Lake Havasu priest appointed to serve as bishop in native Nigeria

While the Diocese of Phoenix consistently adds priests to its flock from Africa, Pope Francis said it’s time to subtract one.

Bishop-elect Julius Kundi, poses with his crosier following his last Masses at Our Lady of the Lake in Lake Havasu City Jan. 5. He is bringing pieces of Arizona with him back to Nigeria. (Courtesy of Our Lady of the Lake Parish)

Fr. Julius Yakubu Kundi, who has served as parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Lake in Lake Havasu City since July 2018, is returning to Nigeria after Pope Francis named him bishop of the Diocese of Kafanchan. The Dec. 12, 2019 announcement also appointed one archbishop, four bishops and two auxiliary bishops worldwide.

For the people of Kafanchan, just north of central Nigeria, the transition will be a first. The diocese turns 25 this summer and has only had one bishop. He passed away two years ago come February.

“They really need a shepherd. They need a leader. They need someone they can call their own bishop. They’ve been waiting,” Bishop-elect Kundi said. That wait will end Feb. 20, 2020 when he is ordained and installed.

As eager as he is to take the helm as shepherd of 170 priests and 54 parishes, departing Arizona won’t be easy.

“I have mixed feelings leaving. I love them,” the bishop-elect said of Lake Havasu Catholics. “They make me feel like a family and it’s a warm place to be. I’m going to miss them.”

He celebrated his last Masses at Our Lady of the Lake Jan. 5, followed by a farewell reception. The bishop-elect will never forget his short-term home, however, nor will the world. His coat of arms has a cactus and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, both inspired by the Diocese of Phoenix.

The depiction of a corn farm hearkens to his childhood. Bishop-elect Kundi was born Feb. 15, 1968 the fourth of seven children — four boys, three girls — to simple, peasant farmers.

“Their humble background, their simple lifestyle inspired me a lot. They had little, but they trusted God,” Bishop-elect Kundi said. His episcopal motto, “Grace to the humble” — based on James 4:10 — pays tribute to that.

The bishop-elect grew up in what is now the Diocese of Zaria and was inspired by area priests, especially the Irish missionaries who served there. Entering seminary at age 21, he was ordained a priest June 14, 1997 in the nearby Archdiocese of Kaduna. Most of its eastern border shares that of Kafanchan, whose patchwork territory also extends into Kaduna from the south.

Most of Bishop-elect Julius Yakubu Kundi’s life has been in the circled areas of Nigeria, including his new appointment as bishop.

The bishop-elect served as parochial vicar in his home archdiocese and later returned as seminary formator and rector of Good Shepherd Major Seminary. He spent the interim supporting the Diocese of Jalingo in eastern Nigeria as pastor for five years, then shepherded two parishes in Zaria just north of Kaduna. Zaria was established in 2000 and the bishop-elect was incardinated there where he also served as administrator of Christ the King Cathedral.

Bishop-elect Kundi also held the following titles in Zaria: vocation director and finance administrator, roles he held concurrently for three years, and vicar general. His sabbatical brought him to Arizona.

He will return to a diocese that has some 1.5 million people spread across more than 5,700 square miles. Some 19.6 percent of them are Catholic, according 2016 statistics, the latest data available.