Most Rev. Michael Ukpong was on Thursday formally installed as the third Bishop of Umuahia Catholic Diocese in Abia.
The highly spiritual and solemn ritual, which took place at the Mater Dei Cathedral, Umuahia, was performed by the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Antonio Filipazzi.
In an homily, Filipazzi congratulated Ukpong on his appointment by Pope Francis to oversee the diocese, which he described as a familiar terrain to him.
He charged him to follow the foot steps of his predecessors and promote unity among the people by bringing them closer to Christ.
The Papal Nuncio reminded him that he was chosen by God, hence must work according to the dictates of God.
He admonished him to shun tendencies, such as tribalism, nepotism and other ungodly acts that could cause division in the Church.
Ukpong’s predecessor and Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, Most Rev. Bishop Lucius Ugorji, described the event as “a historic moment” in the anal of the diocese.
Ugorji, who succeeded the pioneer Bishop of the diocese, late Bishop Anthony Nwedo, recalled how he ordained Ukpong as a priest on Aug. 7, 1993.
He said that Ukpong served in different episcopal capacities in the diocese and later became the Diocesan Administrator.
The archbishop prayed that the diocese would grow and flourish under him, given his “rich pastorial experience and fervent zeal”.
He urged the members of the diocese and Abia Government to extend similar cooperation they gave him to Ukpong.
He thanked Pope Francis for exercising his apostolic assignment with Ukpong’s appointment in a seamless manner, barely six months after his elevation as Archbishop.
“I thank God that the process of his (Ukpong) appointment is smooth and peaceful.
“It is my prayer that all apostolic appointments in Nigeria will be as smooth and peaceful as this,” Ugorji said.
He paid special tribute to the Papal Nuncio “for midwifing Ukpong’s appointment”.
He said, “The Church in Nigeria appreciates the great work you are doing and we thank you.”
Ugorji, who thanked the State Government for returning the mission schools “forcefully taken away at the end of the Nigerian civil war, charged Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu to consummate the handover of the primary schools to their original owners before the end of his administration in May.
In a post-installation address, the new bishop thanked God for finding him worthy to carry such a big task of taking care of His people.
He said: “It is a very serious task because if you make decision that is contrary to the will of God, that will be dangerous.
He promised to respect and maintain the laudable legacies of his predecessor.
“I can assure you that the diocese is in safe hands.
“It is not in safe hands because I am the one but it is in God’s hands with me as His vessel.
“My ambition is to maintain the Catholic faith the way we have received it,” Ukpong said.
He admonished the Church and government to work for the common good of the people, pointing out that everyone would give account of their stewardship to God.
He extended his hand of fellowship to other ecumenical priests, saying that he was prepared to work with anybody that demonstrated sincere and genuine commitment in evangelisation.
In a brief speech, Ikpeazu, represented by Deputy Gov. Ude Oko-Chukwu, promised to sustain the robust partnership between his administration and the Church.
He also promised to permanently address the lingering issues surrounding the return of mission schools to their original owners.
The colourful ceremony was attended by at least 20 bishops and archbishops from different parts of the country, including Emeritus Archbishop Anthony Obinna of Owerri Province and Emeritus Cardinal John Onaikan, amongst a galaxy of other priests.
Also in attendance were the Governorship Candidates of the African Democratic Congress, Bishop Ndukwo Onuoha of the Methodist Church Nigeria and his Action Peoples Party counterpart, Chief Mascot Kalu, as well as Sen. Theodore Orji, representing Abia Central, amongst others.
NAN reports that 59-year-old Ukpong, who was appointed an Auxiliary Bishop in July 2020, was elevated to a Bishop on Nov. 1 2022.
He hails from Amaekpu Ohafia in Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia. (NAN)