Against the backdrop of insecurity in Nigeria, Catholic Bishops in the West African country have resolved to have all Catholics demonstrate their solidarity with the victims of kidnappings and murder by organizing a Prayer Protest while wearing black at the start of the Lenten Season February 26.
“I have been directed by the Administrative Board of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) to communicate to you that in the face of the current security situation, the Church needs to speak out in word and action against the level of insecurity in the country,” reads part of a statement signed by the Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), Fr. Zacharia Nyantiso Samjumi.
In the statement, the Board directed that “on Ash Wednesday, 26 February 2020, all Catholics, in solidarity with the many kidnapped and killed persons, stage a protest wearing black” and that all the dioceses in Africa’s most populous nation are expected to organize a Prayer Protest.
In a follow-up message to Parish Priests, the Board directed, “On Sunday 1st of March, there shall be no evening Mass in our City Parishes. That evening, we shall have a peaceful prayer protest against the incessant killings and insecurity in our country.”
Nigeria has borne the brunt of armed militants who have been orchestrating murders and kidnappings that have seemed to target Christians including priests, seminarians and the lay faithful.
The recent case of kidnapping was that of Fr. Nicolas Oboh on February 13 who was later freed.
On February 9, suspected Islamist militants in Borno state, north-east Nigeria staged an arson attack, killing 30 people who had stopped for the night. The attack also resulted in the destruction of 18 vehicles.
At the end of January, kidnappers killed 18-year-old seminarian, Michael Nnadi, who had been kidnapped alongside three other seminarians from their Good Shepherd Major seminary in Nigeria’s Kaduna State.
Meanwhile, in their Ash Wednesday message, Catholic Bishops in the country have invited the universal Church and all Christians to join them in prayers for the “dead brothers and sisters and for peace and security in Nigeria.”
“We are sad. We are in sorrow and grief. But we are confident that the light of Christ, which shines in our hearts, will brighten the dark corners of our Nigerian society,” the Bishops have stated.
In their collective message signed by CBCN President, Archbishop Augustine Akubeze and CBCN Secretary, Archbishop Camillus Umoh, the Prelates have decried the deteriorating security situation in Africa’s most populous nation saying, “The level of insecurity in Nigeria today is such that whether at home or on the road, most Nigerians, in all the parts of the country, live in fear.”
The Bishops have added, “The repeated barbaric executions of Christians by the Boko Haram insurgents and the incessant cases of kidnapping for ransom linked to the same group and other terrorists have traumatized many citizens,”
In the considered opinion of the Nigerian Prelates, “That the perpetrators of these heinous crimes make public shows of them on social media and Nigerians do not hear of any arrests or prosecution of the criminals, raises grave questions about the ability and willingness of the government to protect the lives of the ordinary Nigerians.”
Aware of their moral responsibility, the Shepherds have reminded the government and security agencies “that without security there can be no peace and without peace that can be no development or national growth.”
“We, therefore, appeal to the Government to immediately put a stop to this unprecedented wave of violence and brutality aimed particularly at Christians,” the Prelates have urged and added, “We also call for the arrest and prosecution of all those behind these senseless killings that sow the dangerous seeds of hate and distrust among the various segments of the Nigerian society.”
At the same time, the Bishops have collectively appealed to the international community to come to the aid of the Nigerian government “in the fight against these daredevil terrorists, who want to graze our country.”
They caution in reference to the terrorist groups, “The consequences, should they succeed, will be grave not only for the West African sub-region but also for Africa as a whole.”
Addressing themselves to the faithful, the Prelates have said, “The present situation in Nigeria challenges all of us to a life of coherent witnessing to the Gospel. The impact of our Christian faith must be felt in public life. This is not a time for compromises for the sake of personal convenience, but rather for heroism in Christian virtues. “
“Before long, it will be Easter and the Lord will show that he has triumphed over evil, darkness and death,” the Bishops in Nigeria have said and appealed to the people of God in their country, “Be of good courage!”