Sunday, 31 July 2016

PROFILE OF THE LATE BISHOP ATHANASIUS ATULE USUH

Most Reverend Athanasius Atule Usuh was born to the family of the late Pa Joseph Usuh Anachi and Mama Edna Hilemo Usuh of Mbatyough, Mbagen in Buruku local government area of Benue State on 2nd May 1942. 


His mother gave birth to eleven children (Bishop Usuh was the second born], all of whom are now deceased except his younger brother, Emmanuel Ishosen Usuh. The young Atule Usuh attended St. Theresa's primary school Abwa from 1951 to 1958 graduating as a pioneer set.

After graduating from primary school, he went to RCM Abayol at Ukan in Ushongo local government area where he taught for one year from 1959 to 1960. He was then transferred to RCM Kusuv in Mbatitiv, Yandev where he again taught for one year (1960-1961). It was during this time that an old schoolmate of his who was already in the junior seminary, while on holiday, persuaded him to join the seminary.

In response to the call to serve God in his vineyard, the young Atule discussed his desire with his then parish priest Father Sherwood of St. John's Parish Gboko, who advised him to sit for the entrance examination into the junior seminary. He got admission and studied at St. James Junior Seminary Keffi from 1961 to 1965. In the Junior Seminary, his talents in music and sports were evident as he was made the choirmaster and football captain of the school.

Leaving the junior seminary, he taught for a while at the then St. Augustine's Teachers College Lafia in 1966. The urge to continue his call to the priesthood began to come to fruition when he was admitted to Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu in September 1966. He used to recall that all textbooks were in Latin and it was very challenging. His sojourn at Bigard lasted just three months because the outbreak of Nigerian Civil War occasioned his departure from the eastern part of the country in November 1966. Fr. Donald Murray (who later became Bishop Murray) had asked Fr. Rooney to go to Enugu and bring the seminarians back to Makurdi. The young Athanasius Atule Usuh received his cassock and tonsure and went back to teach at St. Augustine's Teachers Training

College Lafia.
The then Northern Ecclesiastical province faced with stranded seminarians sought for permission from Rome to begin a seminary of its own in 1967. This seminary, St. Augustine's Major Seminary started at Keffi to cater to returning seminarians. 

It is noteworthy that the sojourn in Keffi was only temporary and just after a year, the seminary moved from Keffi to Jos, where it started in a primary school building at Dogon Dutse. The war had sent many families away and populations in these schools were heavily decimated creating room for the nascent seminary. Here the seminary stayed for a year and half then moved to its permanent site at Rafinpa.

Choir Master
At the seminary, the young seminarian Athanasius Usuh was an active football player and an avid choir master. His love and mastery of the football game earned him the school captaincy from his third year until graduation day. He was also for many years the seminary's choirmaster and music teacher with the help of Sr. Camel Dodd.

While in the seminary, Bishop Usuh was made the first editor of the Awakening Light, the seminary magazine. The young seminarian was also for many years involved in teaching at St Louise College Jos where he was a History and English Language teacher. He was also at this time heavily involved in sports development in the school.

The Priest
The priestly ordination of Fr. Usuh took place 19th December, 1971 at St. John's Parish Gboko. On this day seven deacons were ordained priests (Frs. Edward Maaer, Moses Adasu, Athanasius Usuh, Stephen Beba, Benjamin Adzor, Dominic Yuhe and Simon Ivever) in their third year of theology and they had to go back to the seminary to complete their studies in 1972. The only surviving member of the class is Very Rev. Fr.Stephen Beba.

Lover of Soccer
On the successful completion of his studies, Fr. Athanasius Usuh was posted to St. Patrick's parish Taraku in January 1973. At Taraku, the young priest was interested in youth formation and activities. This interest led to his founding a football team,. The Mosquitoes, a team of under -13 boys who mesmerized the entire state with their skills.

The life of a priest is basically a missionary one and so, by the December 1974, Fr. Usuh was transferred to Secred Heart Parish Udei where he served until early December 1975. By January 1976, he was again called to take up a new challenge; His Bishop seconded him to the St. Augustine Major Seminary Jos. At the seminary apart from his duties as a lecturer, he was made a dean of formation and director of music.

