EULOGY FOR REV. FR. HILARY AKPUNKU (12th Oct, 2000)
Good men must die, but death can not kill their names.
A decade and five years ago, a pall of sorrow and grief fell upon the good diocese of Maiduguri. Our Vicar General, our own Very Rev. Fr. Hilary Akpunku answered the call to glory.
A day that will remain forever etched in the minds of all of us who knew him and were privileged to have known him. Grief-stricken, eyes reddened with floods of tears, we gathered to bid him farewell and give thanks to God for a life well lived.
It is fifteen years today, yet the memories shared remains so current and reccuring. Rev. Fr. Hilary was a man who brought joy and laughter wherever he went. He was a friend to all and enemy to none. He never discriminated against anyone. With him, everyone was very important and his kindness could be seen in his smiles, gestures and discussions.
Once, I met Fr. Hilary at St. Patrick's Cathedral. On sighting him, I ran to meet him to bless my little rosary. After he had blessed the rosary, he asked what my name was and I told him. He smiled, as always, patted me on the shoulder and said 'God be with you'.
Months passed by and Fr. Hilary came to the Minor Seminary at Shuwa. As he alighted from his peugeot, we rushed to greet him. We were four. He looked at us and called us each by our names to my utter surprise and admiration! That was Fr. Hilary! Exceptionally intelligent with a retentive memory that seemed supernatural. Because he valued everyone, he hardly forgot people's names.
He lived a life that examplified and edified Christ. Yes, he fed the poor, clothed the naked and cared for the sick. As a Minor Seminarian then, all I wanted was to be like him, to talk like him, smile and work like him. He was a mentor to many even without knowing it. Today, we have a lot of priests who were mentored by him and have continued from where he stopped.
Rev. Fr. Hilary was a humble and hardworking priest. He was well known with his peugeot. A car so strong with no luxuries which he used to ply the length and breadth of the diocese and beyond propagating the faith and encouraging the faithfuls. He could speak so many local languages all in a bid to connect with the people he so much loved. He would speak and sing in Marghi, Higgi, Igbo, Yoruba, Igala, Hausa, Babur and so on. Some people are actually indispensable!
His generosity was second to none. He actually sponsored a lot of people through school and fed the needy. There was never a time he went visiting the Seminary without some packs of biscuits in his car boot. His thoughts were always on how to make others happy. Whence come another like him?
His sermons were electrifying. He gave sermons that dwelt so much on repentance, laced with biblical quotations. He would admonish the faithfuls on the need to turn away from sins and come back to Christ. Sermons that were delivered as if he was refering directly to you and the situation facing you. The last sermon I heard from him was delivered at a mass at St. Pius ix Shuwa. The theme was TO WORK IS TO PRAY. As I type this, I see him doing one of the things he loved most- preaching. He was sweating on the altar as he taught us the futility of being punctual and dedicated to church but late and lacklustre at every other thing, adding that one could serve God through whatever work one does. That was Rev. Fr. Hilary!
Fr. Hilary was a man of the people. A friend of the friendless. A man who had friends from all walks of life. This was actually demonstrated by the number and kind of people that attended his funeral. The rich and the poor, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, many protestants and Muslims were there and I personally saw a number of beggars shedding tears and even now, I'm fighting against crying again.
He was born to be a priest whose works stands to this day. He was a living saint who was not without blemish. His love for his calling was clear and unambigious. He was always seen in his stainless cassock with his spectacles wearing a smile that seemed to say "All is well". He took the road less travelled by and that has made all the difference.
Dear Fr. Hilary, as you look down with smiles from your heavenly abode with Seraphims by your side, continue to intercede for us whom you loved and served so dearly. We remember you with fond memories and wish we could turn back the hands of time to share in the blessings of your life.
Say not in grief: "He is no more",
but live in thankfulness that he was. We remember him today, not with sorrow, but with appreciation to God for a life well lived.
Rest on, dearest Fr. Hilary Akpunku and continue to intercede for us as we daily struggle to live lives worth emulating as you did. Death, be not proud, for good men don't die, but live continuously in the hearts of those who love them.