This week has been historic for Christianity as the Oriental Orthodox Copic Church and the Catholic Church continue to embrace each other by walking in unity.
On Wednesday 10 May, Pope Francis granted the Coptic Church's leader, Pope Tawadros II, the opportunity to speak at Saint Peter's Square in front of Saint Peter's Basilica.
This marked the first time any non-Catholic Head of another church has addressed the Pope's General Assembly.
And later this week on Sunday 14 May, Pope Tawadros II will lead a mass at the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, albeit on a different altar and slightly different set-up.
These occasions this week are meant to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the Catholic-Coptic Chirstological Agreement whereby both leaders of each other's Church signed. In this 1973 agreement, both leaders decided to write out their theological agreements in matters of Jesus Christ, God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints and angels. This helped bring both churches together because it displayed that on the most important and vast majority of issues, both churches are the same.
And it was just six years prior in 2017 when both denominations agreed to recognize each other's Baptisms, thus continuing a pathway toward partial communion and possibly full communion.
However, a very unexpected turn of events happened yesterday on Thursday 11 May when Pope Francis declared the 21 Matyrs who were killed by ISIS in Libya on a video recording that went around the world to be Matyrs of the Roman Catholic Church and to be placed on the official calendar. These Christian Matyrs were already declared saints in the Coptic Orthodox Church.
While this monumental decision to declare these 21 Matyrs as Matyrs in our Catholic Faith has been applauded the world over, it does beg a big question, and that is why has Pope Francis not granted the same and greater prestige to the matyrs of Nigeria, especially those who are Catholic?
Nigeria is the nation expected to have the second most people by 2100 and unlike the People's Republic of China and India, this nation is both a Christian and Muslim nation. While numbers vary, it is often estimated that both religions hold a near 45% to 50% total of the population, and within Nigerian Christians, it is the Catholic Faith which has the largest denomination at close to 20%, usually outnumbering the Anglicans who hover at nearly the same percentage for the title of Nigeria's largest Christian denomination.
Therefore, for the first time in many centuries, the Christian and Islamic faiths have a chance to have one of the two most populous nations be under their majority.
Yet, while the Christian demographics of Nigeria continue to decline amidst rising violence against them, the Islamic areas are continuing to be infiltrated by radical Islamists such as Boko Haram, a former affiliate of both Al-Qaeda and ISIS. During part of the 2010s, Boko Haram led all terrorists groups as the deadliest terrorist group, and their terror continues to reign all over Nigeria and elsewhere.
Their violence combined with other Islamic terror groups have combined to make Nigeria the 7th most dangerous and the 1st most deadly nation to be a Christian, numbers quite striking once you realize that half of Nigerian land is Christian, thus displaying just how dangerous it is in the non-Christian areas to be Christian.
We have seen with groups like Boko Haram, countless assassinations, kidnappings, torturings, and other horrific acts committed against priests, children, and others, as well as mass killings against mass goers, and plenty of other crimes such as the burning down of Churches and over 2,000 attacks on Christian schools and over 17,000 attacks on Christian churches. Many Christian communities in Northern Nigeria have been forced to relocate and many Christians have either moved or been forcefully converted if lucky, or often simply killed.
A lot of this violence is directed against Catholics, but other Christian denominations also bear the brunt of this terror.
Thus Christian self-reporting has greatly decreased in a country where being Muslim is not a death sentence, but being Christian in many parts is. This is tilting the balance of power in Nigeria away from Christians and to Muslims.
Instead of providing security forces for these diocese in the heart of modern-day martyrdom, the Catholic Church has sat back under Pope Francis and appear very weak at stopping any of the attacks from happening.
And to make matters worse, there has been an extreme lack of canonization efforts on behalf of the Nigerian Matyrs thus signaling a sense of neglect from Rome on Nigerian Christians, a demographic that could turn the tide on Christian failing demographics in Europe and the Americas.
Not only is it a duty of our Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church to canonize those who we know are in Heaven, such as Matyrs, but it is also expedient for the Church to do so at a time when extreme Islamic propaganda and fear is beating into the minds of Nigerians telling them that Islam is a true African religion and Christianity is a European import, that the Christian authorities place Africans beneath European interests, and that Africans will always be weaker with Christianity.
And when Christians are being killed at alarming rates with a lack of security support from the global powers of Christianity like the Vatican, and when these Christians are not even honored for martyrdom in the same way Europeans have been and now North Africans as well in the Coptic example this past Thursday, it does create a sense of being secondary members of the Faith.
This also plays into the anti-Anglosphere and anti-Conservative agenda alleged against the likes of Pope Francis. Ever since Pope Francis has reigned in the Vatican, many English speaking Catholics as well as Conservative Catholics have been silenced or removed from their positions of power for reasons far less objectively serious than others of other theological or linguistic persuasions that have done far worse. And, if anyone has been following the growth of Catholicism in Africa, it has been done via the conservative branch of the Church.
Therefore, this alleged apparent agenda against conservatism, English, and Africans can and has created a sense of anti-Nigerian feelings alleged at the Vatican. It is tough to believe that the Church needs to wait longer to study complete acts of sainthood by Catholics via martyrdom in Nigeria when the Church has declared matyrs of Oriental Orthodox members in North Africa. It is tough to find reasons for inaction other than the fact that Nigeria just does not seem a priority for the Church under Pope Francis, which is a grave miscalculation as Nigeria looks poised to reach 700 million plus people by 2100.
Surely after the events of Thursday, the Nigerian Maytrys question will be pondered and eventually answered.