NIGERIA – Well deserved retreat for Maiduguri priests facing constant threat of Boko Haram atrocities
In recent years the diocese of Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria has been severely tried. For it is in one of the areas most hard-hit by the violence of the terrorist group Boko Haram. Since 2009 no fewer than 100,000 people in the diocese have been forced from their homes by the violence and over 5,000 Catholics have been murdered, while numerous churches, schools and hospitals have been destroyed.
Around the end of 2014 Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme had a moving mystical experience. As he was praying the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament in his chapel, he had a vision of Jesus, who did not speak but appeared to offer him a sword. He reached out to take it, and at the very moment when he grasped hold of it, it turned into a Rosary. Then Jesus repeated three times: “Boko Haram has disappeared”. Recalling the experience afterwards, Bishop Dashe Doeme said, “It was clear to me that with the Rosary we could defeat Boko Haram.” At first he was reluctant to tell anyone about his experience, but then he felt impelled to do so by the Holy Spirit. He spoke about it first of all to the priests of his diocese.
A few months later the situation did in fact improve. In the spring of 2015 a military unit of the Nigerian army, together with troops from Chad and Cameroon, succeeded in driving Boko Haram out of some of the towns and villages they had seized. Afterwards, some of the refugees were able to return to their homes.
Now the people have to start to rebuild their lives. Bishop Oliver is celebrating Masses of reconciliation and reparation to encourage his people to remain steadfast in their faith, despite the suffering they have endured. He is also calling on them to follow the example of Christ and forgive the terrorists – and not to be led astray by engaging in thoughts of vengeance. For ultimately, revenge and retaliation can only lead to a vicious spiral of violence and war, he tells them. He is convinced that healing will only be possible if the Catholic faithful forgive what is past and look forward with great hope and trust towards the future. Last year, during Easter week, Bishop Oliver visited many of the parishes within his diocese, and he reports: “There was great longing among the faithful for prayer and Confession.” In many of these parishes the bishop and the priests accompanying him spent over three hours in the confessional, administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The need is greater than ever now for priests to promote this process of healing and forgiveness. The Sacraments and the spiritual support they bring are more necessary than ever. But many of these priests have themselves suffered terrible experiences. In fact 26 of the 46 priests of the diocese of Maiduguri were among those forced to flee from the attacks by Boko Haram.
And so the bishop decided to organise a series of one-week retreats for his priests, where they could meet and pray together, exchange their experiences and strengthen one another in their priestly ministry and in fraternal fellowship. ACN helped to support this project with 4,600 Euros.
Now Bishop Oliver has written to us: “On behalf of the whole diocese of Maiduguri I want to express my profound gratitude and regard to ACN for the enormous help you are providing for the suffering Catholic Church in the diocese of Maiduguri.”