Celebrating Cardinal Onaiyekan at 80, 3rd February, 2024, by the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja

Celebrating Cardinal Onaiyekan at 80, 3rd February, 2024, by the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja

In the name of all of us in the family of God in the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, I wish together with the Auxiliary Bishop, Most Rev. Anselm Umoren, MSP, to convey our warmest sentiments of greetings and most sincere goodwill to you, Your Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan on your 80th birthday (your Oak Jubilee).

Taking over from your venerable predecessor, the late Dominic Cardinal Ekandem, as the Archbishop of Abuja, God has used you in very great measures to continue together with the wonderful priests and religious and the dynamic people of God to build the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja to the high level it has reached. I am certain that a lot of prayers, sweat, hard thinking, planning and execution went into all you did in your episcopal ministry here.

No gold, no silver, no compensation is adequate a price for all you invested in the Archdiocese for the past almost three decades. It is not possible either to quantify in material terms your numerous achievements. Only God who sees what we cannot see can adequately reward you.

With this Mass, we have thanked God, and we continue to thank God for giving you to the Archdiocese of Abuja as a gift with all your tremendous talents, spiritual and physical energy, academic brilliance, and pleasant personality.

I wish to quote from my first speech as the Archbishop of Abuja after my installation on the 5th of December, 2019, in this ongoing Cathedral building which is one of your very important contributions to the Archdiocese of Abuja: “I respectfully salute His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, who has retired, but is not tired, for proficiently providing the necessary pastoral leadership to the Archdiocese for twenty-seven consecutive years with apostolic courage. Your Eminence, you have gallantly fought the good fight, you have honourably finished the active episcopal race, you have unwaveringly kept the faith intact; the crown of glory awaits you. I wish you a serene retirement.”

I received the news of the episcopal ordination of the then Fr. John Onaiyekan in Rome while listening to a Vatican radio programme when I was a parish priest in a rural place called Jangbunu, in the then Yola Diocese. In the solitude of the parish house while tuned to the Hausa Vatican radio, I heard Bishop Kevin Aje of Sokoto Diocese who with Bishop Onaiyekan were among those ordained by the then Pope John Paul II on January 6th, 1983, the feast of the Epiphany. I did not know that years later I would be succeeding Cardinal Onaiyekan as the Archbishop of Abuja. Indeed, how the Lord’s ways are not our ways!

God has blessed Cardinal Onaiyekan with unusual strength and ability to combine so many things at the same time, such as managing a big Metropolitan See such as Abuja, being President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria and the President of what used to be the Association of the Episcopal Conferences of West Africa (AECAWA) as well as the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). He performed his duties in all these positions with great admiration and excellence.

His inter-religious initiatives are well known today in Nigeria and beyond, and his honest desire for peaceful/harmonious coexistence and genuine inter-religious dialogue has taken him to different parts of the world to present papers, give talks, seminars and retreats.

The man Onaiyekan is an intellectual colossus, a loyal son of the Church and a patriotic Nigerian. No wonder, the Pope honored him by making him a Cardinal. He was also bestowed a National Award of Commander of the Niger (CON) by the Federal Government of Nigeria. His dedication to the cause of the Church is exceptional, and his love for Nigeria and Nigerians is what makes him often speak with characteristic passion and patriotism in his public statements. At a time when many people would want to see a hostile confrontation between Muslims and Christians, he preaches ceaselessly the gospel of peaceful coexistence together with his friend and colleague, the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III.

Cardinal Onaiyekan would tell all who care to listen that we are all children of God, made in His image and likeness, and we share a common humanity, and so, we should not dispel energy attacking and killing one another in the name of religion. Only two days ago he said, “Shouting God’s name but killing your neighbour is not religion.”

In Deuteronomy 34:7 we read that “Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eye was not dimmed, nor were his teeth displaced.” Your Eminence, may you live to the age of Moses.

I wish from the bottom of my heart to thank our Abuja Archdiocesan family for making sacrifices during these hard times to contribute towards the making of this occasion. To the Archdiocesan Committee for the 80th birthday of His Eminence under the dynamic and creative leadership of Fr. Chris Inegbenoghu, and the very capable hands he employed to serve in eight subcommittees, namely, welfare, security, transport and accommodation, gift and souvenir, publicity, liturgy, works, contact and mobilization.

Dear beloved Archbishops, Bishops, priests, religious, seminarians, novices, postulants, catechists, distinguished government officials, distinguished men and women in business and private practice, Papal Knights, Knights and Ladies, dear people of God, together with our Auxiliary Bishop and our family of God here, I thank you for doing us the distinguished honour of coming to celebrate Cardinal Onaiyekan with us. May God’s face shine upon you all, and may He be gracious to you all the days of your life.
Safe journey to your respective destinations.

Most Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama,
Archbishop of Abuja.

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