On the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13th last, Pope Francis was at Fatima to mark the centenary of the apparitions. On the same day, his press office in the Vatican published the daily bulletin and it included the following short note:
“The Holy Father has appointed as apostolic nuncio in Ireland His Excellency Rev. Msgr. Jude Thaddeus Okolo, titular archbishop of Novica, currently apostolic nuncio in the Dominican Republic and apostolic delegate in Porto Rico.”
With this short announcement, the Holy Father has also marked a milestone in Irish Catholicism. This is the first time that the Pope’s representative to the Irish Church and the Vatican’s Ambassador to Ireland is from the African continent.
Archbishop Okolo was born in Nigeria in 1956. That may appear to place him at a remove from Ireland.
However his homeland — where most of the people belong to the Igbo heritage — has long been a mission field for Irish born missionaries.
His episcopal heritage illustrates this:-
Archbishop Okolo was ordained bishop in 2008 by Cardinal Francis Arinze, also Nigerian, who headed up the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments in Rome.
Cardinal Arinze was ordained bishop in 1965 by Archbishop Charles Heerey, a Holy Ghost Missionary who was born in Castlerahan, Co Cavan, Ireland.
Archbishop Heerey had been consecrated by Bishop Joseph Shanahan, also a Holy Ghost missionary who spent his life in Nigeria and was from Tipperary.
Bishop Shanahan was consecrated bishop by another Tipperary man, Bishop Denis Kelly from Nenagh, who was Bishop of Ross and resident in Skibbereen from 1897 to 1924.
The archbishop’s appointment to Ireland is perhaps a timely reminder of the contribution which Ireland has made to the universal church and of our awareness that we also belong to a universal family of God.