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Southern California Catholics pray for kidnapped Nigerian Bishop with strong ties to the area

December 30, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Dec 30, 2020 / 05:29 pm (CNA).- Priests and parishioners in Southern California are praying for the safe return of Bishop Moses Chikwe, the auxiliary bishop of Owerri Archdiocese in Nigeria, who served for several years in the Diocese of San Diego as a priest before returning to his country.

Bishop Moses was ordained a priest on July 6, 1996, in Nigeria, after which he completed his Master’s degree in educational administration at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and his Ph.D. in education at UCLA. Fr. Moses served for six years as a priest in residence at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown San Diego and at the VA Hospital in La Jolla as chaplain; he also frequently said Mass at St. Mark’s parish in San Marcos, CA.

He returned to his home diocese to where he became director of education and was ordained Auxiliary Bishop on December 12, 2019, but he kept “strong ties with the community and came back during the summer for four consecutive years, except for this last summer,” Fr. Bruce Orsborn, pastor of St. Mark’s and a good friend of Bishop Moses told CNA.

During his summer visits, then-Fr. Moses would resume celebrating masses and preaching at St. Mark’s. “Everybody loves Fr. Moses, he is extremely humble and gentle, and he is very intelligent, he is extremely prayerful and people were amazed at his homilies,” said Fr. Orsborn.

Fr. Peter M. Escalante, current pastor of Mission San Diego de Alcala and former pastor of the Cathedral in downtown San Diego, told CNA that “it was in mid-2008 that he took residence at St. Joseph’s Cathedral while completing his doctoral studies at UCLA and working on his dissertation. He helped with daily and weekend masses at the Cathedral and he is still fondly remembered there.”

Fr. Escalante has maintained a friendship with Bishop Moses, even traveling to Nigeria with two parishioners last December for the occasion of his Episcopal Ordination. “He is a wonderful human being and Churchman. We are praying fervently for his safety and release.”

In a December 29 statement, the Archbishop of Owerri Anthony Obinna urged “all Christ’s faithful and people of goodwill” to disregard reports that kidnappers had killed Bishop Moses. “This information is unconfirmed, misleading and does not come from the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri,” he added.

Fr. Orsborn sent an urgent email to all St. Mark’s parishioners, announcing a time of special prayer at St Mark’s for the safety of Bishop Moses. The prayer service will be held on Sunday, January 3 2021 at 2:30 pm.

 


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Nigerian bishop kidnapped, Catholics pray for his safety

December 29, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Dec 29, 2020 / 09:05 am (CNA).- The bishops of Nigeria have urged prayer for the safety and release of a Nigerian Catholic bishop who was abducted Sunday in Owerri, the capital of Nigeria’s Imo State.

Bishop Moses Chikwe “is said to have been kidnapped in the night of Sunday 27 December 2020,” the secretary general of the Nigerian bishops’ conference has reported.

Bishop Chikwe is the auxiliary bishop of Nigeria’s Archdiocese of Owerri.

“Up to this moment, there has been no communication from the kidnappers,” Fr. Zacharia Nyantiso Samjumi said in a press release obtained by ACI Africa Dec. 28.

“Trusting in the maternal assistance of Blessed Virgin Mary, we pray for his safety and quick release,” the CSN secretary general added a press release circulated under the headline: “SAD EVENT FROM OWERRI.”

Various sources have confirmed to ACI Africa the abduction of 53-year-old Nigerian bishop, all indicating that the bishop’s whereabouts remain unknown.

“I spoke with the archbishop yesterday evening and asked him to let me know if any new thing occurs. Nothing yet,” a Catholic bishop in Nigeria told ACI Africa Dec. 29, making reference to Archbishop Anthony Obinna of Owerri archdiocese.

According to The Sun, the kidnapping occurred along Port Harcourt road in Owerri at about 8 p.m. local time.

Bishop Chikwe “was kidnapped alongside his driver in his official car,” The Sun reported, citing eyewitnesses, who added that the bishop’s vehicle “was later returned to Assumpta roundabout, while the occupants were believed to have been taken to an unknown destination.”

An anti-kidnapping police unit has begun investigating the abduction, the newspaper reported.

Bishop Chikwe’s abduction is the latest in a series of kidnappings that have targeted clergy in Nigeria, but previous abductions have involved priests and seminarians, not bishops.

