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Christians in Nigeria Gathering in Secret to Pray Together for Fear of Attacks

A Catholic Priest walks in front of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Enugu State, Nigeria.

Abandoned Church buildings are a common sight in various church premises in Adamawa State in North-eastern Nigeria, within the Catholic Diocese of Yola. What’s left of the once vibrant worship places are desecrated buildings, some burnt to the ground owing to the region’s protracted insurgency.

In some places, burnt vehicles have been left behind to tell the story of the suffering that Christians in this part of Africa’s most populous nation have endured at the hands of Boko Haram and other armed militants.

The same can be said about Borno State covered by the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri and several other places in Northeastern and in the Northern part of the West African country, Doris Mbaezue who works in the communications unit of Caritas Nigeria narrates to ACI Africa in an interview.

According to the Caritas official, Catholics in the country, for fear of visiting their places of worship owing to the attacks, are holding secret meetings in “undefined places” to pray together.

“Churches are abandoned. Catholics in Nigeria have been known for being vibrant in the Church but this is no longer the case especially in Adamawa and Borno States,” Ms. Mbaezue says.

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She adds in reference to Catholics in the territories of the two Nigerian States, “Today, they organize and meet in totally undefined places to quench their thirst for communal prayers. They no longer go to their places of worship because they know they will be killed if they do.”

The Caritas official further says that people in Nigeria’s most volatile areas have scampered for safety and are living in local government areas where they rely on development agencies for their livelihood.

Those left behind in villages face the danger of attacks every day and are subjected to restricted movement, including being prohibited from going to their farms.

All the challenges notwithstanding, the faith in the country continues to grow by the day, Ms. Mbaezue tells ACI Africa in the Tuesday, March 23 interview.

She explains, “People are professing their faith proudly. One would imagine that the attacks that target the Religious would frighten them but no. Priests and Seminaries who are giving their lives for their faith is the strongest motivation to the people here. More and more people are willing to die to defend their faith.”

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The Nigerian official of Caritas says that attacks in the West African nation by militants who want to conquer and take charge forcefully have spiraled out of control, leaving many in camps where they face malnutrition and starvation.

Caritas Nigeria, the development arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), which covers 58 Catholic Dioceses, is working with other local and international partners to help alleviate the suffering of the Internally Displaced People (IDPs), according to Ms. Mbaezue.

The Charity’s thematic areas include emergency and humanitarian response, health and HIV, agriculture and livelihoods, good governance, Institutional Capacity Strengthening (ICS), and anti-human trafficking and migration.

Help is given according to the varied needs of the different Dioceses, Ms. Mbaezue tells ACI Africa the March 23 interview.

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In a majority of the States located in the Eastern part of Nigeria, Caritas has implemented health programs in hundreds of primary and secondary health facilities.

The organization’s anti-human trafficking and migration intervention is aimed to address repeated cases of illegal migration in the country.

“Young Nigerians are taking risks every day as they seek to leave the country in search of greener pastures especially in Europe. They go through Libya and many of them die in the desert,” Ms. Mbaezue says.

She adds that those who manage to make a U-turn are taken up by Caritas Nigeria that helps them rebuild their lives.

The intervention is made with the help of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), and other development agencies working in the Southern region of Nigeria.

The core areas of intervention of the emergency and humanitarian response, on the other hand, are Adamawa and Borno States that are riddled with insurgency.

In these two States, Caritas Nigeria has partnered with the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs through Caritas Germany. and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through Caritas Norway, to deliver aid to victims of Boko Haram insurgency.

Other partners include the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Nigerian government.

In Adamawa and Borno State, for instance, Caritas Nigeria is overseeing UNICEF-funded projects that have brought other partners on board to reduce malnutrition among children aged between six and 59 months.

“Children in these places are severely malnourished because of what insurgents have done, causing loss of livelihoods and starvation,” Ms. Mbaezue says, adding that the aim of the project is also to prevent future instances of malnutrition.

Here, parents are taught how to prepare healthy foods for their children and also introduce to infant and young feeding practices.

In the FAO-funded project in Borno State, Boko Haram victims are given agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers to engage in farming.

As for the UNHCR-funded project in Adamawa State, victims are enrolled into vocational training centers where they are equipped with skills in carpentry, tailoring, bead making, among others, to improve their livelihoods.

Caritas Nigeria is also working in collaboration with the Nigerian government to provide meals to displaced people in Borno State in what Ms. Mbaezue says provides “instant gratification” to the victims.

“Three meals are prepared in camps every day and given to IDPs arriving in camps. This is to keep them rejuvenated as they make plans for their stay,” she says, and adds, “As they say, a hungry stomach cannot engage in any meaningful activity, this feeding program is only aimed at providing instant gratification to the victims.”

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Caritas official has faulted the media for summing up Nigeria as a place known for violence alone, saying that there are a lot of positive things to report about the West African country.

“Nigeria isn’t just about insurgency. There are about six geopolitical zones in Nigeria where life is going on as usual. But the media has this way of shaping a mindset and now people only think about Boko Haram where they hear about Nigeria,” Ms. Mbaezue tells ACI Africa.

She continues, “Nigeria is very green. We have palm oil, we have cassavas, we prepare over 250 dishes that are delicacies everywhere.”

“We have highly skilled people who make crafts that are sold internationally and we have a very unique culture of dressing that has permitted the whole continent,” the Nigerian Caritas official further says in the March 23 interview with ACI Africa.