Nigeria’s Catholics Mourn Priests, Parishioners

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Kidnappings and murders of Catholic priests in Nigeria have escalated in recent months as criminals increasingly target communities of faith.

By Peter Ajayi Dada, Catholic News Service

LAGOS, Nigeria (CNS) — The body of a priest was discovered last week, four days after he was abducted from a parish rectory in central Nigeria, an official with the Diocese of Kafanchan reported. Father John Cheitnum was one of two priests kidnapped by assailants July 15 from Christ the King Church in Lere, a town in the central state of Kaduna, Father Emnanuel Okolo, diocesan chancellor, said in a statement.

Father Cheitnum was killed by his abductors on the same day he was whisked away from the parish, Father Okolo said. The second priest, Father Donatus Suleiman, was able to flee the abductors and is safe, the diocese said.

The diocesan chancellor called for prayers for Father Cheitnum and his family, and appealed for people not to take the law into their own hands in retaliating against the abductors should they be found.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned Father Cheitnum’s murder, saying in a July 20 statement that he was “deeply disturbed” by the death caused by “outlaws who seem to be bent on creating chaos and disorder in the country.” He added that the persistent attacks by gunmen on innocent people, including religious figures, was of grave concern for his administration.

After World Mission Sunday Mass at St. Ferdinand Church, pastor Father Jason Torba and Cardinal Blase Cupich greet the congregation, including all those who do mission in Chicago. (Julie Jaidinger, Chicago Catholic/U.S.)

Flowers lie on caskets during a funeral Mass in the the parish hall of St. Francis Xavier Church in Owo, Nigeria, June 17, 2022. The Mass was for at least 50 victims killed in a June 5 attack by gunmen during Mass. (CNS photo/Temilade Adelaja, Reuters)

“Let me reassure Nigerians that my commitment to this issue is as firm as ever. I have always made it a duty to regularly summon security chiefs to discuss these challenges and the way forward,” Buhari said in the statement released by an aide in the capital Abuja.

The kidnappings and the killing were the latest in a series of violent actions against Catholic communities and clergy in recent weeks.

The Kafanchan Diocese reported that during the early morning hours of July 4, Father Emmanuel Silas was abducted from the rectory at St. Charles Parish in Kauru. He was released less than 24 hours later.

Father Vitus Borogo was shot and killed by unknown assailants June 25 while working at a prison farm in Kaduna state. Another priest, Father Christopher Odia, was kidnapped June 26 from the St. Michael Parish rectory in Etsako in Edo state in southwest Nigeria. He died when he was shot by his abductors during a rescue attempt by local police.

On Pentecost, June 6, an estimated 40 to 50 worshippers were killed when gunmen opened fire during morning Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church in Owo in the southwestern state of Ondo. Authorities continue to investigate the incident.

Church officials have decried violence against Catholic targets and urged that government authorities crackdown on armed groups that are carrying out kidnappings and attacks on faith communities.

Featured image: A woman is pictured in a file photo praying during Mass at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Abuja, Nigeria. The body of a priest was discovered July 19, 2022, four days after he was abducted from a parish rectory in central Nigeria, an official with the Diocese of Kafanchan reported. (CNS photo/Afolabi Sotunde, Reuters)

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