By Chuks Collins, Awka
An Anambra-born writer, Okechukwu Okoye is currently facing a fight for his life, having been caught in the cross-fire between diehard traditional religious worshippers and the Catholic faithful in some dioceses of the Church in Anambra state over a book he wrote on the “dust-to-dust” rites for Christians.
The issue which has remained dangerously turbulent and topical within the church for more than a decade within some communities particularly in the Awka diocese has threatened the very foundation of the church.
Some parishioners and even priests had been so piqued they went to court, while some simply resorted to self-help, thereby creating a near chaos in some instances at grave sides during burials. There were instances where priests who would not brook the conflict simply decline or shirk the responsibility to officiate at grave sides.
The bone of contention was visibly simple and harmless looking, – the act of symbolic pouring of sands into the grave of one’s departed husband, either with a shovel or mere handful! And other harmful widowhood practices against very poor and helpless women. Funny, it was these harmful and inhuman widowhood practices that metamorphosed into the dust-to-dust rites crisis. Funny this only becomes an issue when it was done by a woman, but does not amount to anything if it was a man.
So, trying to throw light into the brewing crisis and to apparently douse the growing and festering tension over the simple biblical command, Mr Okoye, an experienced church worker/official with rich doctrinal knowledge of the Catholic faith chronicled it in a simple-to-read book titled Traditional Crisis Against Church, My View. Unfortunately, since the book hit the stands in the country few years ago, it even became more enmeshed in the crisis it had sought and intended to ameliorate. The sharp disagreement has been more latent in areas like Awka, Enugwu-Agidi, Nawgu, Ifitedunu, Abagana, etc. He had noted that the crisis between the Catholic faithful and Traditional religious culture/tradition was developing to worst stage. That the Catholic church and the faithful maintained their stand that some traditional cultures were clearly against human rights, conscience, beliefs and choice of religion.
This was because more and more families-Christians and the non-Christians alike have continued to clutch unto the book as their bible of defense for insisting on performing ‘the last rites for our departed loving husbands’, they readily assert. It has therefore greatly angered the traditional religious adherents, and surprisingly some Christians too. They then declared Okoye wanted. They marked him for death, anywhere he is found on the surface of the earth. Till date, no one can attest to his whereabouts, and no one in his Isuofia, Aguata council area was even willing to divulge any information to journalists or anyone on the whereabouts or what has become of Okoye since.
At the office of Bishop Paulinus Ezeokafor at the St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral Awka, a reverend father in his fifties who acknowledged knowing him fairly well and having worked closely with him in the church few years ago confirmed being aware of the burial rites crisis which sadly appear not to be relenting. Because, while true Catholics rely on the church doctrine which took its root from the Bible, the adherents to native traditional religion see it dogmatically very differently. None appear ready to shift ground.
Unfortunately, Okoye who had imagined he was introducing his book to solve the quagmire was unknowingly putting himself in the middle of the very problem he had intended to solve. Such that today a death penalty has been placed on him across the globe, particularly the 36 states of Nigeria. And like the fate of Salman Rushdie, the author of Satanic Verses, Okechukwu Okoye appear to have disappeared from the public glare and perhaps into a distant continent and society outside his dear country home of Isuofia, Anambra state of Nigeria. Again, like Rushdie, may be forever, who knows!