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Pope Francis prays for victims of Islamist attack in Nigeria that left 30 beheaded

or021220085822 0007 Pope Francis touches a statue of Our Lady of Luján at his general audience in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace Dec. 2, 2020. / Vatican Media.

Pope Francis said Wednesday that he was praying for Nigeria following a massacre of at least 110 farmers in which Islamist militants beheaded an estimated 30 people.

“I want to assure my prayers for Nigeria, where blood has unfortunately been spilled once more in a terrorist massacre,” the pope said at the end of his general audience Dec. 2.

“Last Saturday, in the northeast of the country, more than 100 farmers were brutally killed. May God welcome them in His peace and comfort their families, and convert the hearts of those who commit similar atrocities which gravely offend His name.”

The Nov. 28 attack in Borno State is the most violent direct attack against civilians in Nigeria this year, according to Edward Kallon, the United Nations’ Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria.

Among the 110 people killed, roughly 30 people were beheaded by the militants, according to Reuters. Amnesty International has also reported that 10 women are missing after the attack.

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No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but local anti-jihadist militia told AFP that the Boko Haram operate in the area and frequently attack farmers. The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has also been named as a possible perpetrator of the massacre.

More than 12,000 Christians in Nigeria have been killed in Islamist attacks since June 2015, according to a 2020 report by the Nigerian human rights organization, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety). 

The same report found that 600 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first five months of 2020. 

Christians in Nigeria have been beheaded and set on fire, farms have been set ablaze, and priests and seminarians have been targeted for kidnapping and ransom.

Fr. Matthew Dajo, a priest from the Archdiocese of Abuja, was kidnapped on Nov. 22. He has not been released, according to the archdiocesan spokesman.

Dajo was abducted by gunmen during an attack on the town of Yangoji, where his parish St. Anthony’s Catholic Church is located. Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja has issued a call for prayers for his safe release.

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Kidnappings of Catholics in Nigeria are an ongoing problem that not only affects priests and seminarians, but also lay faithful, Kaigama said.

Since 2011, Islamist group Boko Haram has been behind many abductions, including that of 110 students kidnapped from their boarding school in Feb. 2018. Of those kidnapped, one Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, is still being held.

The local Islamic State-affiliated group has also carried out attacks in Nigeria. The group was formed after the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2015. The group was then renamed the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

In February, U.S Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told CNA that the situation in Nigeria was deteriorating.

“There’s a lot of people getting killed in Nigeria, and we're afraid it is going to spread a great deal in that region,” he told CNA. “It is one that's really popped up on my radar screens -- in the last couple of years, but particularly this past year.”

“I think we’ve got to prod the [Nigerian President Muhammadu] Buhari government more. They can do more,” he said. “They’re not bringing these people to justice that are killing religious adherents. They don’t seem to have the sense of urgency to act.”

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