Most Rev. Valerian M. Okeke
(Metropolitan Archbishop of Onitsha)
Given at St. Cletus Parish, Otolo, Nnewi
MAY YOU SEE THE GLORY OF GOD!
- Why Anniversaries?
An anniversary is the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event. (anniversarius – returning yearly; annus, year + versus, vertere, to turn).
In our special case today, the 40th priestly ordination anniversary of our Revered Archbishop Jude M. Th. Okolo.
Anniversaries are proper settings for thanksgiving, for they offer us the opportunity for greater awareness of God’s favour and blessings. Thanksgiving is commemorative, it is founded on remembrance. It is because we keep in mind, and bring to constant awareness the hand of God in our lives that we can be grateful to him.
Thanksgiving is also obligatory. In all human societies, one is expected to give thanks for favours received. As we continue to receive favours from God, we need to thank him. The second preface to our Eucharistic Prayer reminds us that it is our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give him thanks. Again, Gratitude must be expressed for it to be real. Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present (like birthday gift or Christmas gift) and not giving it. As long as it is with you, it has not been given.
So, we are gathered today to give thanks to God for the gift of our brother Archbishop Jude as well as to join him in expressing gratitude to God.
Why celebrate 40 Years?
It is good to recall the special significance of the number ‘40’ in the Sacred Scripture.
In the biblical concept, ‘40’ stands for completeness. It stands for perfection or the completion and accomplishment of God’s purpose at a point in time. This accomplishment can go through testing and trials ending in triumph.
For example, in the book of Genesis 7: 12, God made it rain for forty days and forty nights, to restore the goodness of creation.
Elijah the prophet fasted for forty days and nights to save his life from the Queen (1 Kings 19:7).
Moses, Joshua and Our Lord Jesus Christ, each fasted for forty days before embracing the new life of their ministry.
Israel spent 40 years in the desert before entering the promised land. When they did, God commanded them to give thanks to commemorate the event.
In addition to his post baptismal fast of 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus again spent 40 days between his resurrection and ascension.
In all, ‘40’ in the Scripture can imply transformation, new life, a change from one great task to another or moving from one generation to another. Hence, ‘40’ was mentioned about 150 times in the Sacred Scripture.
Our celebrant Archbishop Jude after 40 years journey of priestly life deserves to pause and give thanks. He deserves to reflect on the journey so far before going into the next phase of life after 40 years of priesthood. This calls for prayer and meditation. It calls for thanksgiving.
- PRESENTING OUR CELEBRANT:
Nwachinemelu; Radiating God’s Glory
Your Excellency, your friends and classmates call you ‘Nwachinemelu’. Thus, testifying to the Grace of God radiating in you. Also, at your Episcopal Consecration, you chose the motto, “Lord that I may see”, adapting the prayer of the blind Bartimaeus as yours. That prayer is a prayer of faith. The faith manifested by Bartimaeus is the prerequisite for one to see the glory of God. Accordingly, Jesus told Martha, “Have I not told you that if you have faith, you will see the glory of God” (John 11:40).
Reflecting on the life and ministry of Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo for these four decades, permit me to contextualize these words as “since you have faith, you will see the glory of God”.
From the earliest years of his life, Archbishop Jude showed a deep love of God and humans. He distinguished himself as a special breed, most likely because of the formation he received from his family. Having verified his total dedication and the genuineness of his desire to serve God as a priest, his father blessed him and encouraged him to move on. The mother and the siblings gave their support. The outcome was a God-fearing disciplined gentleman from childhood. The life of Archbishop Jude Okolo reflects a cultured family with a profound Catholic faith. His life is a tribute to initial quality formation from the home, an integration of grace and human cooperation.
In the Minor Seminary, we encountered Jude as a gracious, gentle, deeply spiritual and hardworking colleague who wore a sincere smile and was interested in sanctity and academic excellence. We experienced him as someone who was conscious of the Spirit of God given to him and took possession of the Spirit. True, one does not become a lesson in values and virtues by mere wishful thinking. It is a function of a studious, arduous and laborious submission to formation. The same is true in the life of Archbishop Okolo. The efforts of his family to raise a God-fearing child took an accelerated drive when the young Jude entered the Minor Seminary. The quality of formation under our then Rector, Msgr. Emmanuel Otteh (Later Bishop Emeritus of Issele Uku), brought out the sheen in the character of the gentleman Jude. He could be classified as one of the few very good students in all subjects (science and arts, even practical music).
