The History of Abuja Archdiocese

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The History of Abuja Archdiocese

The Diocese of Abuja corresponds territorially with the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, which is estimated at 950,000 square kilometers in area, and has an estimated population of 3.5 million. Its Catholic population is about 550,115.

The wish of the Nigerian Catholic Hierarchy to have an Ecclesiastical circumscription corresponding to the Civil Federal Capital Territory found expression in the late 1979. Their wish received the approval of the Sacred Congregation for Propagation of the faith and the Evangelization of the Peoples, and the Independent Mission of Abuja was established on November 6, 1981. By a simultaneous decree, His Eminence, Dominic Cardinal Ignatius Ekandem, then Bishop of Ikot Ekpene diocese was appointed Ecclesiastical Superior of the new jurisdiction, with authority to perform all acts necessary for the rule of this mission, according to the prescriptions of Canon Law and the special instructions of this congregation. By the Apostolic Letter, dated July 19, 1989, and signed by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the propagation of the Faith and by the Cardinal concerned with public affairs of the Church, the Independent Mission of Abuja was raised to the status of a diocese, suffragan to the Metropolitan Church of Kaduna. By an earlier Apostolic Bull, dated June 11, 1989 and signed by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, His Eminence, Dominic Cardinal Ekandem was enthroned as first bishop by the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio in Nigeria and His Graces, the Archbishop of Kaduna and Lagos on December 16, 1989.

In 1981, after His Eminence, Dominic Cardinal Ekandem had been appointed the Superior of Abuja, distance, bad road and running of his diocese in Ikot Ekpene made it impossible for him to be in Abuja at the same time. He immediately appointed Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, a priest from the Archdiocese of Kaduna, as his representative to the newly created territory. A brief meeting was held between His Grace, Archbishop Peter Jatau of Kaduna, Bishop Christopher Abba of Minna (then) and Fr. Matthew Kukah at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Suleja, in January 1982. It was resolved that Fr. Kukah’s immediate assignment would be to liaise with Federal Government to procure land and register the presence of the Catholic Church in Abuja. The group paid a courtesy call on the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mr. John Kadiya. Fr. Kukah was then formally introduced to him and his Land Officers. Bishop Christopher Abba (Minna) then offered him a room at the parish house in Suleja. However, preparation for the Pope’s visit that year and the fact that Fr. Kukah was working full time as the Director of Social Development for Kaduna Ecclesiastical Province, and National Secretary, Social Development Office, Lagos, meant that for the first three months in 1982, he could only shuttle to and fro Kaduna. Fr. Kukah finally took up residence in Suleja in May, 1982 and worked in the territory until March 1986 when he went to study at University of London. Before his departure, Fr. Kukah succeeded in obtaining registration of the pioneering parishe churches and institutions in the diocese of Abuja. Cardinal Ekandem also had his pioneering team like Rt Rev. Monsignor Dominic E. Inyang (late) and Rev Sisters Theresa Nwanuro and Mary Tuku of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, who took residence in Abuja in 1982. The two pioneering priests, Monsignor D. E. Inyang and Fr. Matthew Kukah were joined in 1983 by Rev. Fr. Willy Ojukwu who was ordained that year and Sister Lucy Afangideh to work in the new mission.

Other pioneering priests who joined the Cardinal in Abuja mission and facilitated the development of the young mission were Very Rev. Fr. Richard Devine (late) of the Society of African Mission (SMA) who supervised the building of the National Missionary Seminary of St Paul at Gwagwalada. The Handmaids International Nursery-Primary School Garki, and the first phase of the Pope John Paul Catholic Centre Wuse II respectively. Following in the line was the Holy Ghost Missionaries led by Fr. Casmir Eke, CSSp who resided in Garki since 1983, before he finally moved to open a new parish of St Peter’s Abaji. The history of Abuja diocese will not be complete without the mention also of a reputable and highly spiritual and seasoned missionary priest, Very Rev McGuinness SPS, whose untiring efforts with His Eminence pushed the young Abuja mission from grass to grace. A mention has to be made of Very Rev Fr. Kenneth Enang, who, although Vicar General of His Eminence in Ikot Ekpene diocese, has connections and relationship with benefactors abroad helped in the initial establishment of the Independent Mission now Archdiocese of Abuja. While Monsignor Inyang resided in Gwagwalada, Rev Fr. Kukah later moved to establish the first Catholic Church in Area 1, Garki. They both continued with the rate of development with the availability of the small plot of land made available by the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory.

