By Jonathan Ugbal
It was with mixed emotions that the remains of the Emeritus Archbishop of the Calabar Metropolitan Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, His Grace, Most Revd. Dr. Joseph Edra Ukpo was received at the St. Benedict Cathedral, Ogoja on Monday as part of the obsequies for his funeral.
Ukpo, who has been described as the patriarch of the Ogoja Diocese of the Church, was the first indigenous Priest and Bishop of the Diocese.
He passed away on March 1, 2023, aged 85 and exactly 50 years after he was appointed Bishop of his native Ogoja Diocese.
His remains left Calabar on Monday for Ogoja and were received at Mbok junction before proceeding to his native Parish, Christ The King Catholic Parish at Okpoma, Yala Local Government Area for Mass.
The remains were then moved to the St. Benedict Cathedral where a vigil mass was held.
At the vigil mass, the Chief Celebrant was His Grace, Most Revd. Dr. Matthew Ishaya Audu, the Archbishop of Jos Archdiocese, while the lead mourner, His Lordship, the Bishop of Ogoja Diocese, Most Revd. Donatus Akpan and His Lordship, the Bishop of Gboko Diocese, Most Revd. William Aveno Avenya alongside over 60 priests were concelebrants.
No fewer than 40 Reverend Sisters, dozens of Knights and Ladies, and hundreds of the lay faithful of the church were present.
Bishop Akpan, on his part, commended all who showed up for the vigil and thanked the Archbishop of Calabar Archdiocese, His Grace Most Revd. Joseph Ekuwem for accepting that the remains of Archbishop Ukpo be brought home first before the funeral rites in Calabar.
He said there was no rule that said a Bishop has to be taken to all the places He worked, hence his commendation of the decision made by Archbishop Ekuwem to allow his predecessor to visit home, one more time.
At the Sermon, Rev. Fr. Jake Otonko reflected on the life and times of the Archbishop.
Otonko, a Professor of Human Rights, Religion and Society at the Nassarawa State University, Keffi, said the Missionary Bishop, Thomas McGetrick planted the seed and cut the grass with the late Archbishop Ukpo watering it and ensuring it blooms.
According to Fr. Otonko, Archbishop Ukpo had only Rev. Fr. Michael Elemi who was ordained a year after him as the priest in the Diocese. However, later in 1973, months after he was ordained as Bishop, the late Msgr. Patrick Idiku, who later became the Diocesan Administrator, and Rev. Fr. Atemgweye Unimna, who leads the pack as the oldest priest in the diocese today, and was present at mass, were ordained.
Three more were ordained in 1974, five in 1975 three in 1976 with none between 1977 and 1978. He had to borrow priests from Okigwe Diocese and in Anambra to preach the word in Ogoja.
But, to show that he succeeded in his ministry, Otonko said the Diocese boasts of over 130 Priests, 15 standing Deacons, over 130 Seminarians, over 160 Reverend Sisters, and about 2.8 million lay faithful.
He described his passing as glorious since, “today, Heaven has indeed gained a great Angel, and we have gained a great ancestor.”
Born on June 6, 1937, Archbishop Ukpo was among the first batch of students that were enrolled at the Maryknoll College, Okuku Yala, and was ordained a Priest on April 25, 1965.
He was ordained to the Episcopacy as an Auxiliary Bishop on September 19, 1971. He served as the Auxiliary Bishop of Ogoja Diocese and Titular Bishop of Chullu Diocese, a Catholic titular episcopal See, which is in the northern Skikda Province of Algeria until 1973.
He was appointed Bishop of the Ogoja Diocese on March 1, 1973, by His Holiness Pope Paul VI and was Ordained a few weeks later.
He served in that position for 30 years and 9 months before he was appointed Archbishop of the Calabar Metropolitan See on December 17, 2003, by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. He was Installed a few weeks later.
He retired on February 2, 2012, after leading the flock in the Archdiocese for a little over nine years. At his death, he had been a Priest in the order of Melchizedek for 57 Years and 10 Months.
A Requiem Mass is expected to be held by the Office of the Dead at 8:00 AM this morning (Tuesday) before his body departs by motorcade to Calabar.