Terrible is a mild adjective to describe the sorrow in my heart putting down these words. On May 28, 2016, I knelt down before you Msgr. Jerome Okechukwu Anaetoh, Fr. Cyprain Igwebuike Aginah and Fr Celestine Obini Mbam asking for your blessings before I could leave for studies. In an emotionally charged atmosphere in the Father’s House of St Mulumba’s Azuiyiokwu, you all prayed for me and impacted your blessings. I took time to hug you one after the other. As I assured you that I would be back, Fr. Mbam retorted: “That‘s if you meet us alive.“ Truly, I would not be meeting you all again.
What could be more painful than knowing that the only three priests with whom I lived, prayed, worked, joked, laughed, ate and wined together for four years are all gone within a space of four years. The Father’s House we once lived appears to me like now an oncology hall! What a world!
The death of each of you hit me in a hard way. But your death, Msgr Anaetoh appears to have hit me hardest not just because you were our boss, but because of my relationship with you which is more than a coincidence. As a kid, I grew up under your spiritual care and inspiration. The sight of your Volkwagen Beetle, your intimidating physique, piercing words, unpredictable actions, family visits, and passion for work, Words and Sacraments instilled in me the image of the Catholic priesthood. You truly were a spiritual father-figure.
As a newly ordained priest, I was posted to work under you as a vicar, an assignment I did till I left for studies. Working with you afforded me opportunities to balance my childhood view of your person. Contrary to people’s expectation, we worked in perfect understanding and with a highest degree of cordiality. When I left for studies, we got closer as you made it a point of duty to intimate me on every development in the parish. Outwardly, you looked like a lion, bold, intimidating, fierce, assertive, raw and demanding. But inwardly, you were a wounded lamb, humble, accommodating, fearful, free-minded, shy, and too generous to a fault.
Msgr, you were a fulfilled pastor with unique defensive mechanisms, a builder with high risk and taste. You earned the reputation of succeeding where others fail. You battled with serious cross of sickness and human management but God’s favour saw you through. At 78 plus, one would say that you were successful by all human standards. You excelled in civil and military services; you attained the noble age of ministerial priesthood; and stole a view of the biblical 80 years made for the strong.
In our last discussion this year, you lamented your frustration at the slow pace of work in your retirement home, a plan that was so dear to your heart. I promised you that things would go fine and the home would be ready. Little did we know that God was preparing you a perfect home with him.
Msgr, in life and ministry, you were not a lion. You hunted lions and could be called Ogbuagu. Your ministry traversed Ndiaboishiagu, Nkalagu, Igbeagu and Ishiagu. At the evening of your life, you settled for rest at the bank (Azu) of a river (Iyi) called “okwu“. You came, you saw and you conquered.
You really will be missed where the poor would be marginalised; where justice would be offered to the highest bidder; and where a shout would be a good riddance to a bad rubbish.
As you are laid to rest, I owe you more tributes than words could pay. I offer the sorrows of missing your burial today for your eternal repose. Greet Frs. Mbam and Aginah for me. If I could not meet you alive on earth, I would meet you alive in heaven where we will never be unhappy again.
Adieu Adamma! Adieu Bulldozer!! Adieu Msgr. Jerome!!! See you on the resurrection morning!
Fr. Felix Uche Akam (PhD)