Fear of Western Education and of Christianity
Recent reports emerging from Nigeria are nothing short of chilling. They tell of some 300 hundred girls who have been abducted en masse from a boarding school in Chibok, Borno State in northeastern Nigeria by the Islamist extremists. In mid-April the girls were there to take their exams. These ultraconservative jihadists, condemned even by Al Qaeda, are doing such hideous things that they “makes Al Qaeda look like a bunch of schoolgirls,” writes Bronwyn Bruton, an African scholar at the Atlantic Council in Washington.
What does Boko Harmas want? It is determined to destroy the Nigerian state for fear that western education will corrupt it. Underlying this fear is fear of women, fear of educating them. The name Bolo Haram connotes “deceptive or Western education is forbidden.”
A second and more ambitious goal of Boko Haram is turning all of Nigeria into a Muslim state. Nigeria is a country of 170 million divided between the predominantly Muslim north and mainly Christian south. At present, Boko Haram is intent on forcing conversion of its Christian captives to profess Islam. Boko Haram models itself after Afghanistan’s Taliban which is bitterly opposed to secular and Western education and Christianity. Little progress has been made to find the girls, though some have escaped from their captors. As of this writing, a show-down is in play that would exchange official prisoners of the government for the girls. This is an ongoing story subject to breaking news by the day and even the hour.
In late February, at a boarding school in Yobe in northeastern Nigeria, attacks were carried in the middle of the night last February that included mutilation of teenage boys. At the time, they were asleep in their beds. Similarly, a gruesome mass killing took place in an agricultural college in Yobe. Gunmen opened fire in the middle of the night as students slept.
The story of Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe’s mission concerns the attempt of one woman to overturn the twenty-five year atrocity in Northern Uganda headed by Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). In the documentary and book, Sewing Hope, written by Reggie Whitten and Nancy Henderson, girls have been systematically abducted, forced to commit crimes against their own families, and have been sold into captivity as sex slaves for the lurid pleasure of Kony and his officers. If and when the girls are released, society shuns them.
When Sister Rosemary first encounters these girls, she must rekindle that light within that has all but been snuffed out by slavery at the hands of perverted men. Their rehabilitation is largely due to Sister Rosemary who has fought to redress this horror and restore dignity to these young women.
Saint Monica’s Tailoring School
Playing on the words, sewing hope, Sister Rosemary opened a small orphanage some years ago. In reality, it is a home and a shelter for these young victims of violence, rape, and sexual exploitation. Sister’s first intention is to love these girls with unselfish love so that, in turn, they can love and respect themselves. Having received love, they are able to love their own children and then to others. While they are in the process of making clothes in their tailor shop, they begin to stitch their lives back together. By learning skills, they gain self-respect and independence. In a sense, they marry their skills.
Time Magazine has acclaimed Sister Rosemary as among the one hundred most influential people in the world. She has already been compared to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Patron Saint of Slave Ransom
Among the thousands of saints venerated by the Church through the ages, St. Raymond Nonnatus was a thirteenth-century Mercedarian Friar whose Order was dedicated to ransoming captives, especially in Africa. He traveled across North Africa where he was able to ransom hundreds in Algiers, hundreds more in Tunis, and still larger numbers elsewhere. Because of his devotion to these most vulnerable, he himself was captured by the Moors at whose hands he suffered extreme torture.
Little did we suspect that, 800 years later, ransoming slaves would again surface as an atrocity that has called forth the attention of the international community. They reveal the ugly power of the mighty assaulting the weakest of society. And such atrocities are perpetrated with impunity. They cry out to the world—again—that human life has little or no value. Helpless girls and boys have been treated like disposable objects existing solely to satisfy the corrupt and lustful craze of criminals.
Today, about 75 percent of men, women, and children throughout the world suffer from bias, mostly religious and cultural. Persecution runs the gamut from extreme torture to harassment. Those of us not directly engaged in repairing this human rights issue pray for the courage of the persecuted. And let Jesus’ warning remind us: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt 18:6; Mk 9:42; Lk 17:2).
Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].