Nigeria: “They cannot kill our spirit – we must not be afraid”

Nigeria - A scene from the terrorist attacks against ChristiansNigeria – A scene from the terrorist attacks against Christians

After the tragic attacks in Nigeria, the Archbishop of Abuja speaks: “Our young people are furious, but revenge must not prevail. Muslims were among the victims as well.”

The day after the attacks on Christian churches in Nigeria that left at least 40 dead and dozens injured, the Nigerian government announced a special summit on national security for early 2012. Meanwhile, there has been strong condemnation from Nigerian President Jonathan and the entire international community.

But how has the Christian community reacted to this new chain of violent attacks, claimed by the Islamic fundamentalist group “Boko Haram”? In a telephone interview with Vatican Radio, during his visit to the Santa Teresa church in Madalla Mgr. John Olorunfemi Onayekan, Archbishop of Abuja said: “Within the Christian community there are some who have accepted it with resignation, but the great majority approach it with incomprehension. Then there are the young people, who are very angry. We have tried to calm them, but we have also firmly informed the government that the only way to calm the anger of the young people who have lost their brothers and friends, is to convince them that the government is on top of the situation and to identify and eliminate the terrorist dens in this area. We just finished speaking with the Ministry of the Interior, who came out here. The young people asked him: Are you capable of defending us or must each of us defend ourselves and our own families?”

Has the Nigerian Catholic Church issued a message to retake the path of peace and coexistence with the Muslim community? “It is what the Catholic Church and the Nigerian Conference of Bishops have always done,” the bishop observed. “We have done so much to encourage and promote a life of harmony and mutual respect with the Muslim community. We must try, however, to maintain the hope that, despite episodes like these, it is worth the effort to continue down the path of dialogue and reconciliation. The vast majority of Nigerians – Muslim and Christian – want to live together in peace. We want, then, to point out there were also Muslims among the victims of this attack. We went to the hospital to visit the seriously wounded. I’ve spoken and prayed with two Muslims – they were not in the church, just passers-by…”

When asked what he wanted to say to his Christian brothers struck by this tragedy, and to the entire Nigerian Christian community, Mgr. Olorunfemi Onayekan replied: “Since yesterday, the Word of Jesus has been in my mind: You should not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the spirit. We must not fear these people. We must not allow them to kill our spirit: the spirit of coexistence, the spirit of living together with other people, the spirit of mutual respect. There is the great danger that this type of action will create tension and mutual hatred between Christians and Muslims, and this would be an even greater tragedy. The words of the Holy Father, who has been praying for our people, have brought us much comfort. We hope that with the Pope’s prayers and the support of the Catholic community, we will rejoin the path to peace.”

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