.- Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offered their support to the Church in Nigeria after a suicide car bomber attacked a cathedral in the northern region of the country.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones in this attack and with the scores of others who were wounded,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, who chairs the conference’s Committee on International Justice and Peace.
The clergymen expressed their sympathy over a recent suicide bombing in a Sept. 25 letter to Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria.
On the morning of Sept. 13, a suicide car bomber attacked St. John’s Cathedral in Bauchi, a city in northern Nigeria, leaving at least two people dead and 45 injured, many of them seriously.
While no group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, the city of Bauchi has often been the target of violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, a militant Islamic group in Nigeria whose name means “Western education is sinful.”
Boko Haram, which rejects the Nigerian state and seeks to impose strict Shariah law throughout the country, has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on Christians and is reportedly involved with rebels and terrorist groups in the region.
The group has been accused of systematically terrorizing and bombing churches in an attempt to force all Christians out of Nigeria.
Dozens of Christians in northern and central Nigeria have been killed or injured in recent months alone, and according to the BBC, the group has been blamed for attacks that caused the deaths of 1,400 people since 2010.
In July, a U.S. congressional subcommittee hearing discussed ways that the U.S. can respond to the continuing terrorist attacks in the country.
Nigeria's military said that it killed Boko Haram’s spokesman and another leader on Sept. 17.
Calling the suicide attack “horrible and totally unacceptable,” Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Pates voiced “condolences and solidarity,” as well as “great sadness” at the news.
“It is sobering to note that the deaths and injuries could have been even worse had the Church not taken security precautions after the earlier bombing of a church in Bauchi last June,” they said.
Acknowledging “the severity of the threat of violence,” they praised Archbishop Kaigama for his “positive and courageous role of the Church in Nigeria.”
The archbishop responded to the recent attack by saying that it was “shocking,” but that “we must go on with our lives and our work, and not be intimidated by violence.”
Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Pates said they hope “the perpetrators of violence and terror will be brought to justice.”
They assured the archbishop of their “unconditional support to the Church in Nigeria at this difficult time.”
“Bishop Pates’ recent visit to Nigeria is a direct expression of that support,” they said, adding that they are also “organizing assistance for your programs in Jos with the youth.”
In addition, the prelates told the archbishop that they would call on the U.S. State Department to strengthen its support of the Nigeria’s government and civil society in their work “to end these senseless attacks, to address the root causes of the violence, and to rebuild the social fabric of the country.”
“We know that Christians and Muslims will strive to find the courage and the love to continue building right relationships that will promote peace,” they said.