For the first time in the 58 years of Port Harcourt Diocese, an indigenous Priest, Most Rev. Dr. Patrick Eluke today being elevated and consecrated to the revered office of a Catholic Bishop, in the Auxiliary cadre for the Diocese of Port Harcourt: the first man from Rivers State to be so elevated.
In an interview with the Catholic Link’s trio of Cyril Onyekwere, Benedict Guredam and Kingsley Izejiobi, the new Bishop speaks on his focus as a Bishop, and how he felt upon hearing that he has been appointed among other issues.
Catholic Link: Tell us how you feel at the first time you heard that you have been appointed the Auxiliary Bishop of Port Harcourt Diocese.
Bishop Eluke: Well I received the news with mixed feelings, mixed feelings in the sense that it is a call to service, it is not an achievement, and it is not something you long for, because the work of a priest is already enormous. So when I was appointed Bishop, I just said to myself, this is a greater call to more work in the vineyard of the Lord. And I said that God who has called me will make it possible for me to do the work.
Catholic link: How do you feel whenever you think about the day of your consecration?
Bishop Eluke: Of course the work of a Bishop is a work of a father, a father for all. So each time I think about the day, I think about what I would do to bring people together under Christ. That’s why if you look at the motto, from Ephesians Chapter 1:10, ”bring everything together under Christ”. So the aim is to bring God’s people, the priests themselves that all of us would work as one. So May 9th begins another phase of my life that I will be more dedicated to the work that am going to do to bring the priests and lay faithful together to work for Christ and to win souls for Christ.
Catholic Link: Being the first in the 58 years history of the Diocese to be elevated to the office of a Catholic Bishop, how do you feel about it?
Bishop Eluke: It is not about the feeling of you being the first to be so appointed, it’s a call that all of us are being called to, all the priests in the Diocese are in this business together, because the Bishop cannot work alone, he will work with priests as collaborators, and of course, the substantive Bishop is there. All of us are going to join hands together, listening to him as the chief shepherd of the Diocese, so he can guide and direct us on what we should do. I don’t see anything as the first, feeling so means you have been looking for it, and I will say that anyone who longs for this job is seeing it as an achievement, but if it is a call to service, you will be humbled the more. So am not feeling anything extra ordinary, in terms of being the first or not being the first, but what is important is that Port Harcourt now have an indigenous Bishop, first or not is not important to me, what is important to me is that all of us are going to work together for the progress and development of the Diocese.
Catholic Link: How would you evaluate evangelization in the Diocese, these 58 years of the Diocese?
Bishop Eluke: There is a lot of progress, because each person will come and play his own part. When the Diocese started, with Bishop Okoye down to Ekandem, Fitzgibbon, Makozi and then to the present Bishop, as you know, the number of parishes we have before is not what we have now, the number of priests is not what it used to be. All the Local Ordinaries have come to play their own part, our Bishop and father has come and he is playing his own part. Where he met Port Harcourt is not where it is today and where Port Harcourt wants to be is not where it is now, it’s a steady progress we continue to make. So in terms of evangelization, it’s been steady progress so far, but that does not mean that there are no challenges along the line.
Catholic Link: So, talking about the challenges, can we say that the Church in Port Harcourt is ready to tackle these challenges?
Bishop Eluke: The Church here is fully ready; the personnel in the Church will do their own part, and you give way for others to continue where you stop. Christ came, did his own and left the work, and we are continuing that work of Christ. So those challenges make us stronger and true Christians. As Jesus said, anyone who wishes to follow me should take up his cross and follow me; of course this is one of the ways. So those challenges should spur us, it should give us direction to where we are going and what we should do.
Catholic Link: You are the present Parish Priest of St. Francis’ Catholic Church, Rumuokwuta, Port Harcourt, what was the reaction of the people to the announcement?
Bishop Eluke: As you may have noticed, where you have a crowd, there will be some on the positive and some at the opposite sides, if we must be very sincere to our selves. Because the people in the Church are people that are of various groups and belonged to various clique and admired various priests. 80-90 percent of the parishioners received it with joy. But I am not expecting that everybody will be happy with that because some people are clinging to one priest or the other, wishing that it were to be their own person. So for me, generally it was with joy, however that does not mean that everybody will be happy. After all, not everybody was happy when Christ was here, so everybody cannot be happy for this because they have various interests.
Catholic Link: Now that you are in the saddle, what are the areas you want to pay close attention to in the quest for advancement of evangelization in the Diocese?
Bishop Eluke: Youth apostolate number one, rural apostolate number two, and education of the personnel to carry out this work. We would work as team, myself and my Bishop, Bishop Camillus Etokudoh, we are going to sit down, draw out the map and forge ahead with what we are going to do.
Catholic Link: My Lord, it is good you mentioned youth and rural apostolate, and evangelization, what do you think should be done to the rural areas of the Diocese?
Bishop Eluke: Well, the personnel needs to be trained, more priests will help to push to the hinterlands, but in all, we are about three priests in my village alone, myself, Fr. Kelvin Ile and Fr. Jona Eluke and then the other parts of the area. So we need to focus more on the hinterlands, not only in Ahoada Deanery, but other areas too, especially on the need to make them better Christians. It is not the population that is important, but the quality of Christians that we produce. Because you can have a crowd, but how many of them are real Catholics true to the core to what they are supposed to do in helping the Church to achieve this?
Catholic Link: Before the appointment you were the Vocations Director, so what is the fate of the Seminarians now?
Bishop Eluke: Well, when we get to the bridge we would know how to cross it, Jesus will always show us the way out through our local ordinary, so the Bishop knows what to do at that point in time.
Catholic Link: What are the plans in handling the recent influx of Pentecostal styles of worship into the Church?
Bishop Eluke: Yes, the priests themselves needs to be curtailed on that, because sometimes when you see these things, it looks like the only way to get them is to do what the people like, but we would talk to ourselves on the needs to get back to our roots, and then to teach the Catholics the basic truth and the tenets of the Church. You know my stand and for me, doing the Catholic things in a Catholic way is what will help us not the other way because we will only be imitating others. So all our priests, our hands will be on deck to be able to checkmate that and to see that we impact sound Catholic doctrines on our parishioners.
Catholic Link: is it safe to say that your appointment is preparing the ground for the impending creation of one or more Dioceses from the present Port Harcourt Diocese?
Bishop Eluke: Well, I don’t know anything about that; all I know is that I am only appointed as the Auxiliary Bishop of Port Harcourt Diocese, any other thing outside of that I have no idea about. There is no way I will be against the creation of more dioceses from the present Port Harcourt Diocese, but for now, what I am for and am working for is the Catholic Diocese of Port Harcourt as the Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese.
Catholic Link: Finally, what is your wish for all those who have participated in your consecration ceremony?
Bishop Eluke: I want the grace of God to be filled in their hearts and, minds and that all those who have come here will have a hitch free movement, to and fro, their various destinations across the country and beyond, and I thank God for the grace that has filled the arena, praying that it will be impacted on all our people those present and those absent. Also that anyone who may have planed anything evil for today will be arrested by God.