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A Nigerian priest: Freedom of religion not possible without security

skutki zamachu na kościół w Owo w Nigerii

AP/Associated Press/East News

Fr. Augustine Deji Dada - published on 07/05/22

Christians seek an end to "the cancer of terrorism" that afflicts their nation and prevents them from practicing their faith, says Fr. Augustine Deji Dada, a priest of the Catholic diocese of Ondo, Nigeria.

Fr. Augustine Deji Dada is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo, Nigeria, and a papal Missionary of Mercy. He currently serves the Archdiocese of New York.Here are his reflections following the bloody attack on St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Nigeria on Pentecost, one month ago today:

In the wake of the Pentecost Sunday shooting in Owo Ondo State, Nigeria, there has been increased fear and anxiety among Christians even as they refuse to abandon their faith. This fear is not only of being attacked, but that this intolerable state of affairs will be the order of the day and the ongoing experience of their children.

At least in most parts of Africa, Christians are burdened with the task of living as Christians in the face of attacks, in a general atmosphere that does not allow for the free practice of faith. They have little to no say in shaping a government or influencing the harsh conditions they have to endure. 

St. Peter, in one of his ancient letters, admonished Christians to be aware of the exilic nature of their existence in such situations. While most Christians, especially in West African Nigeria, are not literally in exile in their homeland, the conditions that allow faith to thrive continue to be undermined.

It is hard to imagine a more violent attack on Christianity than what occurred in St. Francis Xavier Church in Owo Ondo State, Nigeria. Yet, if this were the only kind of persecution Christians had to face, beefing up security would easily suffice.

The Christian faith has handed down its wisdom for ages: do not expect the best from worldly structures. Man’s highest hopes and expectations lie in God. The kingdom of God is not fulfilled in the realm of politics for most people who profess the Christian faith. The Christian recognizes what is accomplishable for man in terms of the social order, and is content with it. 

This disposition liberates the Christian from expectations that do not belong in the political realm. With particular reference to Nigeria, attacks on the faith are much more than insecurity, which is a national problem. At the root of the secruity issue is the denial of what the faith contributes to the common good, and the failure to treat adherents with the dignity they deserve.

Among other things, the docility of Christians, along with humility and forgiveness, make them sitting ducks. “Yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God.” (1Peter 4:16f) This should not stand in the way of the responsibility of a government to protect and be sensitive to the well-being of people regardless of their faith.

As it is with most crises, condolences come, voices of support are heard, and steps are taken to assuage the pains of the people affected. As the Pentecost attack continues to grab international attention, it is essential that global leaders and men and women of influence look not to the remote causes of the crisis. The most important issue is the current lack of security in Nigeria, and the consequences of this to the freedom of worship.  

While the damage to the social architecture will take a longer time to heal, the response in the face of this kind of crisis must be to attend to the problem at the moment: insecurity. The local community has done a great job, donating blood, raising money for hospital bills, and even burying the dead. This is what is within their capacity. Sadly, they do not have resources to lean on the government to seek an end to the cancer of terrorism which is eating away at the people who, despite all other setbacks, continue to forge ahead.

If for nothing else, at least in the spirit of growth and development Christians and Muslims collectively bring to their communities, a little more should be done to stop the flow of blood in places of worship. 

Islamist MilitantsNigeria
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