Bishops from Nigeria under five years of episcopal ordination are currently in Rome for a course, and met the Nigerian-born and meanwhile named “saintly teacher of teachers”, emeritus Prof. (Dr.Dr.) John Okoro Egbulefu. By Nchumbonga George Lekelefac, September 16, 2022
Newly consecrated Roman Catholic Bishops are currently attending a newly instituted educational course for new bishops. The contents of the course include presentations on evangelization, communication, canon law and diocesan administration among other classes. The seminar is normally held every year for several years now, but this year will mark the first year they have been able to hold the sessions in real presence attendance ever since the Pandemic, COVID 19, which interrupted the otherwise annual course since 2020, came considerably to an end.
Those bishops under five years of episcopal ordination who come from Africa and Asia and the Caribbean are having their own course for two weeks and are quartered in the Collegio San Paolo, while their brother bishops who come from the American and European continents have the same course for one week and are quartered in Collegio Internazionale dei Legionari di Cristo.
In the two campuses the classes of the intensive course fill up the greater part of each day from Monday till 13pm on Saturdays, there are occasional break-times for Tea or Coffee and the lunch lasts between the minimum of 30 minutes and the maximum of one hour; after lunch the Bishops have free time till evening prayers. It is mostly during such free time that they can receive visitors or be collected by people that have invited them to a visit.
On Wednesday, September 14, 2022, Bishop Jerome Feudjio, first African native bishop in the USA from Cameroon, 6th bishop of St Thomas, US Virgin Island on invitation met with the “saintly teacher of teachers”, emeritus Prof. (Dr.Dr.) John Okoro Egbulefu at the Professor’s residence in Rome through the bridgebuilding ability of our humbly writing self. Today, September 16, 2022, the Nigerian bishops on the ongoing course have also met with the emeritus Prof. (Dr.Dr.) John Okoro Egbulefu on visit to them in the Collegio San Paolo.
Today was full day of classes for Bishop Jerome’s group here at the Regina Apostolorum. On Saturday, the group went to the Basilica of the St Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore) at 8:30 in the morning, then return to Regina Apostolorum for more classes.
On Sunday, Bishop Jerome visited Cardinal Arinze in the Morning (10-11am).
On Monday his group will have Mass at the St Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) and an Audience with the Holy Father (Udienza col Santo Padre).
The Nigerian bishops who met the saintly teacher of teachers”, emeritus Prof. (Dr.Dr.) John Okoro Egbulefu are: the Bishop of Aba, Most Rev Prof Augustine Echema, whom we know already is the tallest of the three, he studied in Sankt Georgen, Frankfurt. Then the second tallest, he is Most Rev. Dr. Moses Chikwe, the Auxilliary Bishop of Owerri Archdiocese, he studied in the United States. Then the third tallest, he is the Most Rev. Dr. Michael Ukpon, who studied in Regensburg, and is the Auxilliary bishop of Umuahia diocese and currently the Apostolic Administrator to that diocese, following the recent transfer of the former Ordinary of Umuahia diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Lucius Ugorji (who studied in Münster, Germany) to Owerri Archdiocese to become since then the Metropolitan of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province (comprising six dioceses: Owerri, Orlu, Ahiara, Umuahia, Aba, and Okigwe) in Nigeria, the same Archbishop Ugorji is since a couple of weeks the new President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN). The three nigerian bishops embraced the renowned “saintly teacher of teachers” and with a warmth touching the onlooker they all embraced him whom they see as their elder brother The meeting was outstandingly admirable as one can see from the pictures that were taken as souvenirs for documentations and for posterity.
Indeed, looking at these pictures, we clearly see the power of visuals. According to marketing industry influencer Krista Neher, the human brain can process images up to 60,000 times faster than words. They say that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Indeed, a “picture is worth a thousand words” is an adage in multiple languages meaning that complex and sometimes multiple ideas can be conveyed by a single still image, which conveys its meaning or essence more effectively than a mere verbal description.
Looking at the pictures it is amazing to see how Bishop Jerome Feudjio of the diocese of St Thomas Island in the USA and Bishop Augustine Echema of Aba in Nigeria look like identical twin brothers . It is delightful to see two persons that like themselves resemble one another very much in structure and symmetry as principle of elegance and beauty!
