Patrick Kelechi


Daily Courier – Pope Francis on Sunday, announced that he will create 21 new cardinals August 27, including Nigerian Bishop, Peter Ebere Okpaleke, appointed to Ahiara by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

A group of the diocese’s priests and laity, had rejected him because he came from a different diocese, which led to years-long standoff that prevented him from being installed.

Bishop Okpaleke becomes the second Cardinal from Anambra State after Cardinal Francis Arinze.

The other prelates hail from France, Brazil, India, Mongolia, Paraguay, Timor Oriental, and Italy, upholding the pontiff’s tradition of focusing on the peripheries when adding to the college of cardinals.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, long seen as one of Pope Francis key allies in the United States also made the list.

All the cardinals of the world are set to be in Rome for the occasion. They will already be there for an Aug 29-30 session to reflect on the new Vatican’s constitution that goes in effect June 6. This will be Pope Francis’ eighth consistory for the creation of new cardinals.

Among the new crop of cardinals, 16 will be able to participate in the conclave that will eventually choose Pope Francis’ successor. The other five are over the age of 80 making the title mostly an honorary one.

Three of the new cardinals come from the Roman curia, meaning the Catholic Church’s central government: Arthur Roche, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; Lazzaro You Heung sik, Prefect for the Congregation for Clergy; and Fernando Vergez Alzaga, who runs the Vatican city state.

The other prelates under the age of 80 are: Archbishop Jean-Marc Aveline, of Marseille (France), Archbishop Peter Okpaleke, of Ekwulobia (Nigeria), Archbishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, of Manaus (Brazil), Archbishop Filipe Neri António Sebastião of Rosário Ferrão, of Goa e Damão (India), Bishop Robert Walter McElroy, of San Diego (U.S.A.), Archbishop Virgilio Do Carmo Da Silva, of Dili (East Timor), Bishop Oscar Cantoni, of Como (Italy), Archbishop Anthony Poola, of Hyderabad (India) and Archbishop Paulo Cezar Costa of Brasília (Brazil).

Others are: Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr M. Afr, of Wa (Ghana), Archbishop William Goh Seng Chye, of Singapore (Singapore), Archbishop Adalberto Martínez Flores, of Asunción (Paraguay) and Archbishop Giorgio Marengo, Prefect of Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia).

The five who are over the age of 80 are: Archbishop Jorge Enrique Jiménez Carvajal – Archbishop Emeritus of Cartagena (Colombia), Archbishop Lucas Van Looy sdb – Archbishop Emeritus of Ghent (Belgium), Archbishop Arrigo Miglio – Archbishop Emeritus of Cagliari (Italy), Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda sj. – Professor of Theology and Monsignor Fortunato Frezza, canon of St. Peter’s.

When a pope creates new cardinals, he is not only choosing the person who might be his eventual successor; the “red hats”, as they’re often called due to the color of their zucchetto, or skullcap, also serve as key papal advisers, with those under 80 quickly being appointed as members of Vatican offices and councils.

The selection also says a lot about the path a pontiff wants the church to take.

In the “Francis era”, many new cardinals come from far-flung, often overlooked dioceses where Catholics are a distinct minority. In the case of Mongolia, for instance, there are about 1,400 Catholics in the central Asian country that hosts eight parishes.

Born March 1, 1963 at Amesi in Aguata local government area of Anambra State, Okpaleke attended Uga Boys’ Secondary School, Uga (1976-1981), St. John Bosco Seminary Isuaniocha (1982-1983), Bigard Memorial Seminary, now St. Joseph’s Major Seminary Ikot-Ekpene (1983-1987), Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu (1988-1992), Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA), Port Harcourt (1995-1997).

He also attended Pontificia Universita Della Santa Croce, Rome, Italy, (1999-2002) where he obtained a doctorate degree in Canon Law in First Class Honours. He also has a diploma in Ecclesiastical Administration.

Bishop Okpaleke was ordained a priest on August 22, 1992, after which he served as Assistant Secretary to the Bishop (1992-1995) and subsequently the Awka Diocesan Financial Administrator (1997-1999) and the Diocesan Chancellor (2002-2011).

He later became the chaplain of St. Joseph the Worker Chaplaincy, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka (1998-1999), and was at a time the administrator of St. Anthony’s Parish Nanka from March 2002 – October 2002 and the parish priest of Ss. John and Paul Umubele Awka from October 2011 to May 1, 2013.

Okpaleke was appointed the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese by his Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI on December 7, 2012.

The episcopal ordination took place on May 21, 2013, at Seat of Wisdom Seminary, Owerri, because of the opposition, spearheaded by some members of the clergy of Ahiara Diocese, Bishop Peter Okpaleke did not take canonical possession of the Diocese of Ahiara and did not exercise episcopal ministry in Ahiara.

Okpaleke was installed April 29, 2019, as the bishop of the new Ekwulobia diocese, after renouncing his appointment to Ahiara in 2018, in an effort to resolve the situation.