Today is not one of my happiest days. I’m sorry to start on such a depressing note. But that is the way I usually feel anytime since September 1, 2008, when one of those described as Warri Diocese most finest priests of all time, John Mark Ikpiki, was shot dead at Isiokolo, headquarters of Ethiope East Local Government Council, Delta State by unknown gun men.
Since his departure, whenever a Catholic priest fall to the cool hand of death, i am always tempted to ask God why, hence the news of the death of the Right Reverened Monsignor Joachim Ogheneochuko Agwhare came to all of us like a time bomb that has exploded somewhere in Sambisa Forest or some sounds of IED’s used by the BOKO HARAM terrorists group. The question was a reminiscence of when did we buried Rev. Fr. Chike Amaefulue?
All these ptiests no doubt had such rare a gift of sacrifice, wisdom and undaunted pedigree. They gave the priesthood in Warri Dioces, Nigeria a lease and dignity to those involved.
Like the Late Monsignor Joachim Agwhare, he upturned that belief that Catholic priests are some sets of ignorant young men by proving to them that Catholic priests are right thinking people and he gave a supporting hand to all who ever came across him. Just as Monsignor Agwhare was loved by those who idolised him, he was revered by men of power for his ability to expose and speak against every wrongs. It was an influential position that made him susceptible to love and hate in almost equal measure. The life of a successful priests is usually a delicate balance of standing between friends and enemies. And only a thin line separates the two. One perceived negative homily is just enough to obliterate 99 positive ones. No one ever remembers to thank the priest when he preached an inspiring homily but everyone remember to curse and blame him when he preach that homily that seems unpalatable or unfavourable.
That is what I call the dilemma of a Catholic priest. My guess is as good as yours. In the course of his service to God and humanity, Rev. Msgnr. Joachim Agwhare must have stepped on very powerful but sore toes who felt uncomfortable about his temerity to take on a system he may have seen as evil in the sight of God and the Church. The society seems to had not attained such level of tolerance to understand that the job of a clergy is to preach about friends and foes, good and evil alike.
The death of Monsignor Agwhare gives most of the faithful a shock of their life as none have expected him to depart without saying God bye to them, but who are we to determine when the owner of the vineyard will come for harvest.
According to a close source, the Late Rev. Monsignor Joachim Agwhare joyfully received his brother priests on Wednesday prior to the Thursday morning he joined the league of saints in heaven. This was immediately after the priests monthly recollection which he could not attend, and for the brotherhood love; they came to pray with one of their own as a sign of solidarity.
Though he was billed to travel for an operation somewhere in Lagos by March 1st, 2018 for his medical treatment but God took him to himself to avoid pains and stress.
At the time of his death, Rev. Msgnr. Joachim Agwhare was the chaplian of the Catholic Chaplaincy, Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun and easily one of the most celebrated Catholic priest in the Diocese of Warri as he is said to be among those who have contributed to the growth and development as well as the peacefulness in the Catholic Diocese of Warri.
A soft spoken but discipline and courageous clergy who will not compromise his priestly virtues for cheap gains.
The Late Monsignor Joachim Agwhare since after his priestly ordination in February 14, 1982 by Pope John Paul 11, now a Saint, he has devoted his service to the propagation of the gospel of God and liberation of souls from captivity.
At a time he was the Secretary to the Bishop of Warri Diocese, Most Rev. Edmund Fitzgibbon of Blessed Memory. He was also the Administrator at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Warri for over a decade piloting the affairs of the Cathedral and by extension, the Diocese. He was made the chaplain to the youth apostolate for over a decade guiding the youths and their affairs . In his time, he was able to build the youth commission and made the likes of Bro’s. Senator Kosin and Sir, Nelson Anya and many others who are very ardent in the Catholic faith till date.
For his meticulous and ardent devoutness to the Catholic priesthood, he was made the Vocation Director for many years and under him, many were admitted, nurtured, trained, graduated and ordained Catholic priests under his tutelage. Himself and many in the Diocese of Warri became inseparable from that moment of his ordination as he served the people of God and died serving them.
Rev. Msgnr. Joachim Agwhare was such a debonair priest who brought a lot of meaning into the Catholic priesthood. He was strong, dashing and daring. He was a power-dresser, a fashion icon that a glance at his cassock may transform you but above all an intelligent, inspiring priest, spiritual father and a strong pastoral agent of the mother church.
His nickname “Cardy”, and his regular reference word; “what is good is good and what is bad is bad, is one thing that made him well known to both the young and old in every parish he ever visited or worked. It was impossible not to be attracted to a Mass celebrated by him with the count of wordings in a manner that arrest every attention.
His death on Thursday, February 22, 2018 no doubt created a vacuum that will be difficult to fill. For all the deceased Catholic priests of Warri Diocese, one can only say that they were great messenger of God and they also lived up to their billing. They are the authentic pastors, clergies and men of God who titillated us with beautiful teachings of the Catholic faith that dripped with spiritual and undiluted words of God.
I had followed Rev. Msgnr. Aghware in particular like a true devotee. He was a man of wisdom who was worshipped at the altar of pastoral care, and admired irreverently by the high and mighty and the low and meek among the faithful even the priests. His wisdom, gentleness and humility was mighty; in fact, mightier than the sword. He was considered a proponent hardworking priest, fairness and justice in administration and church matters.
I remember in June 2016 when I visited him in his parish at Ubeji for an interview, for the over hour we spent together, one thing I learnt from him was his calmly manner of responding to questions precisely and straight to the point. He was so listening and receptive, to my surprise out of his own volition he gave us transport fare.
Born 68 years ago, Late Rev. Msgnr. Joachim Aghware attended St. Theresa’s primary school, Ovu. He later proceeds to the famous Holy Martyr’s of Uganda Seminary, Effurun for his Secondary Education where he came out in flying colours. He was admitted to study for the Catholic priesthood at the St. Peter and Paul Major Seminary Ibadan and in February 14, 1982 he was ordained a Catholic priest with his classmate Reverend Father Dr. Daniel Odafetite Riamela, now late by Pope Saint John Paul 11.
He served briefly before travelling for further studies abroad and on his return to Nigeria, he worked at different parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Warri. He held different positions and chaplain to many apostolates. Until his death, he was on his new posting barely two months as the Chaplain to Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Catholic Chaplaincy, PTI, Effurun before suffering from the chronic heart attack that took his life in the early hours of Thursday, February 22, 2018 in his house. What a rare priest we lost!
Godwin Utuedoye is a Journalist and writes from Ughelli.