Our own handsome Cameroonian-born Bishop Jerome Feudjio and the aforementioned Nigerian bishops who are part of a class of over 170 bishops who were ordained between 2019 and 2022, met with the erudite, ebullient and well-known intrepid and outstanding Nigerian-born, meanwhile named “saintly teacher of teachers”, emeritus Prof (Dr. Dr.) John Okoro Egbulefu. He is the father founder of the Congregation of Christ the Emmanuel (CCE), intercessor of Africans in Rome, illustrious African dogmatic theologian and scholar, and the father of Technoscientific Theology. He has dedicated more than three decades in the service of the Universal Church under three Pontiffs:
Pope St. John Paul II, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, and within the thirty uninterrupted academic years (1989/1990 -2019/2020) of his teaching Dogmatic Theology to students from all continents of the earth at the Pontifical Urbanian University Rome, he scored the record of generating in his competence as the main Moderator of their doctoral theses in Theology – a total of thirty-one Doctors of Theology for the Church some of whom are now Bishops. In 1990 Pope John Paul II appointed him theological Expert (peritus) for the General Synod of Bishops on Priestly Formation. In 1992 he was appointed Consultor of the Pontifical Council for the Non-Believers. In 1994 Pope John Paul II again nominated him theological Expert for the Special Synod of the Bishops on the Church in Africa. In 1995 he was appointed Member of the International Historico-Theological Commission for the Great Jubilee of the Holy Year 2000.
In 2001 he was appointed Delegate President of the first Synod of the diocese of Aba. Furthermore : at a time when there had never yet been a black clergy appointed Papal Nuncio (ambassador of the Pope) to any place in the world, with the risk that the impression could easily arise of racial discrimination in the Church and cause scandal of the weak (despite the fact that His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, had never had anything against the blacks, but rather, coming from Poland, a country where the devotion to Mary as the Mother of Christ the Redeemer had the image of her as the Black Madonna during the veneration of her, had during his first visit as Pope to Brazil met a Congolese black priest, Kabongo, serving in the Nuntiature and, upon return to Rome, called him to be his assistant Secretary, and had been the first Pope to call black Archbishops, in the persons of Gantin and Arinze, to work closely with him in the Vatican), it was Prof. Egbulefu that courageously came up with the encouragement to trust the black People further and show the trust by entrusting them with more offices of sanctification, of teaching and of governing both on the local and on the global stage and that if there was not yet a black-man as Papal Nuncio, it was not yet late nor a deliberatedly created loophole. At that time the person highest in rank among the black clergy in the papal diplomatic mission was Msgr. Augustine Kasuja, working as first Secretary in the apostolic Nuntiature in Algiers. That is how it came about that Kasuja’s appointment as Papal Nuncio was hurried up, and Prof. Egbulefu was asked to go and see the then President of “the Pontifical Academy for the Noble Ecclesiastics”, Archbishop Karl Rauber, for the admission of more African young priests into the Academy, and it was this venerable German Prelate, Karl Rauber, that asked for his close collaboration in helping to discover and recommend young priests, Africans and non-Africans, who were studying in the Pontifical Universities in Rome, such ones that had not only talent for the diplomatic service but also love for the Church on pastoral and diplomatic Mission to all the nations in the world. So it came that Cardinal Gantin sent into the Academy the young priest Paschal Nkoe’ (from the Republic of Benin, and currently a diocesan bishop in Benin) who was then writing his Licentiate Tesina in Dogmatic Theology on the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross for the redemption of humanity as violent love, under the moderation of Prof. Egbulefu, while the able Prof. Egbulefu brought into the same Academy Rev. Fr. Fortunatus Nwachukwu, a Nigerian, and currently Nunzio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations /World Trade Org. in Geneva) who was then writing his Doctorate Thesis in Dogmatic Theology on the Birth of Systematic Theology in Black Africa, under the moderation of Prof. Egbulefu at the Urbanian University.
Other young priests that Prof. Egbulefu brought into the same “Pontifical Academy for Noble Ecclesiastics” were Romanus Mbena (Tanzanian, currently serving in the Vatican Secretariat of State), Brian Udaigwe, Nigerian, currently the Apostolic Nuncio to Sri Lanka) and Petronio Kim (Corean, of the Archdiocese of Seoul).
