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Nigeria—Wave of kidnappings

“Priests have become an endangered species.”

Facing a wave of kidnappings, murders and violence, Nigerian priests reject violence as an answer and call on prayer.

According to data compiled by the pontifical international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), at least 18 priests have been kidnapped in Nigeria since the beginning of 2022, five in the first week of July alone. Although most were released unharmed, three were killed.

Father Christopher Odia, 40, was killed at the hands of his captors last June.

Faced with this situation, the Nigeria Catholic Diocesan Priests Association (NCDPA) has issued a statement, sent to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), denouncing the violence. “It is really sad that in the course of their normal pastoral activities, priests have become an endangered species. Attempts have been made at various levels to call on the government,” say the priests, “but as already observed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, ‘it is clear to the nation that the government has failed in its primary duty of protecting the lives of the Nigerian citizens.’”

“We do not take up arms, and we will not.”

The priests explicitly reject any response which involves force or violence on their part, saying, “We are not terrorists or a war troop” and question the usefulness of priests taking part in street protests, but call instead on what they say should be the first weapon of a man of God.

Father Joseph Aketeh Bako. He was abducted from his home on March 8, 2022, and although rumors circulated that he had died in the hands of his captors several weeks ago, church authorities were only recently able to verify this.

“Our ministerial journey consists in the proclamation of the Word of God, and the celebration of the Holy Eucharist as a memorial of Christ and His mission on earth. This implies that we carry along with us the Holy Books and not weapons. Christ never encouraged us to take up arms against anybody nor take up any action in vengeance. We do not take up arms, and we will not.”

A Week of Prayer and Fasting

The statement highlights the fundamental work that priests carry out, despite the lack of security: “Our duty is to lay before the altar of God the gratitude, cares, worries, and petitions of the faithful and ours. We are advocates of pro-life and peace. We were called and sent to preach the Good News to the poor, give liberty to captives, free the oppressed, heal the broken-hearted, bind up wounds, and the like. We have been fulfilling this call and we shall continue.”

Father Vitus Borogo, killed during a terrorist raid.

For this reason, the priests call on all their brothers in the ministry to join in a week of special prayer and fasting beginning Monday, July 11, which will include Eucharistic adoration and the recitation of the Rosary. According to the NCDPA, these activities are not meant to replace, but to complement other programs dioceses have in place to curb the problem of insecurity in Nigeria.

“We humbly appeal to all priests to take it very seriously without neglecting other regulations and related recommendations in their various dioceses,” says the statement.

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