On Dec. 15, Fr. Valentine Oluchukwu Ezeagu, a member of the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy (SMMM) was kidnapped in Imo State en route to his father’s funeral in the neighboring Anambra State, in southeastern Nigeria. He was “unconditionally released” the following day.

Last month, Fr. Matthew Dajo, a Nigerian priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja, was kidnapped and released after ten days in captivity. Multiple sources in Nigeria told ACI Africa about negotiations for ransom following Fr. Dajo’s Nov. 22 kidnapping, some sources indicating abductors’ demand for hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars.

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department listed Nigeria among the worst countries for religious freedom, describing the West African nation as a “country of particular concern (CPC).” This is a formal designation reserved for nations where the worst violations of religious freedom are taking place, the other countries being China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

The action by the U.S. State Department was lauded by the leadership of Knights of Columbus, with the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, Carl Anderson saying December 16, “Nigeria’s Christians have suffered grievously at the hands of Boko Haram and other groups.”

The murders and kidnappings of Christians in Nigeria now “verge on genocide,” Anderson added December 16.

“The Christians of Nigeria, both Catholic and Protestant, deserve attention, recognition and relief now,” Anderson further said, adding, “Nigeria’s Christians should be able to live in peace and practice their faith without fear.”

According to a special report released by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) in March, “no fewer than 20 clergymen including at least eight Catholic Priests/Seminarians were hacked to death in the past 57 months and not less than 50 abducted or kidnapped.”

Catholic bishops in Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous nation, have repeatedly called on Muhammadu Buhari-led government to put in place strict measures to protect her citizens.

“It is just unimaginable and inconceivable to celebrate Nigeria at 60 when our roads are not safe; our people are kidnapped, and they sell their properties to pay ransom to criminals,” members of CBCN said in a collective statement on October 1.

 

A version of this story was first reported by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.


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Nigerian Christians facing ‘calculated genocide,’ Catholic bishop tells Congress

December 18, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Dec 18, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The world must not ignore the “genocide” of Christians in Nigeria, the Catholic Bishop of Gboko told members of Congress on Thursday.

“The mass slaughter of Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, by every standard, meets the criteria for a calculated genocide from the definition of the Genocide Convention,” Bishop William Avenya of Gboko, in center of Nigeria, told a congressional commission on Thursday.

The bishop said that “it is depressing that our Middle Belt region has truly become a vale of tears, a region where mass burials are very common!”

Bishop Avenya was testifying at a Dec. 17 hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan congressional commission, on “Conflict and Killings in Nigeria’s Middle Belt.”

The Middle Belt is a fertile region stretching across the central part of Nigeria, the site of an increasing amount of violence in recent years where many farming villages in a predominantly Christian have been attacked.

According to the International Crisis Group, there were an average of more than 2,000 fatalities per year from 2011 to 2016 in the Middle Belt. Although 600 have died in the Middle Belt this year, the number is nearly six times that when the area of concern includes the country’s north, said Robert Destro, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department.

Christians and Muslims in Nigeria have suffered an mounting toll from violent attacks by Fulani militants in the Middle Belt and in the country’s northeast by the terror groups Islamic State West Africa Province (Iswap)—formerly Boko Haram—and by the new Boko Haram group that split off from Iswap.

According to the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), more than two million are estimated to be “internally-displaced” in Nigeria. 

The drivers of the violence are complex, members of Congress and State Department officials said on Thursday.

Fulanis are nomadic herdsmen who populate the broader region of the Sahel, some have been driven south into the Middle Belt by desertification caused by climate change, commission co-chair Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said on Thursday, and he noted there are also counter-reprisals committed against Fulanis.

Nevertheless, “[t]he largest, dominant driver of conflict in the Middle Belt region is committed by Fulani extremists, who appear driven in large part by ethno-religious chauvinism, against mostly Christian farmers – though I do note that elsewhere Shia Muslims are also victims, and that intra-Sunni conflicts also exist within the Muslim community as well,” Smith said.

Many of the reported attacks on villages are “massacres,” Smith said, as civilians are targeted for killings, injuries, and rape.

In 2017, Catholic bishops reported an increasing number and intensity of attacks by Fulanis, who were employing sophisticated weaponry not before seen in previous herder-farmer clashes.

Some bishops have emphasized the ethno-religious nature of the attacks, claiming that the largely-Muslim Fulani militants specifically target Christian villages and churches.

However, one Nigerian priest involved in conflict management recently told Aid to the Church in Need that the violence “is more of a resource conflict than a religious one,” as the nomadic herdsmen are in search of water and grazing land because of desertification.

