NIGERIA Thursday, 16 April 2015
“It is up to God and not us to avenge and take retribution.” As reported to Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic pastoral charity for Christians who are being persecuted or in need, the bishop of the Nigerian diocese Maiduguri, Oliver Dashe Doeme, spread this message while travelling through several parishes in the north eastern part of Nigeria during the Easter week. Bishop Dashe called upon the faithful not to be led astray by thoughts of revenge. In the end, revenge and retribution would only lead to a vicious cycle of violence and war, he said and reminded the faithful of the fundamental values of the Christian faith, to love our enemies and persecutors. According to the bishop, healing can only begin when the faithful forgive the past and look to the future with great hope and faith.
The faithful demonstrated a powerful longing for prayer and confession. In some parishes, the bishop and the priests who accompanied him offered the Sacrament of Reconciliation for more than three hours.
Over the past few weeks, a strike force of the Nigerian army together with troops from Chad and Cameroon reclaimed several Nigerian towns that had been occupied by the Islamist terror organisation Boko Haram, allowing the first refugees to return home.
Most of the faithful had fled into neighbouring Cameroon. Their suffering is great: many parishioners died, many are still on the run. Their homes were looted, their churches burned down. Parents have not found their children yet. Old people who were unable to flee were killed by the terrorists when they refused to renounce their faith.
The returning parishioners have to start their lives anew. In a number of Masses of Reconciliation and Reparation, Bishop Dashe encouraged them to remain steadfast in their faith – despite all of the suffering that they have experienced. He called upon them to follow the example of Christ and to forgive the terrorists for their sacrilege and hate.
With approximately 168 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. Almost 50 per cent of its inhabitants are Muslim, the other half are Christian. In the North, 80 per cent of the population is Muslim, while Christians predominate in the Southeast. The Islamist terror organisation Boko Haram has been leading a bloody crusade in the three north eastern states of Nigeria since 2009 to establish a so-called Islamic theocracy. The diocese of Maiduguri is located in an area that comprises the states of Yobe and Borno and the northern part of the state of Adamawa. The suffering in this largest diocese of Nigeria is great: according to the latest figures of the diocese, about 5000 of the diocese’s 125,000 Catholics have been killed since the unrest began, and 100,000 people have fled, including 26 of the 46 priests of the diocese, more than 200 catechists and more than 30 nuns. Of the 40 parish centres, 22 are currently deserted and occupied by the terrorists. More than 350 churches have been razed. Three of four Catholic schools have been closed.
The Nigerian bishops are supported by Pope Francis. Several weeks ago he called upon them to be resolute in the face of the terror practiced by the Islamist group Boko Haram. In a letter to the Nigerian Bishop’s Conference, the Pope wrote that both Christians and Muslims in the African country are suffering equally under religious extremism. Pope Francis wrote that the fundamentalists claim to be religious, “but they abuse religion to make of it an ideology for their own distorted interests of exploitation and murder.” He reassured them that he prays for Nigeria every day. The Pope thanked the Nigerian bishops, priests and missionaries for their commitment to peace and emphasised that any form of violence is to be rejected. “Do not grow tired of doing what is right,” Pope Francis urged.
In 2014, the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need supported the work of the Catholic Church in all 56 dioceses in Nigeria with more than one million euros (1,057,357 euros). Most of the aid money was used towards building projects, Mass stipends and the training of priests. Nigerian parishes, monasteries and convents also received money for fuel to fill the tanks of the vehicles used for pastoral care and host baking equipment. In response to the great need in the diocese of Maiduguri, last year Aid to the Church in Need provided 45,000 euros in emergency relief for displaced persons.
Antonia von Alten