While working at the seminary in Jos, he was also appointed the Diocesan Vocations' Director. He spent two and half years in the seminary and was sent to the United States to study at the Catholic University, Washington D.C. His interest was liturgical music. Bishop Murray initially objected to this and wanted him to study religious education. So, he started studying religious education but later changed his course to music. He completed his studies in liturgical music and returned to the Diocese in 1980. In 1981, he was appointed Rector of St James' Minor Seminary, Makurdi where he stayed for five years. During this time, he was responsible for selecting and forming students who will be trained as future priests for the diocese.

It was based on his love for soccer and his organisational skills that the Benue State Government made him chairman of the State Football Association from 1984 to 1985. Gate takings at the stadia rose by over 300%. Having served well as chairman of Benue Football Association, the state placed another responsibility on his shoulders to serve as chairman of the Benue state Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board after the tenure of Bishop Achigili of the Methodist Church.

In 1986 he was appointed parish priest of Holy Ghost Parish, Makurdi and was also the vicar general of the diocese. He had a fulfilled ministry at Holy Ghost and was very happy.

Coadjutor
In November, 1987, Fr. Athanasius Usuh was appointed the consecrated a coadjutor Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi to replace the soon-to-retire Bishop Donald J. Murray, CSSp. Fr. Usuh's Episcopal ordination took place on the 6th January, 1988 in Rome, consecrated by Pope John Paul II. He was installed the first indigenous Bishop of Makurdi Diocese on the 21th October, 1989 at the IBB Square.
First Indigenous Bishop

Bishop Usuh chose his motto: "Lord I am not Worthy Ter Mkuma Ga." According to him, this saying captured the circumstances that led to him becoming Bishop and the challenges ahead. It was also a sign of deep humility for the honour given him to serve as bishop. He felt he was not the most intelligent of his mates, yet God found him worthy to be the Bishop. So he submitted in humility to God's will in his life.
History-Making Bishop of Four New Dioceses
He took over the leadership of the diocese and within twenty-five years there was phenomenal growth of the Church in this part of Nigeria: the increase in the number of Catholics evident in the number of priests and bishops ordained, dioceses created and the many young people in the seminaries. During these twenty-five years, we witnessed the creation of Otukpo, Lafia, Gboko and Katsina-Ala Dioceses, with the following as bishops: the late Bishop Fidelis Ogah, Bishops Matthew Audu, Michael Apochi, William Avenya and Peter Adoboh and his successor, Wilfred C. Anagbe, CMF. Bishop Usuh served under Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

The Bishop was also known for his willingness to aid other dioceses, especially in the area of personnel; dioceses in and outside of Nigeria are benefiting from the personnel sent to them by Bishop Usuh. The bishop was always grateful for the cooperation he received from both the priests and the laity as chief shepherd of the diocese. He was impressed by the zeal, strength, courage and intellectual capacity of young priests who brought so much vigour into the ministry. Despite the large number of priests in the diocese, there was no major complaint of disunity amongst them. He constantly advised young and old priests to learn from each whenever he noticed some tensions among priests as a result of generational gaps.

Failing health
Before his 70th birthday Bishop Usuh's health started failing. He continued to receive medical attention here at home and abroad. He was on dialysis for number of years and had undergone a couple of surgeries. He resigned as Bishop of Makurdi Diocese on March 28, 2015.
One thing that could not be stolen from Bishop Usuh in these years of trial was his faith, hope and sense of humour. For those who were close to him and accompanied him, he always inspired hope when his condition looked hopeless; and he would relax the atmosphere with one humour or another when those around him were tensed up. The doctors and nurses who attended to him could not understand this secret
The Bishop also found a worthy successor, who is pragmatic and twice as humourous as himself. The resilience of Bishop Usuh was strengthened by the relentless support of his successor, Most Revd Wilfred Anagbe, cmf, who made sure that the bishop emeritus lacked nothing within his human capacity.