U.S. religious freedom ambassador Sam Brownback said on Thursday that violence “often plays out along faith lines” even if the conflicts were not religious in origin.

Non-governmental organizations have warned of “increasingly religious undertones” to the conflict in the last year, he said, with reports of religious sites burned and forced conversions of some kidnapping victims.

Bishop Avenya charged the Nigerian government for failing to protect Christians in the Middle Belt.

“How can one explain a scenario where as many as a hundred innocent and defenceless villagers are killed in one single attack and no one says anything about it?” he asked.

“It appears that the system has not only permitted but is also aiding the enthronement of supremacist views of one religious group against the others,” he said.

Destro said that religious and political leaders and aid groups have emphasized the lack of security in the country.

“If a community calls the Nigerian equivalent of 911, nobody answers. There is no effective police protection,” he said. Local communities do not have the resources to protect themselves and prosecute the perpetrators of violence.

Destro noted that “the Nigerians themselves are beside themselves” over the violence, and that “[t]here is some denial that there’s religious violence, but I did not find that to be the case in most instances.”

The hearing came after two more attacks on civilians were reported in international media this week. On Dec. 15, the Islamist terror group Boko Haram admitted culpability for the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolboys at a school in northwestern state of Katsina, and in the country’s southeast a Nigerian priest was kidnapped by four armed men on Monday, and later released on Wednesday.

Due to the ongoing violence against civilians in Nigeria, the State Department last week designated Nigeria a “country of particular concern (CPC)” for the first time ever—a listing reserved for the countries with the worst records on religious freedom, such as China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

The CPC designation is “hopefully a true wakeup call” to the government, Smith said, noting that if there is no proper response to the designation, the U.S. should consider using sanctions.


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Pope Francis prays for victims of Islamist attack in Nigeria that left 30 beheaded

December 2, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Vatican City, Dec 2, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that he was praying for Nigeria following a massacre of at least 110 farmers in which Islamist militants beheaded an estimated 30 people.

“I want to assure my prayers for Nigeria, where blood has unfortunately been spilled once more in a terrorist massacre,” the pope said at the end of his general audience Dec. 2.

“Last Saturday, in the northeast of the country, more than 100 farmers were brutally killed. May God welcome them in His peace and comfort their families, and convert the hearts of those who commit similar atrocities which gravely offend His name.”

The Nov. 28 attack in Borno State is the most violent direct attack against civilians in Nigeria this year, according to Edward Kallon, the United Nations’ Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria.

Among the 110 people killed, roughly 30 people were beheaded by the militants, according to Reuters. Amnesty International has also reported that 10 women are missing after the attack.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but local anti-jihadist militia told AFP that the Boko Haram operate in the area and frequently attack farmers. The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has also been named as a possible perpetrator of the massacre.

More than 12,000 Christians in Nigeria have been killed in Islamist attacks since June 2015, according to a 2020 report by the Nigerian human rights organization, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety). 

The same report found that 600 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first five months of 2020. 

Christians in Nigeria have been beheaded and set on fire, farms have been set ablaze, and priests and seminarians have been targeted for kidnapping and ransom.

Fr. Matthew Dajo, a priest from the Archdiocese of Abuja, was kidnapped on Nov. 22. He has not been released, according to the archdiocesan spokesman.

Dajo was abducted by gunmen during an attack on the town of Yangoji, where his parish St. Anthony’s Catholic Church is located. Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja has issued a call for prayers for his safe release.

Kidnappings of Catholics in Nigeria are an ongoing problem that not only affects priests and seminarians, but also lay faithful, Kaigama said.

Since 2011, Islamist group Boko Haram has been behind many abductions, including that of 110 students kidnapped from their boarding school in Feb. 2018. Of those kidnapped, one Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, is still being held.

The local Islamic State-affiliated group has also carried out attacks in Nigeria. The group was formed after the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2015. The group was then renamed the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

In February, U.S Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told CNA that the situation in Nigeria was deteriorating.

“There’s a lot of people getting killed in Nigeria, and we’re afraid it is going to spread a great deal in that region,” he told CNA. “It is one that’s really popped up on my radar screens — in the last couple of years, but particularly this past year.”

“I think we’ve got to prod the [Nigerian President Muhammadu] Buhari government more. They can do more,” he said. “They’re not bringing these people to justice that are killing religious adherents. They don’t seem to have the sense of urgency to act.”


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