For the second time in two months a personal representative of the Holy Father has been the guest of Bishop Braxton and the Diocese of Belleville. Last month, on September 25, The Most Rev. Carlo Maria Viganò, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, spent a day in the Diocese. His Excellency, The Most Reverend Fortunatus Nwachukwu, Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua was the guest of the Bishop and the Diocese October 29-31, 2014. Bishop Braxton and Archbishop Nwachukwu have known one another for many years. During his years as Chief of Protocol at the Vatican Secretariat of State, the then Msgr. Fortunatus often assisted the Bishop in making special arrangements for his guests on pilgrimage to Rome. He was especially helpful when the Bishop led a large number of Pilgrims from southern Illinois to Rome and the Holy Land during the 125th anniversary Jubilee year, 2012.
In one of his last official acts before renouncing the Chair of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Msgr. Fortunatus as Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua and personally ordained him to the episcopacy. This was an historic event because, in spite of the growth of the Church in Africa, very few African priests are sent to study at the Vatican’s Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy and even fewer are appointed heads of diplomatic missions as nuncios. The Nuncio, a priest of the Diocese of Aba, Nigeria, has a Doctorate in Sacred Scriptures from the Biblical Institute in Rome and the Jesuit Faculty, Sankt Georgen, in Frankfurt, specializing in Old Testament textual criticism. He also holds doctorates in Systematic Theology and in Canon Law. He has been in the diplomatic service of the Holy See since 1994. He has served in the Nunciatures in Ghana, Togo and Benin, in Paraguay, in Algeria and Tunisia and as Counselor at the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Fluent in several languages, he has published a variety of theological works.
During his brief time in Belleville, the Archbishop visited the Cathedral of St. Peter, the national Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows and other Diocesan facilities. He especially enjoyed his very spirit-filled conversation with the Poor Clare Sisters at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy.
One of the highlights of the visit was a luncheon hosted by Bishop Braxton in the Nuncio’s honor. Among the guests were a number of fedei donum priests serving in Belleville who are from Nigeria. Several of them were already well known to the Archbishop. These include: Reverend John Agbasierre, SMMM, Administrator of Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Sparta and St. Pius V Parish, Walsh, who was the Pastor of the Archbishop’s home parish, St. Benedict in Ntigha; his namesake, Reverend Oliver Nwuachukwu, Administrator of St. Charles Borromeo parish, DuBois and St. Michael Parish, Radom, with whom he studied at Immaculate Conception Minor Seminary, Umuakia, Nigeria; and Reverend Urban Osuji, Administrator of St. Mary Parish, Valmeyer and Chaplain at Gibault Catholic High School, with whom he studied at Bigard Major Seminary in Enugu, Nigeria. Key members of the Diocesan staff also attended the luncheon.
During the extended table conversation each of the priests present explained to the Nuncio the particular ministry in which he is engaged in the Diocese and reflected on his experiences in ministry. Archbishop Nwachukwu also shared stories about his interesting and unusual experiences in the service of the Holy See. While commenting on some of the complex and sensitive diplomatic issues he must address, he stressed that all diplomatic work in the Church must serve to facilitate the life of faith. It must allow people to get close to Peter, who calls them to draw closer to Jesus Christ. This central mission must never be lost in diplomatic red tape and details.
He also spoke about the growth and vitality of the Church in Nigeria as well as the challenges that the young churches in Africa sometimes face. One of the participants in the jovial, easy exchange of ideas around the table recalled the prophetic observations of Blessed Paul VI on his visits to the growing Catholic communities in sub Saharan Africa. “In the past missionaries from Europe and the Americas brought the faith to you. Now that you have grown to maturity, there is a need for you to become missionaries to the word and share the many gifts of Africa with countries where the faith is challenged by secularity and materialism.”
Archbishop Nwachukwu thanked the Nigerian priests for generously coming to serve in the Diocese of Belleville and he expressed gratitude to Bishop Braxton and the Diocese for the warm welcome they have received. Noting that the warm breezes of autumn were fast becoming the cold winds of winter, he invited the priests to visit him at the Nunciature in Managua, where the tropical sun warms the heart as well as the body. Because they were gathered in the presence of the personal ambassador of the Roman Pontiff, everyone drank the traditional toast to His Holiness, Pope Francis and prayed for the fruitfulness of his ministry, especially for the ongoing work of the Synod on the Family. “Ad multos annos gloriosque annos. Vivas! Vivas! Vivas!”