A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF LAFIA
The Catholic Diocese of Lafia is conterminous with Nasarawa State which covers a land area of about 28’000 square kilometres. The diocese was erected on 31st of March 2001 with Most Rev. Dr. Matthew Ishaya Audu (now Archbishop of Jos Archdiocese) as the pioneer Bishop. The Diocese is a child of double heritage having largely been carved from Makurdi Diocese and the other part from the Archdiocese of Jos.
History has it that evangelization of the whole area which is north of the Niger and Benue, that includes Lafia Diocese is usually traced to February 12, 1907 when Frs. Oswell Waller, Joseph Mauren and Ernest Belin all of the Society of Africa Mission (SMA) arrived Shendam in Plateau State.
In 1911, the whole area was elevated to the status of a “Prefecture Apostolic” and Jos became the Ecclesiastical Headquarters. In 1929, the jurisdiction was enlarged to “Prefecture Apostolic of Northern Nigeria with its headquarters at Kano. In 1934, the prefecture of Northern Nigeria was further divided into two distinct prefectures of Jos and Kaduna. The prefecture of Jos included the provinces of Plateau, Borno, parts of Adamawa and Benue provinces. Monsignor William Lumley SMA was appointed Prefect of Jos. By the time Monsignor Lumley left in 1954, he had already opened resident missions in Udei (Benue State) Alogani/Aloce (Nasarawa State), among others in Plateau State.
In 1953, the prefecture of Jos was elevated to the status of Diocese. Fr. John Reddington, then Vice Provincial of the Irish SMA, in Cork was appointed as its first Bishop. Confronted with the need for effective evangelization of the area, Bishop Reddington handed over the Southern part, which consisted of Udei and Lafia in 1956 to the Holy Ghost fathers who were working at the prefecture of Otukpo in Benue Province. The Holy Ghost Fathers established the famous St. Augustine Teachers Training College, Lafia and St. James Seminary in Keffi.
By 1968, when Bishop Donal Murray, CSSP, was consecrated as Bishop of Makurdi diocese he decided to hand over the northern part of the
diocese to the English SMA Fathers apart from Udei. The basic aim was that of grappling with the challenges of evangelization at the time when unfortunate incidence of Biafran War compelled the predominantly Catholic Igbos to flee the area. This period saw the advent of Fr. Kevin Carrol who established mission in Gitata.
In 1974, the English SMA Fathers did not have adequate priests in the northern part of Makurdi Diocese to serve the pastoral needs of the people, Bishop Donal Murray invited the Nigerian Spiritan Province to assist them. The Spiritans arrived and worked in Doma and Toto missions. Another missionary religious congregation of the Ursulines of Jesus established a medical clinic in Agwatashi in 1985 and the Holy Child Sisters who were already established at Duduguru replaced the Ursulines Sisters in 1990 due to pastoral exigency.
The growth of Makurdi Diocese in leaps and bounds under the Late Bishop Athanasius A Usuh, Diocese successor of Bishop Donal Murray brought about the birth of Otukpo Diocese in 1995 then the Diocese of Lafia in 2001. With the choice of Lafia as Capital of Nasarawa State following the creation of States in 1996, it has equally become the seat of the diocese.
On 6th January 2020, the Pioneer Bishop, Most Rev. Dr Matthew Ishaya Audu having served in the Diocese for about 20 years was transferred to the Archdiocese of Jos as Archbishop of Jos and metropolitan of Jos Ecclesiastical Province. He was then succeeded by Most Rev. Dr David Ajang who was appointed by the Holy Father Pope Francis on 31st March 2021 and subsequently ordained and installed as the second Bishop of the Diocese on 24th June 2021.
The Diocese has ordained many Priests incardinated into the Diocese since her creation, in addition to those from Makurdi and Jos who became incardinated to the Diocese at creation by virtue of their coming from the areas that formed Lafia Diocese.
At the moments the Diocese enjoys the services of priests working as
fidei donum from Gboko, Katsina Ala, Ogoja, Yola and Maiduguri. There are other missionary Priests who are also involved in the works of evangelization in the Diocese, to with, Society Missionary of Africa, (SMA), Order of St. Augustine (OSA), Holy Ghost Fathers (CSSP), Via Christi Society (VC) and many Female Religious from different congregations who are involved in health and educational and social services.
THE BISHOP'S COAT OF ARMS THESAURUM IN VASIS FICTILIBUS
‘T he coat of arm is a reminder of what a person it represents holds so dear and a statement of intent as to what they hold important in life. The Bishop, for his coat of arm, has brought together the following symbols;
- The green hat (Roman Galero) with 12 (6 on each side) attached tassels. This is an indication of the Bishop’s office as a Roman Catholic Cleric. The green colour and the 12 tassels evoke his office as Bishop and hence a successor of one of the twelve Apostles.
- Shield with symbols, drawn from family, geographic, religious and historical realities of significance to the Bishop. The shield is divided into two parts. The upper part in deep blue symbolises the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother and intercessor of all Priests. Lower part in white recalls the purity and holiness to which every Priest and Bishop is invited in imitation of Christ, the High Priest.
Behind the shield stands a golden processional cross, with one traversal bar with five red stones, representing the five wounds of Christ, reminding the Bishop of his calling to initiate Christ the Good Shepherd in “laying down his life” for the flock.
In the shield are four special symbols to the Bishop. The three earthenware jars filled with precious treasure are a symbol drawn from sacred scripture. These are the biblical cylindrical containers used for the preservation of things of great value such as precious stones or even Sacred scrolls. These jars remind the Bishop of his humble fragility but also of God’s utter gratuitous choice to imbue him with gifts beyond his natural abilities. The treasures held by the jars also depicts the rich mineral resources of Nasarawa State, fondly described “the home of solid minerals “
In the middle of the shield is the crest of David, the little shepherd of Bethlehem, chosen from obscurity to become the great king of Israel and a man after God’s own heart. Inspite of some moments of human weakness, David was a man of great courage, wisdom and humility. His ability to forgive distinguished him from Saul, his predecessor. The Bishop hopes for and prays for the intercession of Israel’s greatest king for the gifts of courage, wisdom, humility and a forgiving heart in his episcopal ministry. Below the crest of David is the Ikpaar- a round shaped leather shield of the Afizere people (The Bishop’s ethnic group). This shield in times past, was carried by the Afizere chief priest (Atsi), every time he was required to lead his people, especially in moments of crisis. With the shield, he went ahead of the people, acting as the protector and a guide from both physical and spiritual attacks. This symbol reminds the Bishop of his duties as teacher, leader, guide and protector of God’s people at all times.
3. Golden scroll below the shield with the motto, written in black. The motto “Thesaurum in vasis Fictilibus” is taken from 2 Corinthians 4:7. It highlights the fact that all we are and have come from God’s providence. Thus, instead of making us proud, this should transform our lives into that of that of thanksgiving on account of the utter goodness of God.