Fr. Fidelis spoke with CNA at the International Religious Freedom Summit this week in Washington, D.C. The summit featured religious and civic leaders and survivors of religious persecution from around the world.
On Wednesday evening, Nigerian Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto spoke of the scope of the problems in Nigeria – rampant violence against civilians, and government corruption – but he also expressed hope for the country’s future.
Members of the Islamic State West Africa Province and Boko Haram, Islamist terror groups operating out of a region that includes the country’s northeast, have targeted Christian villages and some Muslim civilians. Male villagers are often killed or abducted, while women have suffered rape or have been abducted as sex slaves.
There are nearly three million internally displaced persons in northeastern Nigeria, according to the UN.
Kidnapping of seminarians and priests have become commonplace as well. Fr. Elijah Juma Wada of the Diocese of Maiduguri was recently abducted by suspected members of Boko Haram on June 30; after being held captive for nine days, he escaped and is safe.
At the trauma center operated by the Diocese of Maiduguri, Fr. Fidelis said he tries to offer psychological healing to women who have witnessed violence or suffered torture. The center has been supported by donations from the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“They have watched horrible situations, violent murder. Some of them have even been sexually abused,” he said of trauma patients. Experts and trained lay counselors “go out every day into those camps – the ones we can cover – be in their midst, raise awareness about the harm that this [violence] does,” he said.
The center also provides vocational therapy for refugees, teaching practical skills such as tailoring, carpentry, and baking to provide victims of trauma with a sense of resiliency and normalcy.
“The work we do is beautiful,” Fr. Fidelis said. “In the midst of dark and gloom, there is light.”
To Christians in the United States, he urged them to “cherish” freedom of religion.