Jennifer Barton
August 9, 2022 // Bishop

Nigeria Trip Deepens Relationship with Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend

Jennifer Barton

“There is a neat bond between our diocese and Nigeria,” said Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades after his two-week trip to Nigeria in July. “I think these visits will help build that bond.”

Click here for more photos from the trip.

During his visit, Bishop Rhoades witnessed the extraordinary faith life of the African nation’s Catholic population, as he ordained one deacon and 26 new priests from two separate dioceses, and confirmed 99 children at one parish alone. Father Francis Chukwuma, Administrator of Most Precious Blood Parish, accompanied the bishop on his trip and even introduced Bishop Rhoades to his parents at his father’s 90th birthday party, which Father Chukwuma called “the highlight of the day” for his family members.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades is presented with a gift at ordination in Nnewi Diocese.

Bishop Rhoades spent much of his trip in the Awka and Nnewi Dioceses, where he celebrated the ordinations, though he also traveled into the newly created Ekwulobia Diocese – where he was able to meet Cardinal-designate Peter Eberechukwu Okpaleke – and to both Lagos and Onitsha Archdioceses. The parishes and schools that he visited welcomed him warmly, presenting him with generous gifts.

The trip came about in part due to the connection between Father Chukwuma and Bishop Jonas Okoye of the Nnewi Diocese, who previously led Father Chukwuma’s home diocese of Awka. Originally planned for 2020, travel restrictions halted that visit. But when Father Chukwuma visited his home last year and again asked Bishop Okoye if he would still welcome a visit from Bishop Rhoades, he was told that the invitation was indeed open. As Bishop Okoye was transferred from Awka to Nnewi during the planning stage, Bishop Rhoades and Father Chukwuma made it a point to include Nnewi Diocese in the visit. Interestingly, Bishop Okoye once served within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend at Queen of Peace Parish in Mishawaka for two years at the turn of the millennium.

Altar servers at Mass in Nigeria.

The visit included Masses at one boys’ school and two girls’ schools. “Education is very valued in Nigeria,” Bishop Rhoades commented. “This is the legacy of the Holy Ghost Fathers,” who came mostly from Ireland to spread Catholicism in Africa. 

A new Catholic university that administrators are hoping will open at least in part in October demonstrates that. Peter University in Achina-Onneh, Anambra State is a joint effort of Awka and Ekwulobia Dioceses, focused on areas of study such as nursing, and Bishop Rhoades hopes to see a relationship built between it and the University of Notre Dame. 

Father Chukwuma spoke on the importance of this trip and any other potential visit to his home country. “Each area, they bring a lot to the whole mission of Jesus Christ, you know; bringing the Gospel to every nation, to everybody. And when we have different people and interactions like this, encounters like this will help to build missionaries, so to say, that instructs them and informs them in the global perspective about evangelization, about mission of Christ, about the joy of the Gospel, which then they can communicate.”

Father Chukwuma with his parents and Bishop Jonas Okoye at his father’s 90th birthday party.

He invited other priests and even seminarians from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend to consider visiting Nigeria. “That partnership is really going a long way to help the mission of the Church in general.”

Witnessing the country’s culture, he believes, will make local priests better able to minister to the Nigerian people who have made their home in northeast Indiana. “It will make them feel at home more, it will encounter them. So that’s a lot of good that will come out of that partnership.”

“We appreciate the bishop that is also very open to us,” Father Chukwuma added, stating that a trip to Nigeria is “not the easiest thing to do.”

It certainly wasn’t. Bishop Rhoades expressed his appreciation to Father Kenneth Amadi, Parochial Vicar at St. Joseph in Mishawaka, for helping him obtain his entry visa. The trip was not without its dangers, either. Nigeria is a country in conflict, where Christians – particularly Catholic priests – are often targets of Islamic Fulani herdsman from the northern part of the country. In one area where his party was traveling, villagers warned them of terrorist abductors on the road ahead so that they were able to avoid danger. “I pray for the people. The violence is so bad,” Bishop Rhoades said.

All photos provided by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades
With traveling companion Father Francis Chukwuma and Cardinal-designate Peter Okpaleke, Bishop of Ekwulobia Diocese

He prays also for the priests from the nation. “I hope for a spiritual unity between our diocese and them; they have so many vocations. So many applications to the seminary that they have to turn people away. There are a few young men who asked to come here who I am considering. I stressed to them what a gift they are to the world.”

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