BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
BISHOP Whelan of Owerri, in the former secessionist Biafra, and 13 other Irish missionaries, four of them nuns, were greeted by a crowd of several hundred people when they arrived at Dublin Airport last week from Rome on the last lap of their journey from Nigeria.
The weary group were warmly cheered and prey sented with flowers, and were then publicly welcomed home by Sir Anthony Esmonde and by Bishop Birch of Ossory, representing Cardinal Conway.
The rest of the group of 29 priests and nuns who left Lagos with Bishop Whelan remained in Rome for a few extra days' rest before returning to Dublin.
In his address of welcome, Sir Anthony said that Bishop Whelan and his missionaries had blazed a trail of glory which was an inspiration to people in all parts of the world.
"They are national heroes. They faced death nearly every day of their lives," he said.
In his reply, Bishop Whelan, who is 61 and who had worked in Nigeria for 27 years, said it was "very embarrassing for any person who has just done the ordinary work that a bishop is bound to do to be called anything in the nature of a hero.
"Any honour that is given to me must be Shared with the noble team who have stayed with me," he declared. In a special tribute to the nuns, he said: "When it was coming towards the end and we had been offered a plane and knew we could get out, they all said, 'Please let me stay'.
"Whatever honour you give to me you have to divide it by 29."
Bishop Whelan planned to return to Rome after a few days in Ireland during which he was visiting relatives in Co. Limerick.
Meanwhile the Nigerian Government in Lagos has refunded the fines of about £116 imposed on each of the 29 mis
sionaries in Port Harcourt early this month for illegally entering the country. Fines paid by a previous group of 32 priests were also refunded.
GOODWILL MESSAGE On Tuesday, General Gowon sent a "goodwill" message to the annual Roman Catholics Bishops' Conference in Lagos. In a strongly-worded reference to priests in Europe and America who were collecting funds for the "reconstruction of a Biafra which does not exist," he called upon them to "show your displeasure of the harm being done by your colleagues abroad by condemning them outright."
The bishops' conference answered by reaffirming their loyalty to the Federal Government, and pledging support for the Nigerian programme of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation.
In Dublin, Africa Concern denied that there were any political implications in their allocation of Roman Catholic funds for the rebuilding of churches and schools, and for agricultural purposes, in what was Biafra.
Canon Moore's jubilee
CANON PHILIP MOORE, parish priest of the Sacred Heart, Teddington, Middx., since 1940, celebrates his priestly golden jubilee this Sunday. Born in Highbury in 1894 he was educated at St. Ignatius College, Stamford Hill, and trained for the priesthood at St. Edmund's, Ware. He was ordained on February 28, 1920. He taught at the Choir School, Ware, until going to his present parish.