Even amid this wave of bloodshed, the Pentecost Sunday massacre stands out as an ominous outlier because it took place in the relatively peaceful southwestern part of the country that, until now, has been spared the violence destabilizing the north. Arogundade believes the attack to be part of a broader movement to establish an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria, which is roughly one-half Muslim.
As with the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the church killings called for quick action, deep reserves of compassion, and tireless pastoral leadership in the face of an overwhelming human tragedy.
“Immediately, I saw a mission entrusted to me,” Arogundade, 60, told CNA. "My first thought was, 'I can really do something about this. I can really bring a further awareness to this. I can reach out to many places.’ And at that point I was ready to talk to anybody who cared to listen to me."
He recognized that as a naturalized U.S. citizen with years of experience and numerous contacts in the United States, he was well positioned to raise awareness about the genocide he believes is underway in Nigeria, in hopes of enlisting the help of the U.S. government to stop it before it’s too late. Among the first to offer Arogundade his support was the leader of his former archdiocese, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.
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Climate claim ‘far-fetched’
Last week, that mission brought Arogundade to Washington, D.C., where he was a guest of the nonprofit Catholic organization Aid to the Church in Need and a featured speaker at the International Religious Freedom Summit. The three-day event shone a light on cases of religious persecution going on throughout the world.
The soft-spoken bishop delivered a blunt and sobering message. “What’s going on now is genocide,” he told CNA. “It's pure ethno-religious cleansing. That's what it is. And it’s getting worse.”
Arogundade said the Buhari government must do more to protect innocent civilians. He said he hoped his discussions with lawmakers in Washington would raise pressure on the Nigerian leaders “to be proactive and to even seek help if they cannot manage the situation.”
Nigerian authorities have said the church attack bore the markings of a Nigerian ISIS affiliate, not Fulani herdsmen. Security experts are skeptical, however, noting that the group hasn’t claimed responsibility for the attack. No arrests have been made.
Whoever the culprits are, the attack underscores the fact that Nigeria is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a Christian. More than 4,650 Christians were killed there last year, roughly 13 per day, or about one killing every two hours, according to a report by the watchdog group Open Doors. That number represented 80% of such deaths the group recorded worldwide over a 12-month reporting period.
Yet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, without explanation, last year removed Nigeria from a list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) so designated because of severe violations of religious freedom. The current list names Burma, People’s Republic of China, Eritrea, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. The 2022 list is currently under review.
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Arogundade also has spoken out against attempts to explain these attacks as being rooted in a clash over shrinking resources due to the effects of climate change, or to a combination of complex factors.The president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, appeared to suggest as much when he said after the Pentecost Sunday massacre “that such an attack was made in a place of worship is a source of particular condemnation, as is any attempt to scapegoat pastoral peoples who are among the foremost victims of the consequences of climate change.”
Alerted to Higgins’ statement, Arogundade fired off one of his own.
“While thanking the Honorable Mr. Higgins for joining others to condemn the attack and offering his sympathy to the victims, his reasons for this gruesome massacre are incorrect and far-fetched,” Arogundade said in a message dated June 10.
“To suggest or make a connection between victims of terror and consequences of climate change is not only misleading but also exactly rubbing salt to the injuries of all who have suffered terrorism in Nigeria,” he said.
“The victims of terrorism are of another category to which nothing can be compared! It is very clear to anyone who has been closely following the events in Nigeria over the past years that the underpinning issues of terror attacks, banditry, and unabated onslaught in Nigeria and in the Sahel Region and climate change have nothing in common.”
‘Doing the right thing’