Antonino Piccione. 29th June 2022. Reading time: 3 minutes.
Two priests were murdered this weekend in the southern state of Edo and the north-central state of Kaduna. It is only a few weeks since the killings of Pentecost Sunday when at least 40 people were killed in the church of St Francis Xavier in Owo, in the south-west state of Ondo.
Murders in cold blood.
Fr Christopher Odia, 41 years old, was kidnapped yesterday in his rectory at the church of St Michael as he was preparing to celebrate Mass. The priest was later murdered by his assailants, according to a communique of the local Church. On Saturday Fr Vitus Borogo, a priest of the archdiocese of Kaduna, was murdered in the Prison Farm, after a “terrorist attack”, according to Fr Alumuku and the local press and sources from Aid to the Church in Need.
The 50 year-old priest “was just there”, explained the person in charge of social communications of the archdiocese of Abuja, “with two other people, his brother and another young man who were then kidnapped” by the gunmen. I had known Fr Vitus from when he had been a student of mine when I was the rector of the seminary of St James in the diocese of Makurdi, in the state of Benue, Fr Alumuku recalls. “He was very likeable and very bright. I met him recently a couple of months ago in Kaduna. As chaplain of the State Polytechnic of Kaduna, he was guiding the Catholic students at the college in the faith so they would be a positive influence in the local community”.
Nigeria, country of martyrs
“As priests we are not cowed by all this; it doesn’t frighten us. We are ready to die as martyrs because it is with the blood of martyrs that the Church will grow in Nigeria”. These are the words of Fr Patrick Alumuku, who is in charge of social communications in the archdiocese of Abuja and director of national Catholic television in Nigeria, when he spoke about the bloodbath that this African country is suffering and the Catholic Church especially.
“The Kaduna area is one of the worst affected by the Fulani pastoralists”, he explains referring to the ethnic nomads of West Africa. They extend from Mauritania to Cameroon, and are often at war with the settled agricultural peoples. The widespread insecurity is caused by the violence of the different branches of the Islamic extremists, Boko Haram.
Asking the authorities for help
Speaking of the “Jihadist” groups on the loose in the country, Fr Alumuku says that “the Catholic Church is one of their targets merely because it represents Christianity”. But we are not fighting against anyone; we don’t have any weapons”. In the name of Signis Nigeria, the local branch of the World Catholic Association for Communication of which Fr Alumuku is their president in Abuja, he urges the “security forces at both federal and state level to intensify their efforts to bring the murderers to justice at the
same time as they redouble their efforts” to protect the lives of all Nigerian citizens.
“The State is obliged to protect all Nigerians” points out Mgr Matthew Man-Oso Ndagoso, archbishop of Kaduna. “It is quite terrible. The Church is grieving, but not just the Church. All Nigerians are grieving for what is happening”. “People don’t feel safe in their homes, in the streets or anywhere”, he continues. “Hundreds of Nigerians are victims of kidnappers and terrorists, yet all of this goes unpunished”. “If there is to be peace in this country, those of us whose task is to proclaim the Gospel are able to do it. But where there is no peace and security our work is made more “difficult”, “severely restrained” by the fact that “we are unable to move around freely”. “This”, concludes the Kaduna archbishop,” is the terrible situation that we are in today” in Nigeria.
A month of tragedy
The country has lived through a long, horrifying trail of bloodshed in the Catholic world. At the beginning of the month, writes CNA,” armed men attacked a Catholic church and a Baptist church in the sate of Kaduna, killed three people and, apparently, kidnapped more than 30 faithful”. This cowardly and atrocious attack on the Catholic Church was reported in the state of Ondo on the 5th June.
Regarding the most recent tragic episode, the news agency Fides reported the capture of two of the kidnappers of Fr Christopher. “Two of the killers were captured by the community which went after the kidnappers” the auxiliary bishop of Minna, Mgr Luka Gopep explained.
From the beginning of this year, three priests have been murdered in Nigeria alone. The first, Fr Joseph Aketeh Bako, was kidnapped and killed on 20th April. Fides also reports that 900 Christians have been killed until now this year. This West African country is fighting a wave of violence from armed bands, principally in the exposed rural communities. Since 2009, when the Boko Haram insurgency first began, Nigeria has been living in a complete state of insecurity.