The bishops of Nigeria have praised Pope Francis' "inspiring leadership," saying his Sept. 7 vigil for peace in Syria highlighted "the constant need of prayer for peace" in their country as well.

"Prayer for peace is not an afterthought to the work of peace, but the very essence of building the peace of order, justice and freedom," they said in a September communique.

"Indeed, to pray for peace is to pray for justice, for freedom, for a right-ordering of relations within and among nations and peoples. Above all, it is to seek God's forgiveness and to forgive those who have trespassed against us."

The communique comes at the close of the bishops' Second Plenary Meeting, held Sept. 5-13 in the town of Otukpo in the south-central Nigerian state of Benue.

The bishops hailed Pope Francis, saying he "continues to astound the world with a leadership model of humility, modesty and simplicity, becoming a beacon of hope for the poor."

"We equally admire his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who, by his historic and heroic resignation, showed that true leadership is selfless and that good leadership creates space for others."

The bishops welcomed Pope Francis' first encyclical "Lumen Fidei." They praised participants in the spiritual and social activities of the Year of Faith, praying for continued efforts to strengthen Christian faith.

The bishops noted recent events in Nigeria including the creation of the Diocese of Gboko and the Diocese of Katsina-Ala, both in Benue state, last December. Veritas University in Abuja, a Catholic university sponsored by Nigeria's bishops, has graduated its first class. Nigeria's first National Catholic Health Summit will take place in Abuja this October.

They also addressed other concerns facing the country. They called for more action to counter the menace of armed robbery and kidnapping, criticizing the illegal importation and circulation of small arms in Nigeria.

"We sympathize with all families who have lost their loved ones since the Boko Haram menace began," the bishops said, praising the government's "bold measures" against the militant Islamist group.

The bishops also criticized the use of the death penalty, saying the lives of condemned criminals "remain sacred and demand deep compassion."

They warned against "the continuous attempts made by foreign agencies to introduce unwholesome values," including a campaign for abortion, condom promotions, and efforts to promote same-sex unions.

"We reject vehemently the slightest attempt by anyone to promote the culture of death and call on such people to repent of their ways."

"We appeal to the good people of Nigeria to also reject such moves, lest we stand to lose our faith, cultural identity and pride. We reiterate our commitment to the sanctity of life from the very moment of its conception to the time of natural death."

The Nigerian Senate's rejection of a same-sex "marriage" bill drew congratulations from the bishops, who said these unions are "truly unnatural, unwholesome, and contrary to the plan of God."

Nigeria's bishops condemned corruption and the abuse of power in the country's government. They urged accountability and transparency in government and the improvement of the lives of people.

The bishops' plenary meeting included a session with priests from throughout Nigeria. The session aimed to renew bishops' and priests' mission to teach, sanctify and govern the people of God, and included a renewed pledge of loyalty and obedience to the Pope.

The meeting also condemned the actions of many of the priests of the Diocese of Ahiara who have vocally protested the appointment of Bishop Peter Okpaleke on the grounds that he is not from the Mbaise people, the ethnic group whom the diocese serves.

"We consider their attitude as an affront to the Holy Father who has the sole prerogative of appointing bishops," the bishops said. "We call on the priests to review their position, recant and accept in love their shepherd."

The bishops criticized some universities' denial of land for Catholic chaplaincies, calling on federal and state governments to "foster the right to religious freedom" by setting aside land for places of worship and by removing barriers to land acquisition.

The bishops' communique closed with a prayer, asking that "the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first disciple and Mother of the Church, be our model and intercede for us in this Year of Faith."