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 The symposium organized by the Religious Institute of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ, kicked off on May 8, 2014 with the votive Mass of the Holy Spirit presided over by Rev. Fr. Francis Igboanugo. In his homily, Rev. Fr. Orakwe Aloysius noted the simplicity of the late Archbishop. He urged all to emulate the simplicity of this worthy apostle of the Church. The Symposium which was held at the Madonna renewal Centre, Nkpor, Onitsha Archdiocese, Nigeria, was declared open by Mother Mary Claude Oguh, Superior General of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ.

 The Key note Address was given by Rev. Fr. George Ehusani in the person of Very Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Dim. The Address titled: THE CHRISTIAN FAITH AND MISSION IN AFRICA: PROSPECTS AND CHALLENGES explored the Christian faith as lived in our society today vis-à-vis the faith brought to us by the Missionaries, outstanding among who was Archbishop Charles Heerey. He highlighted the challenges facing the Christian faith today in our society. According to him, “we are witnessing in our country today what we may call a gradual de-spiritualisation as well as fetishisation of Christianity. The religion that appears dominant in the consciousness of the generality of Nigerians today is what they seem to have received from the numerous half-baked preachers and cash and carry evangelists whose messages dominate our airwaves and websites, and billboards and signposts, and not the authentic religion of Christ preached by St. Peter and St. Paul, not the one propagated by St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas, not the one witnessed to by St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius of Loyola, and certainly not the same religion professed by Saint John Paul II, Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Blessed Cyprian Iwene Tansi or Bishop Charles Heerey whose glorious memory we are today honouring”. He hoped that further discussions in the on-going exchange of ideas during the Symposium will lead to finding solutions to some of these challenges.

The Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano was represented, by Sir Norbert Obi who was a product of the primary and secondary schools founded by Archbishop Heerey just as past and present governors of the State and so many notable figures in Nigeria. According to him, the memory of Archbishop Heerey demands respect for the wonderful missionary work he did in Nigeira, especially in the areas of education and health.

 The lead paper was delivered by His Excellency, Most Rev. Valerian Maduka Okeke, the Archbishop of Onitsha. Titled: The contributions of Archbishop Heerey on faith in Eastern Nigeria, the Archbishop through his representative, Rev. Fr. Prof. Josephat Oguejiofor paid attention to the numerous works of Archbishop Heerey in the areas of education, health care and fostering of indigenous vocations. He built seminaries and insisted on giving the seminarians the best possible formation so as to lay a solid foundation for the local Clergy in Nigeria. He went further to found two religious congregations: the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Christ and the Brothers of St. Peter Claver which eventually was absorbed by the Marist Brothers. He built and funded schools and hospitals. Before his time, there were no Catholic secondary schools, but by the end of his episcopacy, he had over 19 Catholic secondary schools in situated in various parts of eastern Nigeria.

 Sr. Dr. Mary Noelle Eze, a Senior Lecturer at the Anambra State University, Igbariam, Nigeria, explored the Irish faith heritage of Archbishop Charles Heerey, his family background, empowerment and sustenance which formed a solid support for his Mission challenges; and his formation to Missionary Religious Priest which became for him a firm foundation for human capacity building for Christian evangelisation.

In the discussion which followed, the discussants emphasised Archbishop Heerey’s humility, faith, simplicity, steadfastness, zeal, clear vision, Marian Spirituality and devotion to the Eucharist. Attention was called to the fact that Archbishop Heerey established schools not for profit but for uplifting human beings. Many teachers today frown when they are posted outside their home town, but Heerey left his homeland to come and help us.

Archbishop A.J.V. Obinna of Owerri Archdiocese made a significant contribution. He described Archbishop Charles Heerey as a Catholic personality who lived a Eucharistic self – sacrificing life. He called attention to Heerey’s spiritual conviction and deep faith which enabled him to face his challenges and, called for more fully-converted Christians not just those who congregate together. He concluded by saying that being more authentic Catholics is a way of dealing with a lot of the crises besetting us today.

 In the same vein, Most Rev. Gregory Ochiagha urged the Immaculate Heart Sisters to pay attention to the Spirit of the Founder because without that, there is no congregation.

 Very Rev. Msgr. Hypolite Adigwe concluded his intervention on Archbishop Heerey in these words: Considering all we have been experiencing in this symposium, what crystallises is that:

we are talking about  a holy man;

a man who lived his faith among us;

a man who loved the Church;

a man who loved the mission;

a man who loved the Igbo people;

a man of God who has no other place in the next world but in the kingdom of God.

We will be going home with the resolve that our continued prayer will rise up to the throne of God asking Him to inspire the Church to look into the life of this great missionary, our Father in Faith,  Archbishop Charles Heerey CSSp. and raise him to the altar as a saint.

 The Symposium was attended by over 600 participants among whom were His Excellencies, Most Rev. Anthony Obinna, Archbishop of Owerri, Most Rev. Hilary Okeke, Bishop of Nnewi, Most Rev Gregory Ochiagha, Bishop Emeritus of Orlu, Very Rev. Msgr. Hypolite Adigwe, many priests from Onitsha archdiocese, Enugu and Awka dioceses, Sisters, dignitaries from the State, men and women from all works of life, seminarians and students, The participants were entertained by the pupils of Sacred Heart Basic School, Odoakpu-Onitsha and the Students of Maria Regina Girls Secondary School, Nnewi. 

The Symposium was declared closed at 3.00pm on 9th May, 2014, by Mother Mary Claude Oguh after thanking all the participants and urging all to go on to emulate the virtues of this great apostle of Eastern Nigeria, Archshop Heerey, CSSp.



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