In 2019, an article was published which stated that for the second year in a row, U.S. Catholics said they are more focused on human trafficking, poverty, and the global refugee crisis than they are on the persecution of Christians around the world. Our world is in a crisis and few people are reading about it and even much fewer are reporting about it.
The problem is that the truth is out and we need to find out more about it. The simple truth is that persecution against Christians for their religion is one of the greatest problems facing our society today.
Persecutions of Christians throughout the world have increased considerably while many of us here look to other issues as more important. We have been told issues like climate change and our individual rights that do not correspond with Catholic or Apostolic teachings are more important than worrying about the persecutions of Christians. Brothers and sisters, we do this at our own peril. If we do not stand up against the persecutions, who will stand up for us? No one- not in this world or the next. Simply stated, the number issue we should be concerned about is the increased persecutions of Christians because it is manmade, and we can do something about it.
News stories about the shocking and relentless violence in Nigeria are rarely reported in mainstream media outlets. Instead, they are generally found in newsletters and websites sponsored by Christian organizations. For this reason, the genocidal intentions of radical Islamist groups such as Boko Haram, Islamic State of West Africa Provence (ISWAP), and Fulani jihadis have not gained sufficient attention to alert global powers and authorities. To make matters worse, when these incidents are reported, they are regularly explained away as effects of climate change, local feuds, or internecine religious wars for which both sides bear equal responsibility.
We All Think It Is Important But We Are Not Doing Anything About It
In 2019, 46 percent of the U.S. Catholics believe the global persecution of Christians is “very severe,” and 58 percent say they are “very concerned” about the issue. Both figures are very alarming. Today we will look at one country- Nigeria. Nigeria is the largest country in Africa with more than 200,000,000 people. 47% of the population is Christian. So Nigeria is the largest country in Africa and has the largest population of Christians in Africa. In 1921, the Christian population in all of Africa was right at one million today (2022) that has grown to 170 million with the vast majority of the Christian population living in Nigeria.
This is a real problem. However, back in November, the State Department took Nigeria off Countries of Particular Concern”
Background On The Problem In Nigeria
In 2020, religious freedom conditions in Nigeria deteriorated, with both state and non-state actors committing egregious violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Despite Nigeria’s constitution protecting freedom of religion and belief, Nigerian citizens faced violence by militant Islamists and other nonstate armed actors, as well as discrimination, arbitrary detentions, and capital blasphemy sentences by state authorities. State-sanctioned Shari’a courts handed down harsh sentences on several individuals convicted of blasphemy, including sentencing 22-year-old musician Yahaya Sharif-Aminu to death, although a higher court later demanded Sharif-Aminu’s case to be retried.
Government authorities also arrested prominent humanist activist, Mubarak Bala, reportedly in relation to his expression of his humanist beliefs on social media. Bala continues to be detained without charge, and authorities have restricted his access to his legal team. Militant Islamist groups in Nigeria continued to violate religious freedom in the northeast and expanded to parts of the northwest of the country. Elements from Boko Haram and from the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) abducted and executed several individuals based on their religious beliefs. Boko Haram fighters beheaded a local chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Adamawa State because he refused to renounce his faith, while ISWAP fighters executed five aid workers as a warning to “all those being used by infidels to convert Muslims to Christianity.”
Jihadists also conducted several attacks on religious ceremonies: in May they attacked villagers preparing to break their Ramadan fast, killing 20 people, and in July they attacked locals gathering to celebrate Eid al-Adha in Maiduguri. In the center of the country, other non-state armed groups also conducted attacks on houses of worship, religious ceremonies, and religious leaders. Christian communities were hit particularly hard in the country’s Middle Belt, with non-state armed actors attacking at least 11 churches and Christian ceremonies. Survivors report that Fulani-affiliated armed groups used religious rhetoric while conducting myriad attacks on predominantly Christian villages in Kaduna State. Kidnappers also reportedly deliberately targeted Christians for abduction and execution. The Nigerian government has routinely failed to investigate these attacks and prosecute those responsible, demonstrating a problematic level of apathy on the part of state officials.
Quick Facts About The Nigerian Situation
To explain in more detail the importance of this please look at these facts
After the U.S. State Department released its list of countries with the most egregious religious freedom violations this week (Nov. 17, 2021), human rights advocates expressed shock that Nigeria was removed from this year’s list.
In some ways, Nigeria is a fine example of why many believe the “future of the Church is in Africa.” The continent’s largest nation (now more than 200 million people), with its fast-growing populace and strong religious tendencies, routinely exports priests to countries in need of clergymen.
In fact, according to the Christian persecution watchdog group Open Doors, Nigeria alone accounted for 90 percent of Christians killed for their faith worldwide in the year 2018.
It is strange to consider that Nigeria, the site of so much Christian suffering and persecution, is also a nation of such abundant Christian worship—the country now has the world’s sixth-highest Christian population and the highest number of Christians on a continent that has seen the faithful multiply exponentially.
