, 27 November, 2020 / 9:08 PM
The intervention of the Catholic Church has been key in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria, a Prelate in the West African nation has said, calling on the government of the country to strengthen the activities of the Church in the country’s affected region.
In his address during the #RedWednesday, an initiative of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International to support suffering and persecuted Christians, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja Archdiocese lamented that the Nigerian government is sideling the Catholic Church in the country’s Northern region where Boko Haram continues to target Christians in attacks.
“The Catholic Church with its track record of standing with and for the poor and its support for victims with terrorist activities and other disasters surprisingly is not included in the allocation of foreign government aid,” Archbishop Kaigama said in a report shared by the Pontifical Charity organization, ANC International.
He added, “Similarly, in constituting, for example, the North-East Development Commission where Boko Haram exists (the government) failed to include a representative of the Catholic Church whose Justice, Development and Peace department has significantly promoted the spiritual, psychological and material support to thousands of affected persons.”
In one of the interventions by the Catholic Church in Nigeria, members of Catholic-founded Centre for Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP Centre) in Jos have, for years, been working to break the barriers existing between people of different ethnic, religious and cultural affiliations.
Members of the organization, which is the brainchild of Archbishop Kaigama, encourage the population “to talk openly, honestly and with respect for one another, thereby diffusing the hurt and anger they feel towards one another,” according to information provided on the DREP Centre website.
The organization’s peace initiatives have been widely recognized, including direct charity activities by Catholics to the Muslim communities in the country.
Archbishop Kaigama was asked to give his advice on how people belonging to various religious groups can co-exist in Nigeria during the ACN campaign that ended Wednesday, November 25.
“Nigeria is multi-religious but the two main Religions are Christianity and Islam and they all compete for numerical strength. Everybody boasts of a bigger population,” he said, and added, “There exists what should be a more cordial relationship but the relationship is mostly fraught with suspicion and trust and we are all concerned.”
Other speakers during the #RedWednesday campaign that took place from 18-25 November were drawn from Pakistan, China and Eritrea where Christians are unjustly detained for their faith.
The height of the event was Wednesday, November 25 when the ACN leadership launched a report, “Set Your Captives Free”, which profiles individuals of different ages who have been kidnapped by extremist groups or arrested by the state and held without charge.
Report editor John Pontifex said, “In different parts of the world, Christians are unjustly denied their freedom, many for the precise reason that they refuse to give up their faith. They live in fear and many suffer in complete silence. Who is there to be their voice? Set Your Captives Free gives them the chance to tell their stories, call for justice, and appeal for liberty.”
Throughout the event, hundreds of churches, monuments and buildings were illuminated in red light in the global call for an end to religious persecution.
Prayers were said to also remember the victims of persecution in northern Mozambique, where it is estimated that more than 2,000 people have been killed and over 400,000 others have been forced to flee their homes.
In Nigeria, terror attacks that are mostly meted against Christians have claimed over 20,000 lives in the Northern part of the country.
Sharing one of the last terrorist activities in Nigeria, the Archbishop of Abuja said, “As I was preparing my reflection on Christians unjustly detained, my Priest in Abuja was kidnapped and is still in captivity. Kindly pray for his safe release.”
“In Nigeria we have the harsh economic and social impact of COVID-19 pandemic. We have cases of abductions, detentions and killings by terrorist groups. Criminal headsmen, bandits and gangs of kidnappers to contend with. We all have this,” said Archbishop Kaigama.
According to the 62-year-old Nigerian Prelate, it is no longer news that Boko Haram is “vicious in their attacks, reckless in their killings, legendary in their hatred of Christians and Christianity.”
He said that kidnappers also apprehend innocent citizens in the bushes, on the highways and homes.
“Last week in one of our parishes in Abuja Archdiocese behind the parish house, five children of the same parents were kidnapped and on the following day, a woman preparing for her church wedding was also kidnapped. They have not been found,” the Nigerian Prelate narrated.
He highlighted the story of Teenager Leah Sharibu, one of more than 100 schoolgirls kidnapped by extremist group Boko Haram but the only one not released, because she refused to renounce her Christian Faith who, the Prelate said, had become “a symbol of Christian resilience against forced conversion.”
“We must however not forget the remaining 112 Chibok girls and others who are held captive with many either dead or forcefully married off,” he said.
The massacre of a seminarian Michael Nnadi, one of the four kidnapped from the Good Shepherd Major Seminary and the killing of Protestant and Catholic Priests remain a great tragedy, the Archbishop recalled.
“The activities of herdsmen are relentless in the predominantly Christian parts of Northern-Central Nigeria,” he recounted, and added, “Many Christians smell a rat as the leadership of the army, air force, police and other paramilitary bodies are in the hands of one geopolitical or Religious group.”
Archbishop Kaigama who is chairman of Nigeria’s Plateau State-convened “Interreligious Committee for Peace” has been involved in promoting mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims.
He decried what he said “has long been alleged” that recruitments into the army, immigration, customs, civil service and others seem to favour North Muslims.
“Equally disturbing is why many predominantly Christian populations are pressured to get a Moslem among them to be their Chief. The abduction and forceful conversion of underage girls is real. On the other hand, Moslem girls who freely choose to marry Christian men face death threats,” he lamented.
The Archbishop cautioned that there may be no future for Christians in the Christian dominated Middle belt and other parts of Northern Nigeria if groups like Boko Haram and allied terror groups continue with their harassment and calls on Western nations to intervene.
“Western nations need to pay the same attention to this reality as they vigorously do in their countries in the case of COVID-19,” he said, and added, “They must prevail on Nigerian leaders to be honest and single-minded in the war against terror. The UK and other nations with Christian roots should speak and act more in favour of freedom.”
He called for freedom for Christians in Northern Nigeria to acquire land for Christian Religious purposes. At the moment, Christians are reportedly not allowed to buy land for construction of churches in many parts of Northern Nigeria.
“I believe that together with the United Nations, the UK, the European Union and key countries like the United States can do more in sharing strategic intelligence information with Nigerian and give more technical support,” Archbishop Kaigama said.
He added, “The humanitarian support given is well appreciated and very greatly needed even now. But there must be an effective monitoring of its use.”
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
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