Bishop Usuh finally answered the call to return to his eternal abode on July 14, 2016 at a private hospital in Abuja. Today July 29, 2016 his remains will be laid to rest at the Cathedral Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Makurdi.
The tributes to this servant of God cannot be exhausted by any means, but the greatest will be to accompany his soul with our good prayers for a permanent rest in Abraham's bosom through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Bishop Usuh's thoughts and Influence
On political crises and violence:
i. "Attempts by elected persons to perpetuate themselves in power without popular consent of the electorate have led to their inability to accept competition from others as well as constructive criticisms and defeat. In the process, there is the deliberate attempt to frustrate the electoral process in favour of sit-tight candidates thus affecting free and fair elections. This trend featured prominently as one of the reasons for past political failures in Nigeria and was evident in the events that culminated in the military coups of 1966 and 1983."
ii. "There is so much money flowing by way of political appointments and remuneration of political office holders; therefore, corruption is encouraged and elective offices have become a do-or-die affair. In the process of political uncertainty, money politics becomes the order of the day. When disagreements in the political system arise in the face of glaring poverty and unemployment, political actors employ the politics of money to hijack the party machinery, exploit unemployed and hungry youths, thus constituting them into terror gangs and vanguards to terrorize and intimidate opponents. People are known to have been killed in the process."
iii. "The inability on the part of politicians to follow the rules of the game by ignoring democratic principles has led to the manipulation of party manifestoes and principles in order to give impetus to the politics of exclusion and creation of factions thus leading to unhealthy rivalry and conflict. This has led to character assassination and the spread of false information creating conflict, confusion and violent reactions."
Christian values in politics in politics
The Bishop reminded all politicians to "… know and acknowledge that someday they will have to give an account of their stewardship to the electorate and God". He further charged them;
(a) "… to play the game according to the rules";
(b) "be prudent in the management of public affairs, especially, the people's money entrusted to them… in order to discourage the politics of money, thuggery and intimidation";
(c) "let their conscience to be their… guide in the flagrant display of sometimes ill-gotten wealth in order to promote violence or to intimidate opponents".
For Christian politicians
He appealed to them to
"… use Christian principles of fairness and justice to guide [their] political culture".
To the youths, who are future leaders
The Bishop urged them to remember that: "Tomorrow is your turn. What you sow today is what you shall reap tomorrow…. You should seek to enthrone a government that is sensitive and responsive to the needs of the people. Any backdoor government through thuggery and violence is a bad government and should be totally discouraged. Remember young people: You are the light of the world, a city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden (Mt 5:14], Exercise the power of your vote to vote in right candidates devoid of violence and thuggery. What happened in the last French elections should be a big lesson for all of us".

He also reminded them in these words: "Many in whose name you commit acts of thuggery and violence are training their children overseas. You should rather organize legal and just ways to fight exploitation, unemployment and seek improved conditions of living through non-governmental agencies".
Turning the parents, Bishop Usuh appealed that they should:"… advise their children against accepting to be used as political thugs. They should rather use the power of their votes to vote right and vote out bad candidates for political offices."
He urged all Christian families
"… to intensify [their] prayer life and [their] roles in educating [their] members on the issues of justice and peace. Christian leaders, especially, the clergy should seek the enthronement of the truth in public witness and should be seen to be non-partisan in the political process".
On Ecumenical and Inter-religious Initiatives:
In order to foster ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, Bishop Usuh was actively involved in the programmes and activities of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Benue branch. He once served as a chairman of the CAN. He also organized a meeting of leaders from major Christian denominations in Tivland on the ugly trends in Tiv burial rites. On Traditional Tiv Burial Practice:

"Maybe I am not competent to talk about the practice of burial among the Tiv say a hundred or eighty year ago but given my age and the differences in practice within this relatively short period of time, I think we are going too far away from the practices of our fathers. Though modern technology is helpful in many ways, it is not everything modern technology has brought that should be imbibed. Our people must make it a point to always examine thoroughly what is on display before jumping in to join. I still remember vividly that our people used to bury their dead soon after certification of death almost in line with what the Bible holds, 'you are dust and unto dust you shall return', people were buried without a coffin. Later however, the coffin was found to add dignity to the one who died. The experience now however is mind-boggling. At someone's death, the coffin alone runs into thousands of naira or more. It was the custom among our people that every death be discussed to ascertain the exact cause. This ritual was always taken very seriously and the death of a very highly placed person was usually announced by the Indyer (talking drum). Given the seriousness of death, our people never ate or drank at funerals. The people attending the burial of a kith or kin were expected as they say in Tiv, Ta nyagba uya that is to fast in commiseration with the bereaved. Food was only provided for the sick, the elderly and children.

