The Knights of Columbus has praised the United States for listing Nigeria as among the worst countries for religious freedom, and calling renewed attention to the mass killings of Christians in Nigeria.

"Nigeria's Christians have suffered grievously at the hands of Boko Haram and other groups," Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, stated on Wednesday, adding that the murders and kidnappings of Christians now "verge on genocide."

Anderson made his statement after the State Department last week declared Nigeria is a "country of particular concern (CPC)," a formal designation reserved for the countries where the worst violations of religious freedom are taking place; the list China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

U.S. Religious freedom ambassador Sam Brownback explained on Dec. 8 that the designation of Nigeria was given both for "religious-tinged violence" and terror groups operating in the country without an "adequate government response."

The Knights of Columbus had been pushing the administration for months to draw attention to the plight of Christians in Nigeria.

"The Christians of Nigeria, both Catholic and Protestant, deserve attention, recognition and relief now," Anderson said. "Nigeria's Christians should be able to live in peace and practice their faith without fear."

Anderson's statement comes after news of another kidnapping of a Catholic priest, Fr. Valentine Ezeagu of the Congregation of Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy. He was kidnapped by four armed men in the southeastern state of Imo, while driving to his father's funeral on Dec. 15.

At least eight priests and seminarians have been kidnapped in Nigeria in 2020, including an 18 year-old seminarian Michael Nnadi who was killed earlier in the year. Last week, hundreds of schoolboys in the country's northwestern state of Katsina were kidnapped and remain missing; the terror group Boko Haram admitted culpability for the attack.

The country's bishops have condemned the violence against Christians; Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja stated on Dec. 15 that "[t]he level of incidents and the apparent impunity have become unacceptable and cannot be excused, for whatever reason."

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Anderson in August announced a new initiative of the Knights focused on religious persecution in Nigeria. Christians have suffered numerous attacks by militant Fulanis and Boko Haram, from killings to kidnappings to atrocities committed against women.

The group is funding the Institute for Ancient and Threatened Christianity (IATC), which collects evidence and testimonies of Christian victims of atrocities to assist with international determinations such as the State Department's CPC designation.

A CPC designation carries with it certain punitive measures, although Brownback said the State Department waived the obligation for the President to act on those measures, with respect to Nigeria and several other countries.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained on Dec. 10, "This is not the case that we want to call [Nigeria] out for the sake of punishment. We want to assist them in moving in the right direction."