A Valedictory Speech presented by
Rev. Fr. Bartholomew C. Ezeokafor
(Valedictorian, Class of 2018)
At the 48m Convocation Ceremony of Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu,
this day 19th March, 2019
Your Excellency, Most Revd. John lfeanyichukwu Okoye (Catholic Bishop of Awgu Diocese), Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Albert lkpenwa, Rector, Bigard Memorial Seminary,
Revered Professors and Members of our Formation and Academic Staff,
Chief Emeka Madonna Okafor (CEO Award Global Pharmaceutical Company Limited),
Distinguished Guests, Parents, Relations, Friends and Well-wishers,
My Revered Reverend Deacons and Seminarians,
My Highly Esteemed Fellow Graduands,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen!
On behalf of my fellow Bigard 2018 graduands, I feel highly honoured to stand before you this day to articulate our individual and collective sentiments of gratitude and valediction to each and every one of you in this auditorium.
The Holy Writ notes that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (cf. Eccl.3). In line with this, the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus once said that nature is in constant state of flux such that one cannot step twice into the same river; and that the only thing permanent in this ephemeral world is change itself. Yes. Things change. People change. Situations change for better or for worse. This change is characterized by meetings and partings, and we shall continue to meet and part until we meet to part no more. It is against this backdrop that the Scottish novelist, R. M. Ballantyne once said that “to part is the lot of all mankind and the world is a scene of constant leave-taking”.
Parting moments like this give us pause for reflection! When we reminisce upon our experiences here these past years, our hearts are filled with joy for the challenges encountered and surmounted. The fact that we are here today, donning our graduation caps and gowns that represent our final stage of this journey, is a remarkable achievement. And we are deeply indebted not just momentarily to a number of persons. We would be missing a major chord in the symphony of our jubilation If we fail to acknowledge that so many players have contributed to the successful ‘orchestra’ of our formation in this noble seminary. We must therefore acknowledge the dogged contributions of many whose selfless services have earned us this felicitous convocation.
First and foremost, we wish to express our unalloyed gratitude to God the transcendent being in whom we live, move and have our being; without whose unassuming love and care this day would never have seen the light of the day. May the praise of his name resound from all quarters forever. Amen.
My Lord Bishop, we are deeply grateful to you, both for your paternal presence today and for who you are to us. When we call to mind the fact that we are currently reaping the fruits of your numerous contributions to this noble institution as its one-time Rector Magnificus, we cannot but say a million thanks!
Isaac Newton, the renowned English physicist once remarked that if he had seen far, it was because he was standing on the shoulders of giants. Our dear Father Rector and his team of formators and professors, if we have achieved any success these years, you have been the giants on whose shoulders we stand. Thanks to your care, understanding, love, guidance and exemplary lives, these past years were amazingly fruitful. You deconstructed our biases about the Bible, the world, history, philosophy, theology, ministry, name them! – and then reconstructed them to achieve the desired balance! Along the journey, you allayed our fears and answered our questions some of them silly ones (smiles). You encouraged us and selflessly moderated our research works, equipping us well towards becoming beacons of light in our dazed age. Because of your exemplary efforts, we no longer view the world through the same glass prisms we once did. And you did that by example! In his Apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi (no. 41), Pope Paul VI asserts that the “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”. We appreciate you immensely for living the life of true witnesses, and we shall always take your witnessing to heart. We hereby assure you that we are not going to let you down.
Our beloved seminarians – divine theologians end wise philosophers, your invaluable assistance especially during our final B. Th. and B.Phil. examinations shall never be forgotten in a hurry. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your love. As you keep up the good spirit, remember always to be the best you can be. Strive for success. As the Nigerian artiste, J. Martins would say in his track Cool Temper, “…stand up to your feet and say no to your defeat”. In all, strive to be better persons always. We pray that wherever we are today, you will one day be. Thank you all!
Above all, we are grateful to you our dear parents, siblings, relatives, friends and well-wishers who cheered us on especially when the going got really tough. Thanks a lot for your moral, financial and prayerful support. Thank you for believing in us. In the same vein, we highly appreciate the friends and welI-wishers of our seminary, especially Chief Emeka Madonna Okafor (CEO, Award Global Ltd.) for sponsoring our brand new Ave Maria Court and Grotto. The fact that you all are here today means a lot to us. May the Lord grant you the experience of the warmth of His love. Amen.
We are not forgetting our dear lay tutorial and non tutorial staff. Your efforts in your various assignments have played an invaluable part in our stay here. We shall forever appreciate your spirit of sacrifice which has made you give in your best in your various responsibilities. God bless you abundantly.
To my fellow graduating theologians and philosophers priests, deacons, and seminarians let us go into the world and be exemplary, active, creative, honest and eager to learn from others, for they have a lot to share with us. Please do not lose sight of the fact that the race is not yet finished. To be a good pastor, priest or teacher, you have first to be a good learner and listener. Let us go out and put into practice all the beneficial things we have learned here. More importantly, let us go forth with open minds for new and supplementary knowledge. We need not be reminded that education and formation is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.
Added to these, I do not intend to deliver any lengthy lecture. Instead, I have come with a concise parting message: In all you do, strive to become the salt of the earth and the light of the world by becoming the best you can be as pastors, priests, formators, laypersons; parents; seminarians, etc. That is the essence of our identity as Christians. That is the summary of all we do here. In whatever area you find yourself, let your light shine! Keep polishing yourself!! Do not lose your luster – and do not lose your taste!!! The Church document on The Gift of the Priestly Vocation, Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Secerdotalis issued by the Congregation for the Clergy on 8 December 2016 sets out guidelines not just on the formation of future priests, but equally on the discipleship for the whole of life. It is precisely on this discipleship for the whole of life that we share identity as partakers in the universal priesthood and/or ministerial priesthood. The call to follow Christ, or discipleship, does not stop as a pedagogical stage in the priestly formation. It is a lifelong experience. “The whole life of a priest [or religious], from the first moment of his [her] calling, is, as already stated, one of continuous formation. It is the life of a disciple of Jesus, docile to the action of the Holy Spirit, for the service of the Church” (Ratio n. 68). The new Ratio rightly affirms that, ‘as disciples at the school of the Master, they should learn to live and act with the pastoral charity that flows from being” servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of 600”” (cf. 1Cor 4:1). Nemo dat quad non habet. Nobody can offer what he does not have; hence according to Pope Benedict XVI, the Apostles must be with him [Jesus], in order to attain that intimate acquaintance with him” (Jesus of Nazareth II, p. 772). That is, the call for discipleship for the whole of life demands adequate knowledge of the Master through constant and intimate communion with him. It is from this communion aspect of discipleship that the missionary dimension of witnessing flows. Our mission as Christians is to become the salt of the earth and the light of the world (cf. Matt. 5:13-15). Let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.
Finally, with John Steinbeck, we have to agree that “farewell has a sweet sound of reluctance.” Valediction is always accompanied by sweet sorrow. However, “goodbyes” are not forever. They simply mean: “we will miss you until we meet again,” for although the song is ended, the melody lingers on. Fare thee well, then, our dear ones. We shall always hold dear the memories we have shared with you. And even when we cannot see physically, we shall always be with you in spirit. We pray that we shall keep meeting and parting until that very precious day when we shall all meet to part no more. Amen. May God bless you all. Thank you!
Rev. Fr. Bahholomew Ezeokafor
For, and on behalf of Theology and Philosophy graduands, class of 2018