Boko Haram

Catholic US News

Nigeria has become an anti-Christian ‘bloodbath,’ report claims

Santa Ana, Calif., Jun 6, 2014 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A report released Tuesday by the non-profit Open Doors International places Nigeria at the top of a list of ten countries which are the worst violent persecutors of Christians.

“The alarming increase of violence against Christians in Nigeria over the past months highlights the lack of religious freedom they have and the daily dangers they face from the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram and other violent Islamic organizations,” David Curry, president of Open Doors USA, stated June 3. “It is turning into a bloodbath.”

The organization’s World Watch Top 10 Violence List was based on incidents of violent persecution counted between Nov. 1, 2012 and March 31, 2014. According to researchers, the numbers were very minimal and “could be significantly higher.”

Nigeria topped the number of faith-based killings of Christians, with 2,073 martyrdoms; Syria and Central African Republic followed, with 1,479 and 1,115 killings respectively.

The report estimated the average monthly number of Christian martyrdoms at 322 during the time period. 3,641 Christian properties and churches were destroyed, and 13,120 incidents of “other forms of violence” were reported; such incidents included beatings, abductions, rapes, and arrests.

Concerning Nigeria, the World Watch List stated that the terror group Boko Haram “continues to attack Christians on a large scale by burning down and bombing churches and Christian property, and assaulting and kidnapping Christian women and girls.”

Recently, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos called for a global effort to defeat the radical Islamist group, maintaining that it “is faithful to its target of eliminating and destroying Christianity from parts of the country.”

Last month alone, Boko Haram was blamed for two bombings which killed nearly 300 persons, and took credit for the April kidnapping of nearly 300 teenaged schoolgirls.

Syria ranked second on the Top 10 Violence List. Open Doors reported that Christians there are a “considerable minority,” caught in the midst of the country’s more than three year civil war.

“Many churches are damaged or destroyed, in many cases deliberately,” the report stated, adding that Islamists among the rebels have committed such violence as the October, 2013 massacre of 45 citizens of the Christian village of Sadad, where victims were buried in mass graves.

Also near the top of the list were Egypt and Central African Republic. After the administration of Mohammed Morsi fell last summer, sectarian attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt rose to a level Amnesty International called “unprecedented,” culminating in attacks on 80 churches last August.

Meanwhile, Séléka rebels in Central African Republic have “deliberately targeted Christian villages, killed Christians and assaulted women and girls in the North in their quest to Islamize the country,” Open Doors reported.

The country ranked third on the list in anti-Christian killings, but the numbers are “most likely to be underreported” because of “limited access” to sources in parts of the country.

Colombia was featured on the Top 10 Violence List because organized corruption there targets Christians for such activities as political leadership, journalism, and advocacy for human, indigenous, and environmental rights.

“Their Christian conviction leads them to act in ways that threaten vested interests of criminal networks,” Open Doors stated.

The other countries featured on the list were Mexico, Pakistan, India, Kenya, and Iraq.

Open Doors listed “Islamic extremism” as the “major engine” of persecution in seven of the top ten countries, but added that “tribal antagonism and organized corruption” are other “main persecution engines.”

North Korea was omitted from the list “due to an inability to derive sufficiently accurate figures about the reasons for killing Christians in this most secretive society,” said Jan Vermeer, Open Doors’ field worker in the country.

“When it comes to counting the numbers of Christians martyred, it is impossible to get an accurate number for North Korea,” he said, adding that “it is a fact that thousands of Christians are starved, abused and tortured in North Korean’s extensive prison system.”

Open Doors also produced a World Watch List of the 50 countries in which Christians are most persecuted. That list is topped by North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan; it differs from the Top 10 Violence List because it considers all forms of persecution, rather than solely violence.

Vatican analyst John Allen, whose book “The Global War on Christians” was published in 2013, told CNA last fall that “martyrdom is very much a feature of the contemporary Christian landscape” and that defending Christians against persecution “deserves to be the world’s number one human rights priority.”

His book reported that 100,000 Christians had been killed in the first decade of the 21st century, 11 new martyrs every hour.

Allen did blame radical forms of Islam for “a fair share of Christian suffering around the world,” but emphasized that other world religions and powers targeted Christians as well.

The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need also published a report on Christian persecution in 2013, title “Persecuted and Forgotten,” detailing how the situation for Christians is worsening in “20 of the 30 countries of greatest concern.” The report added that in most of those countries, Christians have seen a “severe decline” in their livelihood.

The organization’s director of evangelization and outreach told CNA recently that Christians face “many, many challenges” worldwide and that the global persecution “has increased over the last 10 to 15 years.”

Catholic World News

Christians and Muslims united in Nigeria, says bishop

Jos, Nigeria, May 14, 2014 / 01:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Boko Haram’s April kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls has brought Nigerians, as well as people across the world, into solidarity with each other across religious divides, one of the country’s bishops has said.

The girls, most of them aged between 16 and 18, were kidnapped April 14 from their boarding school in Borno, Nigeria’s northeastern-most state. Members of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram have claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. All but 53 of the girls, who escaped, are still in the hands of their captors.

“They are just innocent girls and every human being feels bad about this. Life is sacred,” Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos told the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need May 13.

Boko Haram has been terrorizing Nigeria since 2009, but this incident attracted international attention, Archbishop Kaigama said, “I think, because they are innocent young girls and also because it touches directly the suffering of women, the mothers of these children. And women can identify themselves more with the pain of others. The women started holding demonstrations – both Christian and Muslim women.”

