bishop Faddoul’s priests married or unmarried will be very much welcome to celebrate Mass in any catholic church including those of the Western Rite. Therefore soon we will be having a married priest preside over the Eucharistic celebration at any Cathedral or Catholic church in Nigeria.
9. This is a very positive development in our church as it serves as a teaching point for us catholics of the Western Rite to get to know more about our brothers and sisters of the Eastern Rite.