- Please see below the homily of Bishop Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin, which was delivered at the Diaconate Ordination in the diocese. See attached related photo for publication of Deacon Conrad Forzeh (left) and Deacon Frankline Nkopi, both of the Diocese of Kumba, Cameroon, with Bishop Doran
- See also attached address of appreciation of Bishop Agapitus Nfon, Bishop Kumba
Lift up your eyes and look round:
all are assembling and coming towards you,
your sons from far away
and your daughters being tenderly carried.
In the Hebrew bible, we come across two different approaches to the world beyond the boundaries of Israel. One approach is to emphasise the clear division between Jews and Gentiles. The other approach, which we find in our first reading today, presents Jerusalem as the mother of all the nations, a place of light and life, where people come on pilgrimage and find their spiritual home. The solemnity of the Epiphany seems to reflect that more inclusive approach. The Saviour, who was revealed to the shepherds of Judea, was also manifested to the Magi by the light of a star.
The land where Jesus was born was a small enough corner of the earth, but it had the advantage of being at the meeting point of three continents. Where exactly the three travellers came from is not that important. What matters is that they were seekers after truth; people who had the humility to recognise a source of meaning above and beyond themselves. That is an important and life giving insight which is not found in everyone. The light of the star symbolises that goal towards which the Magi were inspired to travel. It was not a place, but a person, Jesus Christ. The gifts they brought may have all sorts of symbolic meaning but, to put it very simply, in the words of the Magi themselves, they had come to pay homage.
Last week, when news broke of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, I was reminded of an experience that I had around the time of his resignation in 2013. I was on sabbatical in South Africa at the time and, temporarily at least, my experience of the wider world was being filtered through an African lens. I remember thinking to myself: ‘Rome seems a very long way from here.’ It is helpful, at times, to be pushed out of our comfort zone. These days, as we follow our Synodal Pathway, we are being encouraged, in the words of Isaiah, to ‘enlarge the space of our tent’ (Is. 54).
Cameroon is not as far away as South Africa. Indeed, because of our shared faith, it is no further than Rome. I am delighted that one of the fruits of our mission agreement with the Diocese of Kumba is that Conrad and Frankline have spent almost four years here in the Diocese of Elphin and in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, as part of their formation for priesthood. It is worth remembering that, like the Magi, their original inspiration came in their own homeland, among their own people. They didn’t need to come to Ireland to find Jesus.
Conrad and Frankline, you have come a long way, in every sense of the word. When I first discussed with Bishop Agapitus the possibility of sending seminarians here, we agreed that it would be best to choose men who were already committed to the journey; and I don’t just mean the journey to Ireland, but the journey of discipleship. There is an old Irish saying that goes as follows: “To go to Rome, is much of trouble; little of profit. The king whom you seek here; unless you bring him with you, you will not find!” The same could be said of coming to Ireland. It wasn’t about finding a place to go; it was about widening the space of your tent. Staying at home might have been easier. Sometimes, however, it is only when you step away from your own place for a while that you come to understand it better, and to understand your own place in it.
Your faith will always be rooted in the Church of Kumba and it is something for which you should regularly give thanks to God. Today, by virtue of your ordination as deacons and your promise of obedience, you will be formally incardinated in your home Diocese. The word “incardination”, as you know, literally means hinged-on. Today also, like the Magi, with a mixture of humility and joyfulness, you bring your gifts and lay them before the Lord, for Him to use, as He sees fit.
Your mission – and indeed the mission of every baptised person here today – is to “go make disciples”. As deacons, you will carry out that mission in a particular way through your service at the table of God’s Word, at the table of the Body and Blood of the Lord and at the table of Charity and Justice. Keep in mind that, while your diaconate is described as transitional – because you are destined for ordination to the priesthood – there is nothing transitional about the call to serve.
Like the Magi, you are not called to travel alone. As ordained ministers, the whole meaning of your life is summed up in the word ‘communion’. You will not build up the body of Christ, either by sitting in your house, or by running around doing everything yourself. You have many gifts, but no priest or deacon has all the gifts that are required. So focus on walking with people and, whenever possible, helping them – women and men, young and old – to bring out the gifts that God has given them. When it comes to understanding what it really means to be a deacon or a priest, you will often find that some of your parishioners will be your best teachers.
Like the Magi, from time to time, you will encounter people who don’t understand why you seek Jesus, or why you want to give your life in service. It may be good to listen to them and engage in dialogue with them, but you don’t have to agree with everyone, either out of politeness or political correctness. Sometimes, like the Magi, you may have to look for a ‘different way’. I am quite certain, however, that your regular encounter with Christ will continue to transform your lives and bring you safely to your destination.
- This Mass of Ordination to the Diaconate was celebrated by Bishop Doran at 12.30pm on 6 January 2023, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo. The congregation included two priests of the Diocese of Kumba who represented Bishop Agapitus Nfon, Fathers Evaristus Nkede and Willibrord Sakwe. Both priests currently minister in the Diocese of Elphin.
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