Pope defies opposition and ordains controversial Sierra Leone bishop

Pope Benedict XVI presides over the ceremony elevating his personal secretary Georg Gaenswein (kneeling) to a bishop during the Epiphany mass in St. Peter's Basilica on January 6, 2013. PHOTO | AFP  Sierra Leone, Pope Benedict XVI, Monseigneur Henry Aruna, Bishop, opposition

The Vatican is known for its uncompromising stand when it comes to its religious prerogatives, but in Sierra Leone it is up against an unexpected obstacle.

In defiance to opposition by priests and laypeople of one of four dioceses in the country, the Diocese of Makeni, the church last Saturday ordained Pope Benedict XVI's controversial choice of bishop.

When he was unveiled as the choice last January, Monsignor Henry Aruna was already facing violent opposition from within the diocese.
There were even clashes that the police had to be called in to quell.

A year later, despite efforts that included a visit by a papal envoy to the West African country, the problem remained unsolved.

The church went ahead with the ordination. But the conspicuous absence of Bishop Aruna's would-be congregation from the ceremony was noticeable.

Again, the ceremony was held in Freetown, instead of Makeni.

Bishop Aruna is the first Sierra Leonean to head the Makeni diocese. He succeeds Italian Bishop George Bighuzzi, who retired due to ill health after 25 years in office.

Makeni is the headquarters town of the northern Sierra Leonean district of Bombali. Other dioceses are Bo and Kenema in the south, and the archdiocese of Freetown.

The controversial bishop served in Kenema, which is his birthplace.

His opponents say it doesn’t make sense that he is transferred all the way. They want one of their own as bishop.

“It is a family difficulty. It is being handled in a family way,” the newly ordained bishop said, calling for reconciliation among his congregation.

The Makeni diocese is said to be the largest in terms of the diversity of its missionary services.

It runs the only university in the north of the country, and has a high school, a vocational institute, among others.

Police had to intervene when rebellious Catholic followers took to the streets in the northern town, barricading roads and burning tyres to protest reports early last year that the Pope had appointed a southerner.

They were expecting an appointment of first ever northern Catholic bishop in the country's history.

“I would like you to understand that I do not hold anything personal against you…I leave it in the hands of the Holy Father,” the new bishop appealed.

The big question now is when, if at all, the new bishop will assume responsibility.

Can Kiir deliver on his promise of peace and stability in South Sudan?

Read Story:Can Kiir deliver on his promise of peace and stability in South Sudan?