Catholics risk their lives to attend Mass in Nigerian city

Catholics in a Nigerian city are risking their lives to attend Sunday Mass, as their community has fallen prey to violence from radical extremists.

“There were a lot of bomb explosions, but that did not seem to deter people from coming to church,” said Fr John Bakeni, the celebrant of a March 14 Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Maiduguri.

Fr Bakeni said more than 2000 people packed the cathedral.

People told him later that “if the attacks would worsen they would rather die in church than anywhere else”.

During the Mass,Fr Bakeni said, he told the congregation “that there was no need to preach”.

“I told them: ‘Your presence in such large numbers is a homily in itself.’”

“Please pray that this violence will stop.”

The Mass was held during violent attacks on the city, allegedly by radical Islamist group Boko Haram.

The attacks included rocket-propelled grenades and attacks on the city’s military barracks.

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful,” has declared its animosity for Christianity and the Church, educational institutions, the Nigerian government, and moderate Muslims.

Similar attacks have ignited violent reprisals by pro-Christian militias in the Central African Republic.

But Christian leaders in Nigeria continue to insist on a path of dialogue and nonviolence.

The clerics have also pressed President Goodluck Jonathan to use the state security services against the militants.

These Christian leaders want Jonathan to negotiate with Boko Haram leadership and end the campaign of terror.

Recently, militants have slaughtered both Christians and Muslims in the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

Driven by the view that non-Muslims are infidels, the militants have attacked churches, government security installations and other institutions.

By 2013, more than 10,000 civilians had been killed in the insurgency which escalated in 2009.

“Nigerians are dying like chickens,” said Rev. Evaristus Bassey, national director of Caritas Nigeria, in a statement.

The United Nations estimates the attacks have led to more than 470,000 internally displaced persons in Nigeria.

Catholic Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme said the Boko Haram insurgency is the product of corruption, which the federal government should be combating.



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