Arrival of the Early Missionaries to Onitsha. Today 5.12.2007, we also celebrate heroic witness as we recall with admiration and gratitude, the arrival of four Frenchmen of the Holy Ghost Congregation, two priests and two brothers led by thirty-two year old Father Joseph Lutz, exactly one hundred and twenty-two years ago (122yrs), i.e. on 5.12.1885.

A. Today, we celebrate audacity, hope, hard work, selflessness, sacrifice and above all, faith which shows itself in the love of God and neighbor. Recall that after their arrival, they were welcome by men, materials and circumstances of the environment not excluding malaria, dysentery, sleeping sickness, yellow fever and other ailments of the West African sub-region (known as the white man’s grave). (cf. the Second Burial of Bishop Shanahan, p. 44).

In less than two months, the first brother died, others died quickly in succession and Father Lutz himself had to return to France in 1895 due to ill health. He died at the age of Forty-two. Those who took over from them did not meet a better fate either. Some died just two weeks after arrival to Onitsha, like one of the sisters who was only twenty-four (24) years. Father Leon Alexandre Lejeune who succeeded Fr. Lutz as head of the missions and the first prefect Apostolic of Southern Nigeria died at the age of forty-five (45yrs).

The frequent, successive and steady deaths did not deter the hero missionaries nor lessen their zeal. The more they died, the more younger ones arrived determined to die if need be provided they gave us life in Christ. Shanahan succeeded Lejeune as prefect. He started this Church which was later completed by the indomitable Archbishop Heerey. Remember their inspired prayer to God that over their bones a great Church would arise. They prayed God to receive their sacrifice: sacrifice of entire life, sacrifice of blood and bones after the example of the Master – Jesus Christ, who stated, “greater love than this no one has, that one should lay down his life for his friends.” We have reasons to affirm that God heard their prayer. A great Church has arisen. Not the Church of brick and stones, but the People of God. It is that great Church we are celebrating.

B. Solemnity of the Anniversary of Dedication of a Church

It is good to recall the rebuilding and dedication of the Temple in the Book of Nehemiah under Nehemiah as governor of Judea and Ezra as the priest. The most important aspect of the dedication is that Nehemiah wanted not only a new city, and a new temple, but a new heart and a new spirit. He was rebuilding not only the walls but the inhabitants of the city.

Today, as we celebrate the solemn dedication of the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, let us purify ourselves and dedicate ourselves anew to God our loving Father. The foundation is Christ, the Church is the members ourselves, the indwelling of the spirit of God. Let us continue to build to specifications on the foundation so as to be free from blame. You are free to build with your materials but remember it will be tested and judged. The temple of God is sacred and that temple is you (1Cor. 3;17).

C. The Ordination of Deacons.

Deaconate belongs to the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Baptism, confirmation, and Holy Eucharist are sacraments of Christian Initiation – a vocation to holiness and mission (cf. CCC. 1533). Holy Orders and Matrimony are directed to the salvation of others. They contribute to personal salvation through service (CCC. 1534).

It is called Holy Orders because through it the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time. Holy orders include: Episcopate, Prebyterate, and diaconate (CCC. 1536).

  • The Church calls for instruments of work which include – poverty, chastity and obedience.
  • Shun possessions, pleasure and power.

These above will help you discharge your duties of service. The people of God are to help through prayer and solidarity. The candidate knows that without God’s grace he is grass. He sticks to God in prayer and gets attached to one Lady, the Queen of the Apostles.

D. Finally, today we kick off the inauguration of the Basilica status of the Most Holy Trinity Church.

  • The house of worship as a sacrament.
  • The mystery of our communion with God.
  • The incarnational nature of Christian religion.
  • And the unity of the worshipping community. Ecclesial unity under the pope…

These are the things we are reaffirming today. But the Basilica has many extra privileges.

Basilica today in the Catholic Church can be understood as a church belonging to the Holy Father, the Pope; the successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome. Though each basilica tends to be imposing, beautiful and important, what makes it a basilica is its adoption by the Holy Father as his church – with special blessings, privileges and links to the Supreme Pontiff. The Holy Father has seven major Basilicas, four of which are the most important. All the seven are in Rome. All other basilicas are minor basilicas accorded the status by the Holy Father as extensions of his church; and our own, the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, Onitsha-Nigeria, is one of them.

One of the most outstanding privileges of a basilica is the granting of plenary indulgence. The faithful who visits a basilica devoutly, who participates at some sacred rites in that same basilica or at least recite the Our Father, the Creed, one Marian prayer, with the usual conditions, namely, confessions, Holy Communion and prayer for the intentions of the Pope, can obtain plenary indulgence. The faithful who also participates in the celebration of specific days in the basilica, receives plenary indulgence. Such days include:

  • Anniversary of the dedication of the Basilica,
  • Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity,
  • Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul, e. June 29
  • Anniversary of the date of the granting of the Basilica status, namely, May 28,
  • Once a year on a day chosen by the Archbishop,
  • Once a year on a day chosen by the individual,
  • Anniversary of the election of the Pope (presently April 19).

The Meaning and Understanding of Indulgence:

An indulgence is the Church’s act of confirming that individuals have changed their lives, their hearts, after they have received forgiveness in the sacrament of penance. Sin does spiritual damage to individual’s life. After forgiveness of sin, there is need for purification and restoration of damage. This is done through temporal punishment due to sin. The Church, through the power of the keys, the power to forgive, given to her by her Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, declares these punishments wiped out through granting of indulgence.

Indulgence reduces (partial indulgence) or remits (plenary indulgence) whatever temporal punishment for sin that remains. However, to receive indulgence, three things are necessary. These conditions must be fulfilled:

  • To receive the sacrament of Penance
  • To receive the Eucharist
  • To pray for the Pope’s intention.

Penance shows you seek forgiveness, Eucharist shows the desire to grow in holiness and be one with Christ, prayer for the Pope shows union with the Universal Church. It is also recommended that acts of charity which demonstrates true conversion of heart be performed.

Our Basilica, therefore, has become a special Holy Ground – meant for pilgrimage.

The Meaning and Understanding of Pilgrimage:

Pilgrimage is a spiritual journey. It is a journey with spiritual intention which could include, to meet God, be with him and be renewed by him.

This church, started by Fr. Lejeune, built by Bishop Joseph Shanahan, completed by Archbishop Heerey, renovated after the war by Archbishop Arinze, expanded by Archbishop Obiefuna, is today a spiritual centre, a Basilica, raised by Pope Benedict XVI. To God be the glory.

May all those who enter this Church with good intentions be spiritually renewed. May our lives be dedicated anew to God as we celebrate the dedication of this Church. May our earthly pilgrimage lead us to heaven at the end of our journey where we shall rejoice in the Lord for ever and ever. Amen.