On the 23rd of October, 2019, Mr. Boniface Ewah joined his maker in Communion with the Saints. He will be laid to rest on Thursday, 7th day of November 2019 at his Country Home, Umu-Ewa’s compound in Akpugo-Idembia, Ezza South LGA of Ebonyi State. The Requiem Mass will begin by 10:00 am and will be presided over by His Excellency, Most Rev. Dr. Michael Nnachi OKORO, the Catholic Bishop of Abakaliki.
On November 1, 2016, the Solemnity of the All Saints, which doubled as the 76th Birthday Anniversary of the Local Ordinary of Abakaliki Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Michael Nnachi Okoro, I engaged Mr. Boniface Ewah, the Chief Chef of the Catholic Bishop of Abakaliki, on a tete-a-tete in which he disclosed many open-secrets about his personal relationship with Rev. Fr. Raymond Ezeonu, a priest of the diocese of blessed
Below is my last interview with him.
May I know you, Sir?
My name is Mr. Boniface Ewah (JP) a.k.a. Banque.
Who is His Lordship to you and how did you meet him and for how long have you been with him?
My Lord is many things to me. He is my Shepherd, my father, my mentor, my role model, and my employer. On the 7th of July 1966 at exactly 7 pm at St. Enda’s Secondary School Iboko-Izzi, I saw him for the first time. It was and still an unforgettable memory for me to have seen for the first time an African, a Nigerian and Igbo man from Abakaliki Province ordained a priest among the European expatriate missionaries. He was introduced to me as Rev. Fr. Mike Okoro by the then principal Rev. Fr. Brain J. Twomey. He was then my master. From then up to this very year, I have been with him. Since 1965 till now, he has been toiling, harvesting and feeding the children of the Kingdom of God as the first fruit of Catholic priesthood in Abakaliki Diocese.
How has he fared thus far?
You can attest to the tremendous soul winning members of his sheepfold (clergy: Priests and Religious) and expanded the frontiers of evangelization among the laity (the many parishes he created, schools and institutions built). With these, he won many souls to Christ.
How do you feel today and what do you wish him as he celebrates the 76th Birthday Anniversary?
I am exceedingly grateful to God Almighty who in His infinite mercy and divine providence has kept me alive to witness this anniversary of a great spiritual icon, a rich farmer and a bridge-builder. My prayerful wish is that the flock which My Lord Bishop pasture (and I am glad to be one of them) by the grace of God will never let him down. May the good Lord whom he has continually and courageously served to this day continue to protect and guide him.
Did you par chance encounter Rev. Fr. Raymond Ezeonu? What impressions did he make on you?
Yes, I did encounter Rev. Fr. Raymond Ifeanyichukwu Ezeonu. He was a very interesting great man of the Church. He was fun to be with. Actually, you cannot meet or encounter Fr. Raymond without him good leaving a lasting impression on you. He left remarkable imprints in me too.
One, he was a man of compassion and mercy. He was always interested in redeeming the ugly situations or conditions of others. People’s predicaments were his. He saw Jesus Christ in every suffering person and was ever willing and ready to ameliorate such conditions
Two, he was detached from material things of this life. He was not materialistic. He never engaged in the insatiable acquisition of riches or wealth. Rather, he was over-generous with his time and everything he owned.
Three, he was a kind and charitable man. He was always kind to all and sundry especially the poor and the needy. He always longed and wanted to resurrect people from their dead zones or conditions. He would never hesitate to offer help to the helpless. In fact, he was a beggar for Christ.
Four, he was a personification of humility, meekness, and simplicity. Fr. Raymond Ezeonu was very humble and down-to-earth. He was simplicity personified. He was a priest who was not discriminatory or segregational. He treated everyone with dignity and respect. He mixed with people and in that way converted many. Indeed, he was very meek at heart. He was the lover of those at the margin of society. His sympathy and empathy were unlimited.