Given the success of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja these few years, no opportunity was missed, rather eagerly grasped, for education, health and social development. Thus Nursery-Primary Schools and the handicapped centre have been established. These include the Ss Simon and Jude Minor Seminary, Kuje for initial training of future priests, the Regina Pacis Girls Secondary School Garki and the Christ the King Boys’ Secondary School, Gwagwalada respectively. Others are the Physically and Mentally Handicapped and Destitute Centre in Gwagwalada, the Mercy Clinic which has now become one of the Catholic hospitals in the Archdiocese also in Gwagwalada and the Health Centre already built in Gawu which at present has been transferred to Minna diocese due to proximity. Land has been acquired for the erection of a befitting Cathedral in the Central District Area and the establishment of hospitals at Bwari and Kuje respectively. The first and second phases of the Pope John Paul Social Centre Wuse II are nearing completion to provide both social amenities and accommodation for retreat, seminars and recreational facilities for the Archdiocese. This centre has been handed over to the Holy Family Sisters of the Needy to manage. The Archdiocese can boast of a handful of nursery and primary schools. More institutions are sprouting up that the unbridled growth of the young Archdiocese under the leadership of His Eminence, Dominic Cardinal Ekandem and his able successor Most Rev. Dr. John Onaiyekan is no cosmetic show but buttressed by the fact that over these few years, she has established, erected and sustained a number of parishes and presbyteries in the territory. These include Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral Garki, St Paul’s Catholic Parish in Gwagwalada. The Holy Rosary Catholic Parish, Wuse was initiated by the pioneering Holy Rosary Sisters like Mercy Ani, Philomena Eze and Scholastica Nwokika respectively. Other parishes include St Mary’s Catholic Parish Nyanya-Karu, St Patrick’s Parish Karshi, St Peter’s Abaji and St Kizito’s Parish Kuje. St Theresa’s Parish Bwari was the only existing parish within the mission territory inherited from Minna diocese and now has a magnificent church and shrine.

The Episcopal Ordination of Bishop John Oniayekan took place on January 6, 1983 by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II in the Basilica of St Peter in Rome. After serving as an auxiliary bishop of Ilorin diocese and later residential bishop in January 1985, Bishop John Olorunfemi Oniyekan was appointed the Coadjutor bishop of Abuja diocese on July 7, 1990 and was subsequently appointed the second bishop of Abuja diocese by the Holy Father Pope John Paul II, on Nov 14 1992. The Cardinal Archbishop, His Eminence, Dominic Cardinal Ekandem clocked 75yrs on June 23 1992. With the attainment of 75yrs, he retired as bishop emeritus of Abuja diocese. Dominic Cardinal Ekadem had his home call to eternal rest in the Lord in November twenty – fourth, 1995.

The diocese of Abuja was elevated to a metropolitan see on 26th march, 1994 and Bishop John Onaiyekan was officially installed the metropolitan Archbishop of Abuja in th same year. As the federal capital territory of Abuja develops and increases in population. Archbishop John Onaiyekan intensified his effort in developing the young Archdiocese to serve the ever incresing population in the capital territory. The Archdiocese is now blessed with more parishes/chaplaincies, hospitals and institutions. The ordination of many young priests and admission of the missionary priests and religious are indeed helping to boost and take care of the pastoral needs of the people. The burning desire of Archbishop John Onaiyekan to further develop the Archdiocese culminated in 2nd February, 2012. When Pope Benedict XVI appointed His Lordship, Most Rev Dr Anselm Umoren, MSP as an auxiliary bishop of Abuja. Subsequently, raised the Archdiocese to Cardinalate with Archibishop John Onaiyekan as the Cardinal – Archbishop of Abuja on the 24 November, 2012. We must remain ever grateful to God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, for the the blessing that made the Archdiocese what it is today. Together, we honour our Mother Mary or her intercessary roles as our Lady Queen of Nigeria.

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