At the time, there was nothing like wakes sympathizers came to offer Tion Taav – some contributions to the deceased's family and simply went away. In our day however, the situation is completely reversed. Death has become a social occasion where people go to eat, drink and do merriment. Maybe as Christians, death should not make us sad because, the mystery of death is that we live to die and die to have eternal life. Or as St, Paul puts it to the Romans: the life and death of each of us has its influence on others; if we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord, so that alive or dead we belong to the Lord (Rom 14:5-8)".
On the Simplicity of Burials
As a way forward, Bishop Usuh 'suggested: "This then brings us to a point I want to stress; simplicity of burial. We can draw a very good example from the burial of our deceased Pontiff, John Paul II. I want to believe that almost all of us in this room witnessed the events surrounding his death and burial since it was on common display. If the Church had wanted contributions for his casket, I am sure it would have raised up to billions of dollars for his, funeral. For us Catholics and indeed all Christians, this is perhaps the best example we can get from a leader. The late Pontiff was buried in a very simple coffin. It is on record that he even refused to seek extra- ordinaiy treatment when it became apparent that his health was failing. This he did in order to spare unnecessary expenditure. A befitting burial makes us these days to spend so much decorating the grave with tiles, rugs, curtains etc. The point we must note, however, is that, whether befitting burial or not, the one who has died has no need of these elaborateness and it is high time we 'educated our people to stop this nonsense".

The remarks, comments and contributions of other members at the meeting are un¬known to us but the Nongo u Kristu u Sudan ken Tiv (NKST) has adopted the 10-day burial restriction and simple grave policies of the Catholic diocese of Makurdi.
On Pastoral Issues:
"Sick calls must be promptly responded to by all priests both elderly and young. While attending to sick calls, the anointing of the sick must be done in accordance with the guidelines for the celebration of this sacrament. The matter for this sacrament (the oil for the sick) must be strictly used and its form (the formula of words) observed to the letter. Care must be taken to explain to the laity the importance of this sacrament. This will hopefully serve to better educate most of our lay faithful who see the use of "specially blessed water" and olive oil as being of greater efficacy than even the sacrament of holy anointing!
"Whenever the laity come to see the priest in the parish office for any problem, no consultation fee must be paid. Any priest of the diocese making it compulsory or even voluntary for consultation fees to be paid before or after they attend to their parishioners will be guilty of a grave offence and appropriate punitive measures will be meted on such a priest when this comes to light.

"The sale of articles for healing and spiritual protection by priests and the laity in all parishes is hereby expressly forbidden. It is the sale of articles like olive oil, incense, dominus water, and the financial gains involved in this that leads to the abuses we are currently experiencing."
Distractions during the Mass:
"The Eucharist must be celebrated with solemnity, dignity and decorum. Silence must be observed where appropriate and all should be done to avoid distraction during the Mass. Phrases such as "Praise the Lord", "Glory to jesus, Honour to Mary1', "jesus I love you" etc are either part of Eucharistic Adoration or other worthy praises but they do not form part of the Mass and are therefore distractions and are, henceforth, not allowed in the diocese. This does not stop any devotional activities on the part of all members of the diocese outside the Mass. Silence has its place in liturgical celebrations."

Music and Dancing in the Church

"Musical instruments in the Church, especially, during Mass should be played in such a way that they accompany the singing not, vice-verse. And dancing at Mass is allowed only during processions at the beginning, offertory procession and recession after Mass. Only approved liturgical dancers can do so. Equally very important is the fact that adequate attention should be paid to the selection of songs for the liturgical celebrations; Songs must reflect the season, occasion and event so celebrated. For instance, it would be out of place to select the song oh come and mourn with me a while during a wedding celebration. On other issues pertaining to cultural practices that could possibly be adopted into the liturgy, a Committee will be set up to make proposals on the way forward. Until this is done and approval secured accordingly, all un-liturgical practices currently incorporated into Mass, like dances, spraying of money and blessing with Holy water during offertory collection etc must cease." The story of Bishop A.A. Usuh will continue to be told generation after generation. He will be remembered as one of the great fathers of Benue unity and stability. May the gentle soul of Bishop A.A. Usuh rest among the saints in paradise. Amen.

Compiled by Father Moses Aondover lorapuu,
Director of Social Communications, Catholic Diocese of Makurdi.






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