In this regard it is also important to mention how Prof. John Okoro Egbulefu was prepared for these tasks of teaching, producing and applying Theology to help solve problems of the Church on evangelizing mission to the peoples of the various nations on earth in the world. He came at the age of twenty-four from Nigeria to German-speaking Europe already with a strong Afro-British intellectual-cultural background, for further mathematical, literary, philosophical and theological studies since his student days. His main teacher in English and German Language and Literature at the University of Innsbruck was the famous Prof, Zoran Konstantinovic, under whom he wrote his doctoral Thesis in Comparative English-German Literatures on “Originality and European Influence in the Blackafrican Literature. A contribution to source-research and literary criticism’ whereby he used the blackafrican written Drama, Novels and Poetry to refute the spreading ideology that the Blackman would never be original again after the experiences of colonialism and of slavery but would at best be able to copy the colonial and slave masters from Europe and America. His main teacher in Theology at the University of Innsbruck (Österreich – Austria) was the famous Jesuit and most prolific theological thinker of the 20th century, Karl Rahner. It was Karl Rahner that guided the theological studies and formation of the young and versatile John Okoro Egbulefu as seminarian and as young priest till 1977 when Egbulefu finished his Master’s Degree course in Theology with the written thesis on ‘Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Attacks on Karl Rahner’s Theology’. And Karl Rahner – beyond being also the Preacher of the Homily during Father John Okoro Egbulefu’s First Holy Mass on 2/5/1976, sequel to his priestly Ordination (1/5/1976) – was also the Professor that sent him in September 1977 to the University of Münster with a letter for the Dean of the Faculty of Catholic Theology in the University of Münster (Deutschland – German) to do there his doctorate in Dogmatic Theology with his thesis on Karl Rahner’s doctrine on Grace as God’s self-communication to the human spirit to propel and perfect the innate dynamism of the human spirit on earth towards its beatific vision of God in heaven, under the moderation of Profs. Peter Huenermann, Herbert Vorgrimler and Frank Kamphaus.
Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger came into the life of the young Father Dr. Dr. John Okoro Egbulefu through:
1) the intellectual friendship between the two in Germany that arose from Ratzinger’s taking note of him as Rahner kept speaking high of his young blackafrican Product before Ratzinger transferred from München to Rome as the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith;
2) Cardinal Ratzinger’s helping to shape the structure and content of DDr John Okoro Egbulefu’s delicate post-doctoral thesis (Habilitationsschrift) in Dogmatic Theology (under the moderation of Profs. Wilhelm Breuning and Hans Jorissen) at the University of Bonn on the urgent Need for a new theological system with which to effect that renewal of Christian Theology for which the Magisterium had been repeatedly calling since the end of the Second Vatican Council, and;
3) Cardinal Ratzinger’s bringing him over to Rome from Germany to teach Dogmatic Theology at the Pontifical Urbanian University.
During these long years of service in Rome, from 1989 till today, Prof. Dr. Dr. John Okoro Egbulefu has continued to be well known as the mouth-piece of the Africans and beyond who themselves most of the time needed someone of his caliber to defend and promote their cause, speak on their behalf during very difficult moments.
I am one of those who enjoyed his protection and guidance during my ordeal in Rome.
He is the father of the fatherless Africans and beyond in Rome and has distinguished himself as an intrepid and well known dogmatic theologian worldwide, not only in Rome. Prof. Egbulefu is not only ever looking much younger than his age and ever readily humorous but also is an outstandingly selfless and honest man who has consistently been living out the motto of his priesthood: “I am living for others”. He does not seek for himself, does not apply for promotions, has even twice rejected promotions as well as worldly titles, in keeping with his principle: ‘I see what I eat does not mean I eat what I see. Not every good thing was made for me’, and he continues to be a fascinating model for the many in the priestly, spiritual and intellectual life. That is among the reasons why it was impossible for Bishop Feudjio, first African native bishop in the US to visit Rome without meeting this illustrious figure.
We, especially Africans worldwide, continue to thank God for the gift of Professor John O. Egbulefu to the Church and society of our times . We also thank Professor Egbulefu himself for warmly receiving and welcoming “our African ambassador bishop” in the USA and Nigerian bishops in Rome and we wish him a continuation till the end in glory of his exceedingly outstanding life of witness to Christ in Rome, the eternal city (civitas aeterna), the capital city of the world (caput mundi) and the headquarters of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ on earth.
By Nchumbonga George Lekelefac, Doctorandus, University of Münster, Germany and Founder/CEO of Nchumbonga Lekelefac Institute of Research, Documentation, Language and Culture, USA.