Five, he was a prayerful man. He was highly spiritual and religious too. Prayer and fasting were his food. He was highly connected to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Blessed Sacrament. He never played with celebrating the Holy Mass and the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (Anointing of the Sick). A mere mention of a sick person, he would jump into his car and rush to administer the Sacrament of the sick. That goes a long way to show his level of care and concern for the salvation of the souls of his flock. Every May and October, he would call the Months of Devotion to Mary and Joseph respectively. Come and see Father Raymond Ezeonu clutching the Statue of the BVM under his armpit and carrying his bible moving from one CCD center to another for evening devotions, recitation of the rosary and benedictions. Fr. Ezeonu made the Catholics and Christians knew the importance of the chaplets and the statues and other sacramentals. Each time he moved around, he moved with the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He equally introduced the First Friday and Saturday devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Ezzagu and other parishes where he served.
You needed to encounter Fr. Ray Ezeonu during the Lenten Season. The Lenten period was the happiest and favorite season of the Church’s year. He engaged in daily Stations of the Cross. In fact, Lent was his luxury time. He was happier during the Lenten Season. Fr. Ezeonu was a man I knew who was happy when he was mortifying his body. He enjoyed fasting and praying. He would willingly offer his food to the less privileged hungry people. Some people including his colleagues and family members disliked his fasting style because he fasted a lot but that was what gave joy to his soul. Those of us who were closer to him pitied him but he would in turn smilingly pity us too. He would say, what will it benefit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his soul?
He always expressed joy partaking in the passions or sufferings of Christ. Self-mortification gave him deep joy. He would always admonish people to forgo or forsake the pleasures of the flesh and the world as our enemy the devil uses them to deceive us. He would tell people during his homilies to embrace their sufferings/difficulties as the crosses which God asked us to carry every day and follow him. He would always exemplify with Jesus Christ who de-vested himself of the heavenly glory and came down to die a shameful death on the cross of Calvary. The thoughts of the Passion of Christ preoccupied and occupied his mind during the Lenten season that they never allowed him to think about food or other luxuries of earthly life. He felt always satisfied and fulfilled partaking in the suffering of Christ.
Fr. Ezeonu would personally conduct the Stations of the Cross and go around with the faithful through all the Stations. Whatever the people did was what they saw him do practically. He was not used to assigning the catechist or mass servers or seminarians to lead in the prayers. No! He was always there with the people.
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The irony of Fr. Raymond Ezeonu was that no matter what he was passing through, he would always wear a cheerful smile. That baffled me. I never saw him frown. You can never see him looking downcast or troubled. He was always sober and jovial except when he said his prayers. Fr. Ezeonu was somebody I knew who can stop at nothing to help people in need.
He was a cheerful almsgiver who gave all he ever got. People’s cares and worries troubled him. He considered other people’s crosses as his own. He would sacrifice his time, comfort and leisure to attend to the problems of people. Like Jesus Christ, Fr. Ezeonu would boldly say “Come to me all you who are overburdened or heavy laden and I will give you rest for I am meek and humble at heart.
In a nutshell, he was a Catholic priest who was all things to all men; a priest of the people with the people and for the people. He was a priest by a good example. He was the best friend of the poor, the needy, the aged, the imprisoned. He was a commoner but an uncommon and unconditional love of the poor.
Six, he also believed that to work is to pray. He was very hardworking and hardly rested. He would always repeat the biblical verse where Jesus said that the harvest is rich but the laborers are few. I would emphasize that the zeal for his Father’s house consumed him eventually.
Seven, he was very attractive. He was always in his soutane and I guess that was what made him very attractive to people especially children. The little children don’t want to know who you are but how you are attracted to them. You can rarely see Fr. Ray Ezeonu in mufti. He was always in his soutane. I was not used to his bedroom to ascertain whether he usually slept in his cassock. That is the highest hyperbole I can use.
Eight, I was attracted to him mostly by his cheerful disposition, his welcoming attitude to all and sundry. He was never too busy to love or communicate with anybody. This is even replicated in the practical manner and ways he presented his sermons and homilies. Every faithful yearned to listen to him. You would hear him say what he practiced. He was not like those who say “Do what I say but don’t do what I do.”