What is happening to our brethren in Nigeria should be of profound concern to us. The threat of Jihadism is not decreasing. If anything, it is increasing. The victims of this evil are being killed precisely because they are Christians. The blood of the martyrs is flowing more frequently these days as militant Islamic terrorism increases and establishes a new beachhead in Africa. For Catholics and other Christians, we cannot - we must not- fail to act. Africa is one of the great centers of the renewal of the Church in the Third Millennium.
RIMINI, Italy (Catholic Online) - One of the speakers at the 33d meeting at Rimini, held this week, was Ignatius Kaigama, the Archbishop of Jos and President of the Nigerian Episcopal Conference. The meeting is sponsored by the movement Communion and Liberation. The Archbishop gave a telephone interview to Lorenzo Margiotta which can be read in its entirety here. Among the topics discussed was the violence directed against Christians by a fundamentalist Jihadi movement called Boko Harem. Here is an excerpt:
Monsignor Kaigama, since the beginning of the year, there have been more than 600 people killed in the attacks in Nigeria. What are the reasons for this?
"These massacres are in great part caused by the fundamentalist Islamic group Boko Haram (literally meaning "Western education is forbidden"). They operate in the Northern part of Nigeria where all these acts of violence are occurring. It is a group that intends to replace the Constitution with Islamic law in order to forcefully convert the people to Islam. They initially began to attack the government, its institutions and security agencies, then initiated attacks on churches. They want to eliminate churches because they educate and promote culture."
What does the government do to guarantee security and protect the population? Boko Haram asked President Goodluck Jonathan, who is a Christian, to resign and convert to Islam.
"The violence by these groups is also fostered by the incapacity of the government to control the situation. Police and military forces do exist but up to now they have not been able to put an end to these massacres. Coordination between the different parties responsible for security is lacking. Churches are continuously under attack, in Kaduna, in Kano, in Jos, and we begin to feel abandoned, without any help. The attacks occur when we least expect it; many Christians are now afraid to go to mass and exercise their rights as Christians."
Nonetheless even Muslims have been under attack. Is it appropriate to speak about this situation as a war of religion?
"The reason for this conflict is mainly economical, fuelled by poverty and corruption. The fundamentalists of Boko Haram are very clear in their intentions: they want to kill government officials, security agents and Christians. They have no scruples to even kill Muslims who collaborate with the government and promote security. Terrorists have no respect for life - they kill others thus killing themselves. Their aim is to create confusion. We always try to make a distinction between the fanatic fundamentalist groups and ordinary Muslims because ordinary Muslims in Nigeria want to live in peace with their neighbours."
How do you believe it is possible to get out of this situation? Is there hope for an end to the violence?
"Ending violence is a responsibility of the government. As religious leaders we can only teach the people not to respond to violence with violence, but we cannot enforce the law in order to stop these diabolic people that attack Nigerians within the country. The federal government, however, does not seem capable of effectively countering terrorism: these attacks have been occurring since 2009 and up to now there has been no adequate response. Considering the situation, the population is increasingly afraid. We require definitive action against Boko Haram, which has substantial amounts of money, sophisticated arms at its disposal, great exposure on the Internet and close contact with journalists. If the government cannot handle this on its own they have to look for support outside in order to involve those who have the means to assist. The fundamentalists of Boko Haram can be defeated. I am worried by the fact that, up to this point, no one has been able to initiate a dialogue."
We regularly report on the evil acts of Boko Harem. The phrase "Boko Haram" means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language. These Islamist terrorists hate all things western and Christian. They are Jihadists who intend to forcibly establish an Islamic Caliphate and impose Shariah Law.
They are also called al-Sunnah wal Jamma - or "Followers of the Prophet's Teachings". They refer to themselves officially as Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, which means "people committed to the propagation of the prophet's teachings and Jihad". They are murderers and terrorists who use an appeal to religion to attempt to justify their evil.
I reported on the horrible bombing outside of St Theresa's Catholic Church on Christmas Day. That evil act, perpetrated by these Islamic terrorists who refer to themselves as the "Nigerian Taliban," was followed by an ultimatum issued to Christians in Northern Nigeria to leave in three days or face further violence.
After the Christmas bombings, a spokesman told a local newspaper called The Daily Trust, "There will never be peace, until our demands are met. We want all our brothers who have been incarcerated to be released; we want full implementation of the Sharia system and we want democracy and the constitution to be suspended."
Vatican Radio reported that Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, the Vice President of the Nigerian Bishop's Conference, urged Nigerians to not to allow their country to be overtaken by terror: "Churches have been destroyed and lives were lost and there is no sign that this might end, until the government intervenes decisively."
"We continue to ask Christians to be vigilant and aware of the issue of safety when they go to church and even in their own homes. We have appealed that there be no retaliation and we continue to preach peace, hoping that all of us in Nigeria, Muslims and Christians, we will be able to work and live happily together. This is our position: no violence, no retaliation. We want to live in peace".
On the day after Christmas, the Feast of St Stephen the Deacon and Proto - Martyr, a visibly burdened Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the faithful gathered for the Angelus prayer. He spoke from his heart, urging prayers for those whose, "lands are drenched in innocent blood."
The Pope reminded the faithful that St Stephen gave his life for his Christian faith. He spoke of his heroic witness, noting that even as he was being stoned to death he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" and begged forgiveness for his accusers. He extolled the witness of the early martyrs of the Church, a topic which he has frequently addressed in the last few years.
Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office said in a statement: "Regretfully the attacks at the Church of Saint Theresa in Abuja, timed to coincide with Christmas Day celebrations, are once again the expression of the cruelty of blind and absurd hatred devoid of any respect for human life and represent an attempt to generate and fuel further hatred and confusion."
"We express our closeness to the suffering of the Church and of all the Nigerian people who have been affected by violent terrorism even during these days that should be of joy and peace," he added. "While we pray for the victims, we also express the hope that this senseless violence will not weaken the will for peaceful cohabitation and dialogue in the nation."
On the 4th Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2012, the faithful gathered for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass being offered at Kano's Bayero University. Evil Islamic jihadists used small explosives to draw the faithful out and then shot those who fled in cold blood. All indications are it was Boko Harem.
The word "Martyr" derives from a Greek word which means "witness." The Catholic faith proclaims that the shedding of one's blood in fidelity to Jesus Christ is the final witness to the Faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that: "Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude" (CCC #2471 - 2473)
What is happening to our brethren in Nigeria should be of profound concern to us. The threat of Jihadism is not decreasing. If anything, it is increasing. For someone who remembers the cold war, even to the point of drills where we hid under our desks, it calls to mind the great need for a National resolve. It also makes the threat of militant Marxism look mild in comparison.
The victims of this evil are being killed precisely because they are Christians. The blood of the martyrs is flowing more frequently these days as militant Islamic terrorism increases and establishes a new beachhead in Africa. For Catholics and other Christians, we cannot - we must not- fail to act. Africa is one of the great centers of the renewal of the Church in the Third Millennium.
The words attributed to Tertullian in the Second Century of the Church still hold out their promise: "The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church." We are living in a new missionary age. Pray for our Christian brethren in Nigeria being terrorized by Jihadists.
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