Christians and Muslims united in Nigeria, says bishop

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria. Credit: Weenson Oo for Aid to the Church in Need.

Boko Haram’s April kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls has brought Nigerians, as well as people across the world, into solidarity with each other across religious divides, one of the country’s bishops has said.

The girls, most of them aged between 16 and 18, were kidnapped April 14 from their boarding school in Borno, Nigeria's northeastern-most state. Members of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram have claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. All but 53 of the girls, who escaped, are still in the hands of their captors.

“They are just innocent girls and every human being feels bad about this. Life is sacred,” Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos told the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need May 13.

Boko Haram has been terrorizing Nigeria since 2009, but this incident attracted international attention, Archbishop Kaigama said, “I think, because they are innocent young girls and also because it touches directly the suffering of women, the mothers of these children. And women can identify themselves more with the pain of others. The women started holding demonstrations – both Christian and Muslim women.”

“Nigerians are standing up together for freedom and dignity; a common voice is growing up, a voice that says: ‘violence is never the way.’”

The archbishop noted that while Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” began with opposition to Christianity and Western values, its onus has spread. The radical Islamist group has also killed moderate Muslim clergy and seeks to impose Sharia law on Nigeria.

“It is no longer about north or south, nor about Muslims or Christians. It is about human beings.”

Archbishop Kaigama noted that while most of the kidnapped girls are Christian, “it is also true that there are some Muslims who were also kidnapped. So this incident is further evidence to show that Boko Haram is also targeting Muslims to some extent.”

The militant group – which was labeled by the U.S. last year as a foreign terrorist organization after years of human rights advocacy groups calling for the designation – is strongly opposed to the education of girls.

Boko Haram, the archbishop said, wants “to hurt the heart of Nigeria. I am very worried. These girls have never been outside of their village, and now they are in the bush. I just pray that the religious values that Boko Haram promotes are sufficient to influence them to respect the dignity of these girls.”

Boko Haram’s attacks have killed thousands since 2009; according to the BBC, they have killed 1,500 in 2014 alone. The U.N. estimates that the attacks have led to more than 470,000 internally displaced persons, and some 57,000 refugees.

The Nigerian government has come under criticism for failing to provide security or to respond adequately to the mass kidnapping, and to the crisis in general; on May 13, it announced its readiness to negotiate with Boko Haram for the girls’ release.

“The government underestimated the Boko Haram crisis and was therefore slow in reacting,” Archbishop Kaigama reflected. “Part of the problem is that resources were not used in the right way to provide adequate support for the security agents and the proper equipment they need to combat the violence.”

He added that according to some security sources, Boko Haram is equipped with more sophisticated and developed weapons than are the Nigerian police and military.

At three villages in Borno on May 14, vigilantes in three villages repelled an attack by Boko Haram; an eyewitness told the BBC that some 200 militants had been killed.

It was reported that at the same time, disgruntled Nigerian soldiers elsewhere in Borno had opened fire on the convoy of a military commander, protesting poor pay and the lack of proper equipment needed to combat Boko Haram.

Archbishop Kaigama also noted that “soldiers have been killed trying to defend people and their families have not received enough help.”

“It is important that these families receive assistance.”

Returning to a discussion of the abducted schoolgirls, Archbishop Kaigama said that “at this stage, what we need to do is to pray: only God can move the heart of these people.”

The archbishop is praying that the kidnappers return the girls soon, without harm; that Boko Haram abandons violence; and that the Nigerian government will be aided by other nations to combat terrorism, hunger, and poverty.

“We pray and we request your prayers,” he concluded. “As president of the bishops’ conference, I wrote to all the Catholics in Nigeria to have an hour of adoration, asking all the bishops, priests and faithful to offer prayer.”


Voices

Seeking the face of God in the Scriptures

Archbishop José H. Gomez

Prayer is seeking the face of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls the story of how St. John Vianney once found a peasant praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The saint asked him what he was doing, and the man replied: “I look at him and he looks at me.”

Events

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February 13, 2016

  • Saturday, February 13

    World Day of the Sick Mass, Mass and Anointing of the Sick, 12:30 p.m., Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels,  555 W Temple St, Los Angeles. Archbishop Gomez presiding with other bishops and priests. Special section designated for those in wheelchairs with volunteers available to help. Limited parking available for $8. Carpooling is encouraged. For more info: Chuck Huebner at cjhuebner @gmail.com or Jim LoCoco at flavialococ0@msn.com.

     

     

    Bosco Tech’s Yurak Memorial Run & Kids’ Fun Run, Check in begins at 8 a.m., Memorial Run at 9 a.m., Fun Run at 10 a.m., Bosco Tech, 1151 San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead. Race registration is $35 per person. For school groups of 10 or more, the cost is $30. To register online, go to www.boscotech.edu/events or www.yurak.eventbrite.com; same-day registration available at check-in table. Included: racing fees, finisher medal, goodie bag and BBQ lunch. Plaques will be awarded to the top five male and female runners and to the fastest runner under 18.All proceeds to benefit Bosco Tech’s Yurak Athletic Center (YAC). 

     

    Cabrini Literary Guild “Sweetheart Bingo” Meeting, Sat., Feb.13 at Oakmont Country Club, 3100 Country Club Drive, Glendale. Meeting starts at 11 a.m., lunch at 12 p.m. ($30/person), and bingo social at 1 p.m. Bingo cards are $5 each, or $20 for five cards. For reservations, call (818) 790-3485.

     

    Footprints: Making Tracks for Neighbors in Need, 8:30 - 11:30 a.m., Bishop Amat High School track, 14301 Fairgrove Ave., La Puente. Catholic Charities San Gabriel Region will present this annual walk/run fundraiser to increase awareness about poverty, hunger and homelessness in the San Gabriel Region. Proceeds benefit those lacking basic needs, such as food, clothing, transportation and shelter. This is a come anytime, leave anytime event, with the first lap around the track to be led by Bishop David O'Connell. For more information, visit lentenfootprints.yolasite.com or contact Mary Romero at (213) 251-3582 or mromero@ccharities.org.

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