In the Major Seminary, Archbishop Jude attained the maturation of his many great qualities, which endeared him to the generality of the students and staff. Suffice it to say that when Bigard Memorial Seminary wanted to honor the best student in the Seminary, the award went to the seminarian Jude Thaddeus Okolo who was unanimously voted by his fellow seminarians as the best student in character and maturity as far as human assessment could conjecture.
Jude came across as an ideal seminarian who kept the rules and was a friend and brother to all the other seminarians, irrespective of diocese and class. Most importantly, the privilege of general acceptance and public acclamation did not make Jude to become proud or haughty. Instead, he remained the same gentle, respectful, humble, hardworking and friendly person. There was no atom of pretentious lifestyle in him, rather he makes honest effort to be better.
Facing Diplomatic Ministry:
The great qualities of Archbishop Jude did not escape the watchful eyes of his authorities in his home Archdiocese who immediately sent him to the Vatican Diplomatic School a few years after his priestly ordination. His behavior in the institute can best be summarized by the assessment of his then Rector who after more than a decade of leaving the school, now a Cardinal Bishop wrote the Archbishop of Onitsha requesting him to send a priest fidei donum who will have the qualities of Fr. Jude Okolo, to work in his diocese in the USA. It is good to note that Archbishop Jude’s goodness has attracted many favours to Nigerians overseas especially priests and religious. In Most Rev. Jude, goodness meets diplomatic mastery.
As a priest diplomat, Monsignor Jude would be remembered by all who have the privilege of interacting with him as a good priest, deeply spiritual, with a kind heart and pastoral alertness to persons and issues around him. An astute diplomat with a heart of charity.
Thus, Archbishop Jude has become the first Apostolic Nuncio from Nigeria. The first Apostolic Nuncio from the West African Sub Region. The first black Nuncio to serve in the Republic of Ireland – the land of Saints and Scholars…..and many more.
His integration of human efforts with God’s grace has helped him to navigate the difficulties of working with persons of diverse cultural backgrounds, moral persuasions, attitudinal orientations, spiritual levels and existential dispositions. Msgr. Jude has succeeded and excelled in his various assignments in the diplomatic apostolate for nearly thirty-three years. This is beyond intelligence. It is Grace! It is the Lord’s doing therefore we are here to thank him. Your Grace Jude, you are indeed “Nwachinemelu”.
- IN CONCLUSION:
As we celebrate these milestones: 40 years of priesthood, 15 years of Episcopacy and nearly 33 years of diplomatic service, what can we learn?
My mind goes first to parents and teachers; Dear Parents and Teachers, please endeavor to mentor the young people. Teach them to be kind and selfless. Teach them truthfulness, hard work and integrity. Teach them life of nobility and excellence. These will help them live admirable lives in the future. May God bless us as we do this work.
For our celebrant Beloved Archbishop Jude, please accept the assurance of our high esteem and prayerful support.
Remember the journey is still on going. You have not reached the promised land. Therefore, like the teacher and Elder Eleazar in the 2nd book of Maccabees, who “having taken a noble decision worthy of his years and the dignity of his great age and the well-earned distinction of his grey hairs, worthy too of his impeccable conduct from boyhood” (2nd Mac. 6:23), rejected what was not lawful. In the same way, you must shun whatever will dent your impeccable records. Your motto, “Lord that I may see” (Domine ut videam) is a prayer of faith. You already have faith therefore as Christ assured Martha, you will continue to see and enjoy the glory of God in your life.
Our prayers go with you. May our Blessed Mother Mary whom you love so much and venerate continue to intercede for you. May your future blessings increase with age through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Most Rev. Valerian Maduka Okeke
Metropolitan Archbishop of Onitsha
(Given at St. Cletus Parish, Otolo, Nnewi)
13th October, 2023