“Nigerians are standing up together for freedom and dignity; a common voice is growing up, a voice that says: ‘violence is never the way.’”

The archbishop noted that while Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” began with opposition to Christianity and Western values, its onus has spread. The radical Islamist group has also killed moderate Muslim clergy and seeks to impose Sharia law on Nigeria.

“It is no longer about north or south, nor about Muslims or Christians. It is about human beings.”

Archbishop Kaigama noted that while most of the kidnapped girls are Christian, “it is also true that there are some Muslims who were also kidnapped. So this incident is further evidence to show that Boko Haram is also targeting Muslims to some extent.”

The militant group – which was labeled by the U.S. last year as a foreign terrorist organization after years of human rights advocacy groups calling for the designation – is strongly opposed to the education of girls.

Boko Haram, the archbishop said, wants “to hurt the heart of Nigeria. I am very worried. These girls have never been outside of their village, and now they are in the bush. I just pray that the religious values that Boko Haram promotes are sufficient to influence them to respect the dignity of these girls.”

Boko Haram’s attacks have killed thousands since 2009; according to the BBC, they have killed 1,500 in 2014 alone. The U.N. estimates that the attacks have led to more than 470,000 internally displaced persons, and some 57,000 refugees.

The Nigerian government has come under criticism for failing to provide security or to respond adequately to the mass kidnapping, and to the crisis in general; on May 13, it announced its readiness to negotiate with Boko Haram for the girls’ release.

“The government underestimated the Boko Haram crisis and was therefore slow in reacting,” Archbishop Kaigama reflected. “Part of the problem is that resources were not used in the right way to provide adequate support for the security agents and the proper equipment they need to combat the violence.”

He added that according to some security sources, Boko Haram is equipped with more sophisticated and developed weapons than are the Nigerian police and military.

At three villages in Borno on May 14, vigilantes in three villages repelled an attack by Boko Haram; an eyewitness told the BBC that some 200 militants had been killed.

It was reported that at the same time, disgruntled Nigerian soldiers elsewhere in Borno had opened fire on the convoy of a military commander, protesting poor pay and the lack of proper equipment needed to combat Boko Haram.

Archbishop Kaigama also noted that “soldiers have been killed trying to defend people and their families have not received enough help.”

“It is important that these families receive assistance.”

Returning to a discussion of the abducted schoolgirls, Archbishop Kaigama said that “at this stage, what we need to do is to pray: only God can move the heart of these people.”

The archbishop is praying that the kidnappers return the girls soon, without harm; that Boko Haram abandons violence; and that the Nigerian government will be aided by other nations to combat terrorism, hunger, and poverty.

“We pray and we request your prayers,” he concluded. “As president of the bishops’ conference, I wrote to all the Catholics in Nigeria to have an hour of adoration, asking all the bishops, priests and faithful to offer prayer.”

Catholic US News

Religious leaders can help counter Boko Haram, US bishops say

Washington D.C., May 13, 2014 / 04:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Denouncing the “heinous” kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, the U.S. bishops have urged their government to partner with both Christians and Muslims in the country to counter Boko Haram.

“Building unity among all Nigerians will help build peace and prosperity for all,” Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines told National Security Adviser Susan Rice in a May 9 letter.

“I am encouraged that the United States Government has taken additional measures to help the Nigerian government bring perpetrators to justice,” continued Bishop Pates, who is chair of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee.

Nearly 300 girls, most of them aged between 16 and 18, were kidnapped April 14 from their boarding school in Borno, Nigeria’s northeastern-most state, by members of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram. All but 53 of the girls, who escaped, are still in the hands of their captors.

Bishop Pates encouraged the U.S. to help the Nigerian government promote national security and social development.

“Partner with civil society, especially faith-based institutions, both Christian and Muslim, to strengthen their efforts to stop the violence and build social cohesion,” he encouraged. “Their efforts will be crucial in counteracting the extremist religious views espoused by Boko Haram.”

Bishop Pates said the Church in Nigeria has called for “continuous dialogue” among political, military, and religious leaders to end the violence. The Church has also called for “effective policy and military action” to bring violent perpetrators to justice, “while respecting human and civil rights.”

He asked the U.S. to increase its support for the Church, which has “always been a voice for peace” and has “actively worked” with the Muslim community in interfaith dialogue and “people to people peacebuilding.”

Bishop Pates cited the words of Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, who has called for the defense of religious freedom. The cardinal called this “the second most important right after the right to life itself.”

The U.S. bishop said he has written to the Nigerian cardinal to express the bishops’ condolences at the kidnappings and to encourage the Nigerian people “in their constant efforts to counter the forces of religious extremism and social division.”

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful,” launched an uprising in 2009 and hopes to impose sharia law on Nigeria. It has targeted security forces, politicians, Christian minorities, and moderate Muslims in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north.

The April 14 kidnapping caused international outcry and drew condemnation from Christian and Muslim religious leaders. The Nigerian government has come under criticism for failing to provide security or to respond adequately to the mass kidnapping.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau had threatened to sell the captured girls into slavery. In a video released May 12, he said the group will keep as captives any girls who have not accepted Islam.

He has offered to exchange the other girls for Boko Haram members currently in prison, but Nigeria’s interior minister has rejected the offer.

Boko Haram’s attacks have killed thousands since 2009; according to the BBC, they have killed 1,500 in 2014 alone. The U.N. estimates that the attacks have led to more than 470,000 internally displaced persons in Nigeria.

The U.S. recognized Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization in November 2013, after a lengthy advocacy effort from human rights and Christian groups.

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