Specific to the Catholic Church, there were one million worshipers in Africa a century ago. Now there are more than 170 million. Nigeria is at the forefront of sending priests to Western nations suffering from a clerical shortage. Such priests are part of the “reverse missionary” phenomenon, in which clergy from Africa and Asia seek to reinvigorate the Faith in the same Western nations that, during previous centuries, were so ardent in bringing Christianity to Africa and Asia.
More than 50% of all of the Catholics in Africa live in Nigeria
There are nine ecclesiastical provinces and a total of 44 Catholic dioceses in Nigeria
Thousands of Christians have been hacked to death by militants in Nigeria in the first 200 days of 2021, a recent investigation has established, further revealing that the number is the highest in years.
The report by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) indicates that at least 3,000 Christians, including ten Priests and Pastors, were murdered in Nigeria from the beginning of this year to July 18
Broken down, the figure translates to 17 Christians being murdered daily in Nigeria, especially in States experiencing extreme militant attacks.
Additionally, the number of churches threatened or attacked and closed or destroyed or burnt since January 2021 is also estimated to be around 300, with at least ten Priests or Pastors abducted or killed by the jihadists,
The Taraba State in North-Eastern Nigeria was discovered to be the most affected with at least 70 churches threatened or attacked and closed or burnt or destroyed.
What We Can Do About This
Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja called on Nigeria’s Catholics to pray the rosary for an end to “the irrational killings and attacks resulting in internally displaced people.”
PRAYER FOR PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS
O God of all the nations, the One God who is and was and always will be, in your providence you willed that your Church be united to the suffering of your Son. Look with mercy on your servants who are persecuted for their faith in you. Grant them perseverance and courage to be worthy imitators of Christ. Bring your wisdom upon leaders of nations to work for peace among all peoples. May your Spirit open conversion for those who contradict your will, that we may live in harmony. Give us the grace to be united in truth and freedom, and to always seek your will in our lives. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.
Prayer composed by Archbishop William E. Lori, Supreme Chaplain KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS
O God, who in your inscrutable providence will that the Church be united to the sufferings of your Son, grant we pray, to your faithful who suffer for your name’s sake a spirit of patience and charity, that they may be found true and faithful witnesses to the promises you have made. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Prayer from the Orlando Diocese
O Lord God,
Your Son Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.
In His resurrection, He restores life and peace in all creation.
Comfort, we pray, all victims of intolerance and those oppressed by their fellow humans.
Remember in Your Kingdom those who have died.
Lead the oppressors towards compassion and give hope to the suffering.
Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
Please protect our brothers and sisters around the world who are being persecuted for their faith, especially those who are active in sharing the gospel.
Let your peace reign on those regions where your children are not permitted the freedom to live out their faith in safety.
And watch over and encourage those who work to support oppressed believers on the ground, risking their own lives to do so.
You have warned us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be oppressed and abused because of their faith.
We ask that you comfort and give courage to all your children who fall victims to unjust imprisonment, physical harm, and intimidation at the hands of their oppressors.
For those who have given their lives in the fight for freedom to openly share and live out their faith, may they be welcomed into your warm embrace.
For those who persecute our brothers and sisters, may their spirits be touched by the incredible faith of those who they attack. And may they turn away from sin and open their hearts to your love.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Three Prayers From St. Leo’s Church, San Diego Diocese
Second, call for government action in these areas:
• Redesignate Nigeria as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), and redesignate Boko Haram and ISWAP as “entities of particular concern,” or EPCs, for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by IRFA;
• Enter into a binding agreement, as authorized under Section 405(c) of IRFA, and provide associated financial and technical support to obligate the Nigerian government to take substantial steps to address religious freedom violations, including but not limited to:
• Enhance training for officials, the military, and police officers on countering hate speech based on religious identity, responding to sectarian violence, reporting on violence against religious communities, and holding accountable security officers accused of excessive use of force and other human rights abuses;
• Promote and expand access to justice and strengthen secular courts in areas where ethnoreligious tensions overlap with trends of heightened violence, criminality, and mob justice;
• Increase funding for security sector reform and rule of law programming and include religious institutional actors in security and justice programs; and
• Allocate funding for programs that engage civil society, security, and official actors in inclusive efforts to protect places of worship and other holy sites;
• Conduct a comprehensive review of all U.S. aid to Nigeria and its impact on religious freedom conditions in the country;
• Develop localized strategies and engage diplomatically with key local government authorities in regions where state-sanctioned or tolerated violations are frequent to bring state practices in line with the constitution and international obligations; and
• Strengthen the public affairs capacity in the U.S. Embassy in Abuja to respond publicly to developments in religious freedom conditions in Nigeria, including commenting on court cases against religious prisoners of conscience, as well as amplifying domestic voices advocating for stronger religious freedom norms
Third, we can organize parish-wide and Diocese-wide awareness campaigns to get the word out about this important subject.
Brother and sisters this is what God expects us to do. We are our brother’s keeper. The person you save today may be the priest in your parish in the future. Nigeria is one of the largest suppliers of priests to countries all over the world. It is one of the fastest-growing Catholic countries in the world and it is the right thing to do both now and forever. Amen