Croatian aid meant to show victims of Nigeria church attack that 'you are not forgotten'

Nigeria church attack Croatian parliament member Marijana Petir initiated the proposal to send about $30,000 in government aid to victims of the Nigerian Pentecost Sunday Mass attack on June 5, 2022. | Courtesy of Marijana Petir

The bishop of the Nigerian diocese where gunmen killed 41 people at a Pentecost Sunday Mass said he is grateful to the government of Croatia for donating nearly $30,000 to help the families of victims and survivors of the attack.

“Thank God for the assistance we’ve gotten,” Bishop Jude Arogundade of the Diocese of Ondo told CNA on Monday. “It has been very helpful because we still have 17 people in the hospital who are in a very critical situation.”

The attack happened the morning of June 5 at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo in southwestern Nigeria. Gunmen posing as worshippers opened fire and detonated explosives toward the end of the Mass. Some who managed to escape from the church were cut down by gunmen waiting outside.

Islamic militants are believed to be responsible but no arrests have been made to date.

Croatian parliament member Marijana Petir initiated the donation proposal. In an interview with CNA Monday, Petir said the funds were meant to send the message to victims’ families and survivors that “they are not alone, they are not forgotten.”

The donation of 30,000 euros (approximately $29,000 US) from Croatia will be distributed by the U.S. branch of Caritas.

Concern for religious freedom

Petir said she was moved to help those suffering in Nigeria because their human rights, including the right to practice their faith, are being violated.

A member of the European Parliament from 2014-2019, Petir said she has followed the issue of religious freedom for some time, paying close attention to reports by Aid to the Church in Need and Open Doors that show that Nigeria is one of the most dangerous countries in which to be a Christian.

“I had an opportunity to meet a girl who was abducted and raped by Boko Haram, and I was really inspired with her case, because she told me that she was praying for her persecutors so that their hearts would change and they would come to know Jesus,” Petir said. 

It was “really shocking,” she said, “because when you survive that kind of persecution and then you have strength after that to pray that Jesus will convert the heart of your persecutors, it’s a really strong sign of faith.”

Concern for the issue of religious freedom led Petir to propose an initiative to sponsor young, persecuted Christians for studies in Croatia.

The Croatian government is offering the scholarships for the second year. Around 200,000 euros has been set aside to pay for the studies and accommodation of young Christians from India, Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria, Benin, and Ethiopia.

This year, more than 6,500 students applied for the scholarships, Petir said. “It shows that people are really in need, that persecution of Christians is really high.”

“It’s maybe important to stress,” she added, “that we don’t help Christians because they are Christians, we help them because they are the most persecuted religion in the world.”

Aid committee in place

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The money from Croatia is the second major donation received to date, Arogundade said. The other one, about $25,000, came from the nonprofit group Humanitarian Interchurch Aid. Local donors also have contributed thousands of dollars, he said.

The money raised so far has helped pay for victims’ funerals and medical care for those injured in the attack, and provided for the immediate educational and material needs of the children of those who were killed, Arogundade said.

A committee of priests, religious sisters, and community members will oversee the distribution of other available funds to meet longer-term needs, he said.

“We want to be able to respond to each person’s case in a way that will stabilize them. We don't just want to be dishing out money or dishing out materials that will not help in the long run,” Arogundade said. “So we are taking our time and responding according to the needs of individuals and according to the plan of the committee that was set up to take care of victims’ families.”

Another expense will be to repair the damage to St. Francis Xavier Church, which remains closed. The project will include a memorial to those who lost their lives in the attack, Arogundade said.

For more information about how to contribute to the fundraising effort, email the diocese at [email protected]

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