Pope Francis received a delegation from the Nigerian Diocese of Ahiara in private audience on June 8, 2017, and he called an ongoing ethnic conflict, sparked by an appointment of a bishop in the diocese ‘unacceptable,’ reported the Holy See Press Office in a statement today.
When Pope Benedict XVI appointed Msgr. Okpaleke as the diocese’ bishop in 2012, lay people and priests of the diocese rejected their new bishop because, unlike his predecessor, Msgr. Victor Chikwe, part of the Mbaise ethnic group, which makes up the majority of the diocese, he comes from the Ibero ethnic group, which makes up the majority in the southeast Nigeria.
In 2013, Cardinal Onaiyekan was appointed Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara while waiting for a solution.
After “a careful evaluation” today, Pope Francis–the statement from the Vatican noted–stressed the “unacceptable character of the situation at Ahiara and [noted he] will take the appropriate measures.”
Accompanying the delegation were Archbishop of Abuja and Apostolic Administrator of Ahiara, Cardinal John Onaiyekan; the Metropolitan Archbishop of Owerri, Monsignor Anthony Obinna; the Archbishop of Jos and President of the Nigerian Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Ignatius Kaigama, and the Bishop of Ahiara, Monsignor Peter Ebere Okpaleke. Also representing the diocese were three priests, a woman religious and a traditional chief also represented the diocese.
In the course of their stay in Rome, the delegation’s members took part in the celebration of morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta with Pope Francis. They also met with the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Fernando Filoni.