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‘My parishioners shot dead in cold blood’: Priests, lay faithful describe attacks in Nigeria

Janada Marcus, 22, was forced to flee Boko Haram with her family twice before the terrorists attacked them again, killing her father and kidnapping her. (Image: Aid to the Church in Need)

Washington D.C., Mar 8, 2023 / 08:20 am (CNA).

“Oh, what sorrow to have watched three of my parishioners shot dead in cold blood, right before my eyes — and I couldn’t do anything,” Nigerian parish priest Father Bako Francis Awesuh, 37, shared in a new Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) report published Friday.

“I couldn’t pray because of the shock I was in. Whenever I opened my mouth to pray, words failed me. All I could say was ‘Lord, have mercy.’”

ACN’s report, titled “Nigeria: A Bleeding Wound,” shares some of the firsthand testimonies of Catholic faithful who have survived torture, kidnappings, and massacres at the hands of Nigerian terrorists.

In May 2021, Awesuh and 10 of his parishioners were kidnapped from St. John Paul II Parish in Nigeria’s Kaduna state by radical Islamic Fulani attackers.

Awesuh was alone in his room at 11 p.m. when he heard gunshots. Terrified, he turned out the lights and waited.

“I stood there confused, not knowing what to do, as I felt completely lost. There was a knock on the door. My legs went cold and my body stiff. I was sweating profusely,” Awesuh said. “They broke down the door and forced themselves inside. One of the men pushed me to the floor, tied me up, and flogged me mercilessly.”

Awesuh and his parishioners were marched barefoot through the wilderness for three days. They were then held captive in harsh conditions for more than a month until a large ransom could be paid.

Eventually, Awesuh and his parishioners were ransomed, but not before three parishioners were shot dead during a rescue attempt.

“I narrowly escaped death,” Awesuh said. Yet, he said, there are many priests there who have not been as fortunate.

“I know of so many priests kidnapped before and after me who were killed even after a ransom was paid,” Awesuh said.

Nigerian parish priest Father Bako Francis Awesuh told Aid to the Church in Need that he witnessed three of his parishioners shot to death in cold blood. Aid to the Church in Need
Nigerian parish priest Father Bako Francis Awesuh told Aid to the Church in Need that he witnessed three of his parishioners shot to death in cold blood. Aid to the Church in Need

In 2022 alone more than 5,000 Christians were killed in Nigeria, according to religious freedom watchdog Open Doors International.

As a Catholic priest in Nigeria, Awesuh faces some of the highest risks of kidnapping, torture, and murder of any person in the world.

“Kidnappings are a hallmark of terrorist organizations in Nigeria … and clergy are increasingly being targeted,” the new ACN report said.

With over 30 million faithful, Catholics make up a large minority in Nigeria, accounting for approximately 14.82% of the country’s population.

Yet, violent persecution in Nigeria has become a growing concern in recent years, according to many religious freedom organizations, including ACN.

Both priests and lay faithful are regularly targeted by Islamic terror groups such as Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and militant Fulani.

In June of last year, gunmen believed to be Islamic Fulani extremists opened fire on Catholic worshippers attending Pentecost Mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in southwestern Nigeria, killing at least 50.

Maryamu Joseph was only 7 years old when Boko Haram attacked her village, taking her captive for nine years. Aid to the Church in Need
Maryamu Joseph was only 7 years old when Boko Haram attacked her village, taking her captive for nine years. Aid to the Church in Need

Maryamu Joseph, 16, shared her story with ACN after only two months since escaping captivity.

She was only 7 years old when Boko Haram attacked her village, called Bazza, taking her captive for nine years.

“Words cannot do justice to what I’ve gone through,” Joseph told ACN. “They murdered without remorse, like it’s a normal thing to do.”

“Right before my eyes, they took one of my siblings and killed him. They cut off his head, then his hands, legs, and stomach … I was devastated. I asked myself, ‘Who’s next?’”

According to Joseph, the Christians of her village faced particularly cruel treatment.

“They put the Christians in cages, like animals. The first thing they did was forcefully convert us to Islam. They changed my name to Aisha, a Muslim name, and warned us not to pray as Christians or we would be killed,” Joseph said.

Janada Marcus, 22, was forced to flee Boko Haram with her family twice before the terrorists attacked them again in the city of Maiduguri. In this attack, Janada’s father was told to either rape her or be killed.

