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Christians in Nigeria suffer under the yoke of the “African Taliban”

PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP
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The diocese of Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria, is threatened by Islamist hatred. Christians are abused because of their beliefs, but keep a strong faith.

The Christians of the Sahara-Sahel region never stop suffering, particularly the faithful of the city of Maiduguri, in northeastern Nigeria. Bishop Olivier Dashe Doeme, who presides over the diocese of Maiduguri, recently denounced the death of more than seventy-three people since the beginning of the year. All were victims of Islamist violence. Sometimes the crimes were committed by Boko Haram and sometimes by related minions, particularly the Fulani people, who are mostly Sunni.

Bishop Doeme’s diocese is one of Boko Haram’s prime targets. It is here that the terrorist movement was born in 2002, under the leadership of Mahamed Yusuf. For fifteen years, tens of thousands of people — men, women, and children — have suffered under the deadly yoke of these “African Talibans.” What choice were they given? Conversion to a rigorist Islam straight from Saudi Arabia, where Mahamed Yusuf had studied, or death. Thus, two hundred churches were vandalized, alongside twenty-five schools, three convents, and three hospitals run by the Church. A sad record for this diocese that has been so tested.

The “invincible” faith of Nigerian Christians

From a human perspective, the situation seems almost hopeless for Catholics in this region, especially since the Nigerian government is doing nothing to prevent killings by jihadists in the area, according to the Catholic prelate. And when the crimes are not directly committed by Boko Haram, other Islamists take over the torch. The bishop of Maiduguri said Fulani shepherds carried out the New Year’s Eve attacks in the cathedral of Ilorin, the capital of Kwara in Western Nigeria, killing dozens.

Despite Islamist violence, Catholics have held onto hope and faith– an “invincible” faith, according to their bishop. They continue to attend Mass faithfully and participate in pastoral activities, reports Bishop Doeme. “They are attacked, rejected, killed because of their faith. And yet, they are ready to do anything to show their devotion,” he marvels.

For its part, the clergy strives to come to the aid of the abused population. Thousands of families are suffering and must flee anti-Christian violence. “Many have nothing left to live on,” said the prelate, who takes in many orphans to give them an education.

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