It was an atmosphere of joy here in Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, as the Seminary marked her 48th Convocation. The celebration which started on Monday, March 18, 2019, was brought to a conclusion on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. By 15.30 hours of Monday, March 18, 2019, the Officiating Prelate and Bishop of Awgu Diocese, Most Rev. John Ifeanyichukwu Okoye, and the graduating students of both Theology and Philosophy had already arrived in their numbers to witness the novelty football match which would be played that evening in their honor. The football match which took place at the Seminary’s FIFA Field between the Bigard Football Team and the Caritas University Team ended in a goalless draw.
As it is traditional in Bigard, there was a Community Mass of Thanksgiving by 18.30 hours that evening. The Mass was presided over by the president of the graduating class, Rev Fr. Henry Oduenyi of Awka Diocese. In his introduction of the Mass, he thanked God who called them to the order of the ministerial priesthood in spite of their unworthiness. He thanked also, in a special way, the Formation Team by whose instrumentality God’s plan for them materialized.
The homilist, Rev Fr. Paulinus Ezema of Nsukka Diocese reflected on the theme: “And they left everything and followed him”. He described the Gospel passage from where he culled his theme and which narrated the call of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew as a pericope that every seminarian and priest should familiarize himself with. The apostles, in spite of their bountiful catch, left everything at Jesus’ invitation and followed him. The call of the rest of the apostles reveals also a parallel attitude. What then does it mean to leave everything? The homilist explained that by that mandate, Jesus expects us to detach ourselves from the things of this world and take up our cross that we may get hold of the things of heaven. Jesus, he further explained, is not asking us to do the impossible; he is only asking us to emulate him, who has already set aside his heavenly glory and takenup the cross for our sake. Enjoining all to assume the right disposition to their priestly callings, he invited all to emulate the good steps of St. Patrick of Ireland whose Feast was being celebrated that day.
There was a vote of thanks by Vice Rector I, Very Rev. Fr. Francis Igboanugo. In his remarks, he welcomed the youngest Alumni of Bigard in their different Departments of Theology and Philosophy. He appreciated in a special way the ingenuities of the President of the Eucharistic Assembly and the homilist, Frs. Henry Oduenyi and Paulinus Ezema respectively. Lauding the Graduands for their comportment so far, he pleaded that they extend that comportment to the rest of the program.
Later in the evening, the Officiating Prelate and the graduands were received at the Seminary Auditorium. Following the Opening Prayer by Fr. Raphael Egwu, and the presentation and breaking of Kolanut, there was an Address of Welcome by the Rector, Very Rev. Fr. Albert Ikpenwa. The Rector disclosed that the Officiating Prelate is an Alumnus of Bigard, a lecturer, a formator, and above all, a onetime Rector of this prestigious institution. As a rector, narrated, the Prelate left landmark achievements that will stand the test of time. These achievements include: the renovation and the rededication of the Bigard Main Chapel, the renovation of St James Library, the renovation of the Students’ Refectory, expansion of the Poultry Farm, the reactivation and the expansion of the intercom systems in the seminary, installation of Satellite Television Network, to mention but a few. Extending his warm welcome to the 2018 Philosophy and Theology Graduands, he congratulated them for the feat they have achieved.
The Rector’s address gave way to other social functions which included a Stand-Up Comedy, Cultural Dance Displays, Presentation by Band of Bigard, and Egwu Egwuri of Awka Diocese.
Coming after the presentation was a response by the Philosophy and Theology Graduands. Fr. Desmond Ogbonna, who spoke for and on behalf of the Graduands of both Departments, thanked the staff and students for the warm welcome accorded them. He thanked particularly the Rector for his numerous achievements. As a concrete expression of their sentiments of gratitude, he presented to the seminary a cash gift of hundred thousand naira (N100,000.00) as contribution for the purchase of a Marian Statue. There was also a response by the Bishop, a vote of thanks by Fr. Dr. Mellitus Ossai, and finally a closing prayer by Fr. Raphael Egwu.
The activities of the D-day, March 19, 2019 started with a Holy Mass of the Solemnity of St Joseph, Spouse of the Virgin Mary, presided over by the Officiating Prelate, Most Rev. John Ifeanyichukwu Okoye. In attendance were a large number of guests among whom was Chief Emeka Madonna Okafor, CEO, Award Global Pharmaceutical Company Ltd., the man who single-handedly sponsored the building of the Ave Maria Court in Bigard which would be dedicated at the end of the Eucharistic Celebration.
The theme of the Bishop’s homily was “Do not be Afraid”. This was the word with which the angel of the Lord addressed Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1: 16, 18-21). Applying this theme, the Bishop said that the Church in her wisdom always presents St Joseph as model of our Christian living especially in crisis situations. “What attitude do we put up the face of crisis?” the bishop asked. “Do we listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Do we despair?” He maintained that in our difficult moments, God does not desert us; rather, he leaves us with the same words: “Do not be afraid”. Turning to the seminarians, he said: “Your formators are the angels that God has sent to guide you; always listen to them”.
After the Mass and group photographs in front of the Bigard Main Chapel, there was a procession to and solemn blessing of the newly built Ave Maria Court. With the solemn blessing, the Eucharistic Celebration was officially brought to an end.
The Academic Procession into the Seminary Auditorium for the Convocation Ceremony proper took the following order: the Bigard Flag Bearer, National and Papal Flag Bearer, the Graduands, Members of the Academic Staff, the Heads of Departments, the Rector, the Special Guest of Honour and his wife, and the Officiating Prelate. Entering the Auditorium, all remained standing for the sequence of the national, Papal, and Bigard Anthems at the end of which there was an Opening Prayer, Performance by the Choir, Address by the Rector, then, the Prelate’s Solemn Declaration of the 48th Convocation of the Seminary.
Following the declaration was the Prelate’s keynote address in which he discussed the reciprocal relationship between reason and faith. His address highlighted the following points: 1. Study of philosophy and theology helps one to appreciate the interconnectedness of reason and revelation; 2. Philosophy and theology cannot contradict themselves since they both have their origin in God; 3. The truth that God reveals to us in Jesus Christ is not in opposition to the truth that reason reveals through philosophy; 4. Faith without reason will lead one to blind fideism and superstition; 5. Philosophical and theological search for truth cannot come to an end until we behold the Ultimate Truth in the beatific vision.
The rest of the convocation program featured the following: Convocation lecture by Fr. Dr. Humphrey Ani titled “The Dialectics of Insight and Oversight in Social Reconstruction”, Presentations of the Graduands to the Officiating Prelate by the Heads of Philosophy and Theology: Rev. Fr. Dr. Humphrey Ani and Rev. Fr. Dr. Ohajuobodo Oko, respectively, Conferment of degrees to the Graduands by the Officiating Prelate, Valedictory Speech by the best graduating student of theology, Fr. Bartholomew Ezeokafor, Ojinakatogbo Cultural Display by Enugu/Awgu Dioceses, Vote of Thanks by Fr. Francis Igboanugo, and finally, the Closing Prayer, and then Episcopal Blessing by Most Rev. John Ifeanyichukwu Okoye.