The new Eparchy in Nigeria is a diocese just like the existing Catholic Diocese in Ibadan, but it will have its own bishop who will superintend over Maronite parishes in Nigeria and across West and Central Africa, where Catholic Lebanese reside.
He will also be a visitor to the Lebanese community in South Africa.
The ordained priests under the Eparchy can either be married or unmarried unlike what obtains in the regular Catholic Church, where all priests must take and adhere strictly to the oath of celibacy.
Following his consecration and enthronement, Monsignor Faddoul would preside over the Eparchy from Our Lady of Annunciation Church, located at 22 Jibowu Crescent, Iyaganku, Ibadan.
The seat of the bishop is surrounded by Premier FM of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Best Western Plus Hotel, former Deborah Mission House, Ibadan International School, and Ibadan Zonal Office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Currently, Catholic faithful who worship at Our Lady of Annunciation, which was until recently a parish of the Ibadan Diocese of the Catholic Church, are Lebanese residing in Ibadan. Mass is celebrated in the Aramaic Language. Recall that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself spoke in that language a number of times as recorded in the Bible. Some examples include when he raised a young maiden from the dead, by saying, “Talitakumi,” which means, “Young girl, arise.”
On the cross at his crucification, he spoke twice in Aramaic too: “Eloi, eloi, laba saba tani (My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me).
As Christendom marks His resurrection from the dead today, the words He spoke in anguish would resonate again in churches across the globe, when the Christian faithful will adore and worship Him in thanksgiving.
As at the time of filing this report, Sunday Sun learnt that the bishop-elect of the new Eparchy had travelled out of the country in preparation for his consecration and inauguration on Saturday.
The decision of the Vatican to create the new specialized diocese would henceforth allow seminarians who feel called to the Catholic priesthood to respond to the inward call and still be able to marry if they so choose.
The freedom to marry and still be priests would only obtain in the new Eparchy which is guided by the doctrines of the Eastern Church as opposed to the practices of the Latin or Western Church (otherwise known as the Roman Catholic Church), where priests are compelled to be celibate for life as long as they remain ordained priests.
It would be recalled that in the early centuries of Christianity, priests of the Roman Catholic Church were allowed to marry and have children. This practice ended following a doctrinal imposition by the Papacy.
Sunday Sun investigation revealed that Monsignor Faddoul has started learning the English Language as a teacher was said to have been employed for him so that his vast knowledge of Lebanese Language will be complemented with English, which would rightly position him for the evangelism.
When Sunday Sun visited the church, the entrance gate was firmly locked, and two guards at the gate of the church did not allow access into the premises on the grounds that the reporter did not have official permission.
The coming of the Maronite Eparchy has raised curiosity among members of the Catholic Church, especially those in the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan, on the implications of the development in the country.
Efforts made to talk to the Catholic Archbishop of Ibadan Diocese, Most Reverend Gabriel Abegunrin, were not successful as he was said to have travelled to Abuja, as at the time of filing this report. Also, notable Catholics in Ibadan, especially the President, Laity Council, Mr Steve Olasupo, could not be reached for comments.
And the Secretary to the Archbishop, Rev’d Father Michael Woods, who was contacted and many questions posed to him only said: “I thought it best to simply furnish you with the official press statement of the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan issued by His Grace, Most Rev Gabriel ‘Leke Abegunrin. It addresses in an apt manner the clarifications you want.”
The statement dated March 13, 2018, read in part: “On the 28th of February, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, elevated the Maronite Exarchy in Ibadan to an Eparchy. He appointed Mons. Simon Faddoul as its first bishop. It shall be known as the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of the Annunciation. The seat of the bishop shall be at Our Lady of Annunciation Church. It is proper that such announcements bring joy and excitement among the faithful, especially those of the local church so affected.
“However, this is a peculiar case for which many people have expressed curiosity: Is this a new diocese within an existing diocese? Are there two sitting bishops; hence, two cathedrals in Ibadan?
“A particular social media post has gone viral on Whatsapp without the author’s name. It shows some excitement about prospects of vocation to a married priesthood in the Maronite Church and life as a Maronite Catholic.
“This indicates need for a proper understanding of Eastern/Oriental Churches. For the Maronites, it is not compulsory that every candidate for the priesthood be married. It is optional and many still opt for the celibate priesthood.
“It should be understood that the Maronite Eparchy caters for the Lebanese Catholic Community. This elevation from an Exarchy to an Eparchy by the Holy Father is an ordinary exercise of his pastoral powers. Many are familiar with the elevation of a prefecture to a Diocese just as Ibadan experienced some 60 years ago in 1958.
“Our faithful in the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan will also remember the visit of the relics of St. Charbel, a saint in the Maronite Church. The liturgy of the Maronite Church was seen as it showed the tradition and spiritual heritage of Lebanese Catholics. For instance, the Eucharistic liturgy during the Maronite Mass was conducted in Aramaic Language as is always done.
“That event was an eye-opener for many people to know more about our beloved Catholic Church. While the Church in Nigeria and majority of Catholics worldwide are of the Latin Rite, Lebanese Catholics are of the Maronite Rite.
“In part, that means, the Code of Canon Law is binding only on the Latin Rite and not on the Maronites. Rites in the Catholic Church, 21 of them, have spiritual, canonical and theological traditions that are peculiar to each.
“However, the rites are all in union with the Holy Father and so make up One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Basics of the faith and liturgy are still same. The Catholic Church remains a communion.
“The Lebanese Community in Ibadan has been in existence for long, in which time, they have participated actively in the life of the Latin-rite Church in Ibadan as parishioners at St. Richard, Jericho and Christ the King, Odo Ona Parishes.
“If at this time, the Holy Father creates an Eparchy for them, it is a sign of growth and development; and an honour that Ibadan was selected as its seat.
“In clear terms, we can state that this is not an alternate diocese in Ibadan. The Eparchy has its seat in Ibadan, but Bishop Faddoul’s spiritual and pastoral responsibility covers the places where Lebanese Catholics exist in West and Central Africa. He is also a visitor to the Lebanese community in South Africa.”
Archbishop Abegunrin expressed joy over the elevation of the Exarchy to an Eparchy and noted that the development had enabled people to know more about the Catholic Church.
The lingering question is whether the take-off of the Eparchy would lead to defection of seminarians eager to avoid the requirement to observe celibacy under the Western Rite and still become priests of the Catholic Church under the Eastern Rite. Again, Catholic priests have long been accused of engaging in fornication. Will the freedom to marry, curb the tendency among priests who still feel the emotional pull for intimacy, which would have been easily dealt within the bounds of holy matrimony. The answer is still blowing in the wind.