“With a machete pointed at my father’s forehead, he looked at my mother and at me, but I avoided eye contact because I was ashamed to look him in the face, ashamed of what the men had suggested — it was an abomination!” Marcus told ACN. “My father put his head down in submission to be killed and answered: ‘I cannot sleep with my own flesh and blood, my own daughter, I would rather die than commit this abomination.’”

Her father was beheaded, and Marcus continued to suffer at the hands of the Islamic terrorists.

“They took me to the bush and tortured me severely, emotionally, physically and mentally for six days. I suffered a lot of terrible and wicked experiences — beyond explanation — that made those six days seem like six years,” Marcus said.

By sharing these testimonies, ACN said it seeks to call attention to Nigerian persecution, which has only continued to rise.

“ACN has been highlighting the plight of Christians in Nigeria for many years with growing concern, calling the country one of the most dangerous for Christians in the world,” ACN said in its report. “We call on organizations to work for justice in the country and we encourage people of goodwill, around the world, to pray for peace in Nigeria.”

ACN has not been alone in calling attention to the persecution in Nigeria.

Sean Nelson of Alliance Defending Freedom International told CNA at the beginning of the year that “2022 saw some of the worst violence and persecution against Christians in Nigeria.”

In the face of this rising persecution, Nigeria has by far the highest Mass attendance of any nation in the world. According to recent data compiled by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, 94% of Catholics in Nigeria attend Mass at least weekly.

“The faith of so many in Nigeria, despite this suffering, is among the strongest I know of anywhere,” Nelson said. “It is high time that the U.S. and the international community finally recognize the devastation of the persecution in Nigeria and apply all resources to stop it.”

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  1. Is Allah peaceful? Is Allah respectful of God’s creation? Can Allah be reformed?

    Some Muslims are peaceful, respectful and want to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

    Mark 1:15 And saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

    Daniel 12:3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

    2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

    Romans 10:13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

    Is there a Muslim who wishes to be saved? Is there a Muslim who would like to learn of God’s plan of salvation?
    Is there a Muslim who would like to discuss Islam?

    • I have great respect for Muslims. We have a number in our general community who fled violence in Lebanon & other places. Lebanese Maronite Catholics came here also.
      At some point we need to build bridges because Christians, Jews, & Muslims all are children of Abraham whether in spirit or in fact.
      And we all face a common enemy: secularism.

      • Dear Mrscracker:

        I too have respect for Muslims. Respect is speaking God’s truth to the follower of Islam. Jesus Christ is our bridge builder, His truth and compassion for our eternal soul.

        Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

        Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

        Psalm 2:6-12 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.

        Proverbs 30:4 Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
        Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth?
        What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!

        God bless you,


      • Respect?? Respect needs to be earned in order to be given. Muslims who claim they do not agree with these sorts of violent actions need to speak up within their own population and try to change some minds.It appears to me that wherever Muslims are living in numbers, they are engaged in killing and violence. In addition to Nigeria, Israel comes to mind. If Muslims cant figure out this unprovoked violence reflects badly on them and their religion, someone needs to tell them. What have Muslims done in the last few centuries to earn respect? Improve world peace or advance humanity? People also forget too easily their attempts to take over Europe until the Miracle of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Maybe they will do it now by shear demographics. If so, the fate of Christians in Western Europe will be dire, as it is in Nigeria. A good reason for European nations and the US to rethink their immigration policies.

        • Muslim demographics in many countries are just as dismal as Christians’. Fertility rates in Sub Saharan Africa are higher overall but they are falling too.
          Generally when immigrants relocate they eventually assume the birthrates of their new culture.
          As a Christian I don’t demand that anyone earns my respect. That should be extended automatically. We are all God’s children.

          • I dont respect people who operate off a platform of institutional violence in their “religion”. In Israel I saw churches whose beautiful mosaics had been defaced when the muslim majority took over.Some are now being restored with an eye toward developing tourism. The question is why were they defaced in the first place. Because they only point of view they think is valid is their own. Tolerance is a word they do not understand and we should be very wary of that fact. I recall their destruction of the ancient statues of Buddha in Afghanistan. The Museum in Mosul, Iraq, was also subjected to destruction, as have many historic sites. I could never just smile and pretend its not happening. Nor pretend that those perpetrating such actions are anything but witless idiots.

  2. The plight of persecuted Christians should be front and center of any synodal discussions rather than worrying about whether the “lived experiences” of the bourgeoisie are sufficiently addressed. Catholics getting raped, beheaded, and kidnapped are the experiences that should be foremost on the minds of our shepherds and the laity at this moment.

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