Raymond Ezeonu: To Be A Saint Or Not To Be – Msgr. Jerome

Fr. Raymond Ezeonu was a very good friend of mine. We are many mates: age mates, classmates, and eventually priest-mates. He was born in 1943 and I was born in 1942. We started elementary education on the same day at St. Theresa’s Catholic Primary School, Abakaliki, eventually he was ordained priest in 1972 and myself ordained in 1977.
His father vehemently opposed his choicest vocation of becoming a priest but he stubbornly and persistently persevered till the end. I know the advocacy roles played by Msgr. Patrick Mary Mmuo to convince his father. The same thing played out when Patrick Ezeonu wanted to become a priest. At certain stages, Pa Paul Ezeonu had to succumb to the will of God. That was how he was able to surrender his two out of four sons to be Catholic priests.
It is a pity that most times, we misunderstood him. Fr. Ezeonu burnt himself. He spent and was spent for the Kingdom of God. I was aware when he became very sickly at St. Thomas, Nwofe. It took the intervention of Sister Josephine for him to rest. Though he was down in health, he would spend most of his time at the Confessional. The sister came to Nwofe and saw him perspiring at the confessional with a long row of penitents. She quickly packed few of his belongings and took him immediately to Onitsha where he was revived. It was Fr. Justus Odoemena and I who traced him to Onitsha and brought him to the Bishop House Mile 50, Abakaliki. Our Bishop had to relieve him of Parish work for some time before he was eventually assigned to St. Theresa Cathedral, Abakaliki.
Fr. Raymond Ezeonu overworked himself. He worked relentlessly. His charity was superabundant. His operating statement was I rather go hungry than see a person go without food.
There were many other things he did that I will not say now. We are just beginning. We will make definitive definitions of his pastoral works. He was a person I knew who it’s not easy to emulate. He totally denied himself and he denied the world and carried his cross and followed Christ everyday of his life.
I remember the day I went to their house at 34 Ogoja Road, Abakaliki, his father, Pa Paul Ezeonu was very furious and quarreled bitterly warning his wife, Ma Priscilla never to keep food for Fr. Raymond again. It’s either he didn’t eat the food or he brought strangers who devoured the food. In short, his life was too mysterious. He led an extraordinary life and did ordinary things extraordinarily.
It is a pity that in the Church today we have a lot of Christians who are not really committed. They keep running away from the cross. They forget that if there is no cross, there is no heaven. Thanks be to suffering! Suffering, you’ll live forever and ever! Amen! Whether you say Amen or not, suffering is already a part and parcel of human condition. We keep meandering like snakes in futile efforts to evade the cross but like an uninvited guest, it will always be around. It will always arrive at your doorstep, knocks and enters to give you your own due of its packages. NO CROSS! NO CROWN!!

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