It is estimated that 1 in 7 Christians live under persecution worldwide, with 89% of Christians killed located in Nigeria.
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At his weekly general audience, Pope Francis prayed for the soul of Father Isaac Achi, a Nigerian priest who was burned to death in his own rectory on Sunday, January 15. The pope asked those gathered to join him in prayer for Fr. Isaac, as well as all of the Christians facing persecution throughout the world.
According to Reuters, the parish’s rectory was set ablaze by a group of gunmen whose motives remain unknown. The incident follows a trend of attacks on Catholic priests in predominantly Muslim Northern Nigeria.
Vatican News reports that a second priest, Father Collins Omeh, was on the premises and was able to escape the fire. Fr. Omeh, however, did not find safety outside the burning building, as the assailants turned their guns on him. Fr. Omeh reportedly sustained gunshot wounds and is currently hospitalized, but is responding well to treatment.
Bishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, told Vatican News:
“… the two priests, when they had already been injured and the house was about to be burnt down, confessed to each other … while preparing for death. One of them died and the other, fortunately, is recovering. And so, even in the darkness of hate and pain, there is that faith which is stronger than death.”
A report from iMedia notes that just hours later, another incident occurred, this time in Northwestern Nigeria, in which terrorists attacked a church just as parishioners were preparing for Mass. The assailants took five hostages and shot the priest in his hand before making their escape, abducting the hostages in the process.
On Wednesday, Pope Francis lamented the loss of yet another Nigerian cleric, a situation that has become all too common in Nigeria. The World Index of Christian Persecution cites Nigeria as the first in terms of violence against Chritians. It is estimated that 89% of Christians killed throughout the world are located in Nigeria. Furthermore, the organization notes that 1 in 7 Christians of the world live under persecution.
The pope called on the faithful to pray for those Christians facing persecution. He said:
“I ask you all to pray with me for Father Isaac Achi, of the Diocese of Minna, in northern Nigeria, who was killed last Sunday in his parish house.” The pontiff added, “How many Christians suffer violence in their own flesh: Let us pray for them!”