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Nigerian Catholic Priest Found Murdered Hours after Parish Attack, Another Missing

Late Fr. Alphonsus Bello (right) whose lifeless body was found in a farmland behind the Catechetical Training School, Malunfashi, Katsina State within Nigeria's Diocese of Sokoto. Fr. Joe Keke (left) is still missin after gunmen attacked their parish on 20 May 2021. Credit: Diocese of Sokoto

Hours after gunmen attacked a Catholic Parish in Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese, kidnapping two Priests, one of them has been found murdered, Clerics in the Diocese have confirmed.

In a Friday, May 21 message shared with ACI Africa, the Communications Director of Sokoto Diocese, Fr. Chris Omotosho, says that the lifeless body of one of the two Priests was found in a farmland within the Catholic Church premises.

“Last night (20/05/2021), one of our parishes - St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church Malunfashi, Katsina State - was attacked by unknown gunmen. Two priests were kidnapped – Frs. Joe Keke and Alphonsus Bello,” Fr. Omotosho says in his May 21 message. 

He adds that the lifeless body of Fr. Bello, 33-year-old Fidei Donum Priest who was serving as the Parish Priest, “was found in the farmland behind the Catechetical Training School, Malunfashi.”

“The whereabouts of Fr. Joe Keke is still unknown. No contact has been made thus far,” the Communications Director of the Nigerian Diocese says.

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In a separate message shared with ACI Africa, the Chancellor of Sokoto Diocese calls on the people of God in the country to “join us in prayer for the immediate and safe return of Fr. Keke and for the peaceful repose of Fr. Bello.”

“May the soul of Fr. Bello and the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace,” Fr. Cornelius Tagwai says in his message shared with ACI Africa. 

The May 20 Parish attack comes days after a Catholic Priest of Kaduna Archdiocese was kidnapped alongside ten other people when gunmen invaded Kadaje community in Kachia Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State on May 17 in an incident that saw eight people lose their lives. 

On May 19, bandits reportedly attacked the Ungwan Gaida community in Chukun LGA, torched an Assembly of God’s Church building and killed eight people. 

In a statement issued May 11, Catholic Bishops in Nigeria’s Ecclesiastical Provinces of Onitsha and Owerri said that the West African nation is in “great danger” and urgent action is required to address the high levels of insecurity.

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“The state of Nigeria in different parts of our country with so much violence, insecurity and anxiety is a source of major concern to us Bishops,” the Bishops said, adding, “We are speaking to you, our people at various levels of government and across the nation, to see that this nation is in great danger unless we bring a new spirit, a new approach.”

In their May 11collective message read by Archbishops Anthony Obinna of Owerri and Valerian Okeke of Onitsha, the Catholic Bishops said that they “expect a stoppage of the carnage that is taking place in farmlands and in various locations.”

They called on the leadership of the country to “look into security matters and restrain those who are using weapons of various sorts to intimidate the people and to create this unrest.”

The Bishops also called on Nigerians to “cherish one another, bring a spirit of respect, of mutual appreciation so as to minimize and eliminate the bad blood that is circulated in Nigeria and has created this sense of despair in our country.”

“God created us and made us to live as a great country but as it is now, this country is a source of dismay across,” said the members of the two Nigerian Ecclesiastical Provinces.

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