A courageous witness of dialogue
Montréal, Friday, June 22nd – From June 8th to 14th, Aid to the Church in Need Canada had the good luck and pleasure to welcome a direct witness to the persecution against Christians, who, for close to twenty years, has been a passionate advocate of interreligious and interethnic dialogue, Msgr. Ignatius Kaigama.
“This man is endowed with incredible strength,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, ACN National Director. “Despite all of the reasons he has to be angry, he preaches peace with his words and his life choice. He chose the nonviolent option, which was not obvious given his personal story.”
In fact, during meetings held in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Gatineau and Montréal, Mgr. Kaigama revealed that his tribe was affected by a previous jihad in 1804. Later on, in 1892, several members of his tribe were assassinated or enslaved, historic events not well known in the West. ” It was Fulani shepherds – Muslims – who attacked the stronghold where my tribe had sought refuge,” recounted Mgr. Kaigama. “I would have every reason to be angry.” In addition to his family story, the archbishop found himself at the heart of an episode of rare violence, right after the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
When he was named Archbishop of the Diocese of Jos in April 2000, Mgr. Kaigama thought that he would be able to catch his breath. “I thought I would be able to rest,” he told us. The fact is, since February 3, 1995, he had spent a lot of energy in creating a new diocese, Jalingo. But in September 2001, this town of the Middle Belt caught fire, even though it has the reputation of being in a moderate environment, in a Nigeria that is split in two: the Muslim North and the Christian South.
Following the September 11 tragedy, the town of Jos caught fire. In 10 days, more than 1,000 people were killed. “My people were killed, my church burnt, my house destroyed, the vehicles we were using to go to remote and difficult places were all burnt. I always tell people that no one should be angrier than I! When my church was attacked, 14 people were killed; I saw their bodies at my feet. I should be the angriest person,” he repeats. But I said to myself: ‘When you are angry, you are hurting yourself most of all. Let’s find a way to talk.’ And that’s how I got into the dialogue, calling on reasonable Muslims and leaders [from all walks of life] to sit together and find solutions for every situation: what can we do to avoid crises? How can we get our people to embark on constructive dialogue when there is a problem so they don’t get into hostile confrontation?”
Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa with Archbishop Kaigama of Jos
Being a credible witness
Msgr Kaigama continues to be misunderstood by several of his compatriots and co-religionists. After all, not many Christians would dare to sleep at an Imam’s or pray at a mosque with Muslims or even attend a wedding. Some find it too weak, others, naive and a waste of time in a fight they consider already lost.
“In Africa [for the last few years], the seeds of discord and distrust have been sown, especially in Nigeria … where the Sharia was implemented in nine States,” he stated. “However, as a Christian, my duty is to do what Jesus asked me to do: He is the Light, the Truth and the Life. If I cannot follow his path, I have no reason to be what I am. I always tell my people: ‘Let’s get back to the origins [of our faith]. Following violence, the young people come to us, especially the religious leaders. They say: ‘Buy weapons for us!’ So I say: ‘If I have to fight with weapons, what does the Word ‘I give you my peace, I leave you my peace’ mean. I tell them that it’s not my mission. Even if it’s difficult – [especially] when someone has lost their father, their mother, their whole family – we try to pacify them and call on the government to do something about it.”
Msgr. Kaigama continues his work in favour of dialogue in Nigeria. He is one of the founders and promoters of the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace Centre, located in Jos. In October 2017, he organized an interreligious prayer for peace with other religious leaders.
“We are keeping Msgr. Kaigama in our hearts and pray that his work bears fruit!” says Ms. Lalonde. “I invite our benefactors to pray for him and his mission, trusting that God can bring peace to even the most hardened of hearts. For Mgr. Kaigama, the words of the Gospel ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you’ make sense.”