‘Our only weapon is prayer’: Nigerian bishop seeks release of kidnapped priest

By Courtney Mares for CNA

Fr. Joseph Keke, 75, was kidnapped on May 21, 2021, in Katsina State, Nigeria. / Courtesy Photo.

Rome Newsroom, May 27, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah has been working to secure the release of a priest from his Sokoto diocese who was kidnapped six days ago.

“We have one of our persons negotiating with them, but it is a painful experience, often traumatic, because of the inhuman ways they speak and the threats they make,” Kukah told the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need.

“Our only weapon is prayer,” he said on May 26.

Fr. Joseph Keke, a 75-year-old priest from his diocese, was kidnapped on May 21 when gunmen attacked St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in the northern Katsina State.

Another priest of the parish, Fr. Alphonsus Bello, was found dead after the attack. He was 33.

“Fr. Bello’s death is part of the senseless and endless losses that have engulfed our nation,” Kukah said, according to ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

“We are all literally under the sword in Nigeria, a country that is being consumed by a barbaric horde of humanity.”

The bishop said that negotiating with the kidnappers had been “one of the most painful experiences.” They originally asked for a ransom of more than $240,000, but have since lowered their demand to just over $120,000.

“As the security agencies will tell you, these men are just outright criminals, often working with locals in the communities who serve as informants. They just identify soft targets and their primary motivation is money,” he said.

The kidnapping of clergy and other Catholics is an ongoing problem in Africa’s most populous country.

On May 17, a Catholic priest serving in Nigeria’s northern Kaduna archdiocese was kidnapped with 10 other people in an attack by gunmen that killed eight people.

Nigerians have suffered attacks from Boko Haram since 2009. Insecurity in the country has also worsened due to the actions of the predominantly Muslim Fulani militia, who often clash with farmers over grazing lands.

Islamist insurgents have killed an estimated 12,000 Christians in Nigeria since June 2015, according to Intersociety, a Nigerian human rights organization.

Bishops in Nigeria have repeatedly called on the government to do more to improve security in the country.

Kukah said: “The federal government is entangled in this web of confusion.”

“They have no wish to create an egalitarian, integrated and united country. Their focus is the ascendancy of Islam even in a form that over 80% of ordinary Muslims do not support. We are in the throttle of the Salafist variant, or strain, of Islam.”

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.

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