Nigerian leaders honor deceased bishop as servant, peacemaker

Jos, Nigeria, Jun 21, 2019 / 12:14 am (CNA).- At a funeral earlier this month, Nigerian religious and political leaders paid tribute to Bishop Kevin Aje of Sokoto, well-known as a role model who worked for peace in the country.

The funeral for Bishop Aje was held at Holy Family Catholic Cathedral in Sokoto. He died May 27 at the age of 85.

A vigil Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Matthew Ndagoso of Kaduna and concelebrated by Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja. Benin City Archbishop Augustine Akubeze, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, gave the eulogy.

The funeral was attended by 16 other bishops and hundreds of priests, as well as government representatives.

Akubeze described Aje as “a man who was a great teacher of the faith. A meticulous minister of the Sacraments, an ecclesiastical prelate who led the people through collaboration and listening to the people of God.”

“We have come to bury a man who gave all he had for the service of God and his people,” he said, according to the Catholic News Service of Nigeria.

During the homily, Cardinal Onaiyekan said the faith facilitates truth and charity, and should not be used for selfish and manipulative purposes. He praised the leadership of Aje, saying he was “among the early group of zealous lay apostles who worked with the foreign missionaries, most of the time carrying much of the burden of the day, reaching out directly to the most remote places to bring into the Christian fold people at the grassroot levels.”

“He was a true man of God, with deep conviction and generous heart. Once he puts his hands on the plough, he never looked back. As a pioneer Nigerian priest in his days, he became an effective role model to many young men who were later to follow his footsteps,” he said, according to the Catholic News Service of Nigeria.

At the wake Mass, Monsignor Cletus Gotan of the Archdiocese of Jos gave the homily, describing the late bishop as a man who sought virtue rather than the mundane things of life.

“[The] bishop offered a life of service to the people in various capacities that have changed the lives of so many people,” Gotan said, praising Aje’s work as Education Secretary, Coordinator of JDPC, and Cathedral Administrator, as well as his contributions to civil society.

Aje had retired in 2011 after serving as a priest for over 50 years and as a bishop for more than 30. During his time as bishop, he encouraged evangelization efforts among the laity and challenged voters to support leaders who favored religious liberty.

Shortly after he died in May, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari sent a message of condolence to Pope Francis. He said the bishop was a “spiritual father” who built a culture of dialogue between Muslims and Christians.

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