It was all joy in Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, as formators, students, alumni of the seminary, friends and well wishers gathered to celebrate the 95 years of the existence of Bigard seminary. It was an event that inaugurated the preparation for the celebration of 100 years of the foundation of the great citadel of priestly formation. The celebration which lasted from Wednesday, November 13 – Thursday, November 14, 2019 was stuffed with beehives of activities mapped to mark the occasion.
The events of the first day featured paper presentation by Very Rev. Fr. Prof. P.D Akpunonu. In his paper, he argued for the preparation of seminarians for mission in foreign lands especially as the Church currently bears the pain of vocation downturn in many parts of the world. He suggested forming seminarians in order that they may acquire some degree of proficiency in the use of some foreign languages; and in addition, be groomed to have sound knowledge of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. As expected, his paper being so enriching, provoked commendations and positive reactions from persons of high repute, academia and others who came to be part of the celebration: Prof. Obi Oguejiofor (the paper moderator), Msgr. Theophilus Okere, Nnia Nwodo (the leader of Ohaneze Ndigbo), HRH Igwe Agubuzo, a traditional ruler and a former ambassador of Nigeria to Egypt. Some others also made insightful interventions, bringing to perspectives some other notable concerns.
Later that day, there was a football match between the priests of Awgu diocese and the priests of Enugu diocese. The official kick-off was done by His Grace, Most Rev. Antonio Guido Filipazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria and officiating prelate of the celebrations of the anniversary. The football match ended in 1:1 goal-draw by 17: 54 hours. By 20:00 hours, the Nuncio was officially received in the seminary auditorium by the seminarians, staff and the alumni of Bigard Memorial Seminary.
The events of the second day, Thursday, November 14, held at the Seminary Podium. By 10:00 hours, the Eucharistic procession had started. The Eucharistic celebration was presided over by His Grace, Most Rev. Antonio Guido Filipazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria. In con-celebration were 8 bishops, rectors of some major seminaries, about 350 priests, and other people who came to be part of the celebration. The celebration was also graced by some prominent members of the society, alumni of Bigard Seminary, and indeed a large host of others who had come from far and near to witness the anniversary event.
After the Liturgy of the Word, 25 candidates who were to be raised to the order of the diaconate were officially presented by the Rector of Bigard Memorial Seminary, Very Rev. Fr. Albert Ikpenwa on behalf of the worshipping community. Those invited and presented were consequently accepted by the ordaining prelate.
In his homily, the Nuncio praised the courage and missionary insights of Pope Benedict XV made evident in his monumental letter, Maximum Illud, an Apostolic Letter published on November 30, 1919. Reading a part of the document, he noted that it was the Apostolic Letter that argued for the ordination of indigenous and local clergy. “We are here”, he said “to commemorate the 95 years of activities of Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu which started her journey 5 years after Maximum Illud. Bigard Seminary represents a wonderful fulfillment of the desires of the Supreme Pontiff for the universal Church”. “Bigard” in his words, “has remained a blessing for the Church in Africa, and indeed, the pride of the universal Church”. “Bigard”, he again noted, “had also produced a number of saints, those whom we now know and those whom we shall recognize when we ourselves will be partakers of the glories of the heavenly Jerusalem”. What we celebrate today, he also remarked is, therefore, an invitation for holiness of life for all. Again, speaking on the sanctity of the Holy Mass, the Nuncio enjoined the ministers of the gospel to aspire towards attainment of ideal priesthood after the mind of Christ and His Church.
The homily, eventually gave way for the ordination of the candidates earlier presented. After the candidates had made their vows of obedience and respect to the Church and their Local Ordinaries, the candidates laid prostrate before the altar as the cantors led in the litany of the saints. At the end, there was imposition of hands and prayer of consecration on the candidates by the ordaining prelate; the liturgical rituals that conferred the character of ordination on them.
Vested in dalmatics, the deacons were handed over the book of the gospel of Christ whose ministers they had become. Finally, the newly ordained were welcomed into their new office with a fraternal kiss by the Nuncio, and later, by other deacons present at the mass; at the end of which the newly ordained joined other ministers for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
After the reception of the Holy Communion and the post communion prayers said, the Rector of Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu, Very Rev. Fr. Albert Ikpenwa presented to the Nuncio, for recognition and award, those who had distinguished themselves in the different stages of the history of Bigard Seminary. Prominent among whom are: Hon. Dr. Lawrence Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi the Executive Governor of Enugu State; Dr. Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo, Mr. Peter Gregory Obi, Chief Emeka Madonna Okafor, Chief Sir Tony Ezenna, the oldest living cleric, Rt Rev. Msgr. Alphonsus Aghaizu (of the Archdiocese of Owerri admitted to Bigard Seminary in 1948), the oldest living lay Bigardian, Chief Dr Fidelis R.C Ezemenari, KSM (admitted in 1951), the longest serving Rector of Bigard Seminary, Very Rev. Prof. P.D Akpunonu, and the host of others.
After the Eucharistic Celebration ended, there were group photographs at the front of the podium in this order – the Nuncio with the bishops, bishops with the Executive Governor present, bishops with the newly ordained deacons, bishops with the past rectors of Bigard, bishops with the awardees; at the end, the Nuncio with other bishops, and most of other ministers who were part of the celebration processed to the front of the Seminary Auditorium for the unvesting.
The final aspect of the celebration was the ground-breaking ritual and the laying of foundation stone of a proposed Centenary Hostel led by the Executive Governor of Enugu State. The Nuncio and other bishops also took part in the exercise. After the laying of foundation stone, the Nuncio said a prayer of blessings over the proposed site and as well blessed the people.