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Catholic archbishop urges renewed prayers for kidnapped bishop amid ‘misleading’ reports

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A Catholic archbishop called Tuesday for renewed prayers for a kidnapped bishop following “misleading” reports about the bishop’s fate.

Archbishop Anthony Obinna urged “all Christ’s faithful and people of goodwill” to disregard reports that kidnappers had killed Bishop Moses Chikwe.

A Dec. 29 statement issued on Obinna’s behalf said: “This information is unconfirmed, misleading and does not come from the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri.”

“We continue to appeal that all join the archbishop in prayers for the release of Bishop Chikwe and Mr. Ndubuisi Robert, his driver.”

Chikwe, the auxiliary bishop of Owerri archdiocese, was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 27, in Owerri, the capital of Imo State in southeastern Nigeria.

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The website of the Nigerian newspaper The Sun reported that the bishop was kidnapped “alongside his driver in his official car” and that the vehicle “was later returned to Assumpta roundabout, while the occupants were believed to have been taken to an unknown destination.”

Obinna told Vatican News Dec. 29 that the 53-year-old bishop was kidnapped as he was returning from a visit to his residence.

“Kidnapping has, of course, been going on in Nigeria, in different parts of Nigeria. That it has happened to my auxiliary bishop shows that the security situation in Nigeria is very bad,” he said. 

“The protection, the security, that the people ought to have is not very effective. We have periodically raised the alarm about the state of insecurity in which we find ourselves.”

The archbishop added: “The Church is not far removed from the people. We are not insulated from the suffering of the people. We take it as part of our testimony that we have to bear.”

Local media reported that Imo State Police Command had activated two groups, the Quick Intervention Team and the Anti-Kidnapping Unit, to help rescue the bishop. 

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Chikwe was born on April 4, 1967, in Uzoagba-Ikeduru, Imo State. He was ordained a priest of Owerri archdiocese on July 6, 1996, at the age of 29. He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Owerri on Oct. 17, 2019, and ordained bishop on Dec. 12 of that year at Assumpta Cathedral in Owerri.

Chikwe’s abduction is the latest in a series of kidnappings that have targeted clergy in Nigeria, but previous abductions have involved priests and seminarians, not bishops.

On Dec. 15, Fr. Valentine Oluchukwu Ezeagu, a member of the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy, was kidnapped in Imo State en route to his father’s funeral in the neighboring Anambra State. He was “unconditionally released” the following day.

Fr. Matthew Dajo, a priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja, was freed on Dec. 2 after 10 days in captivity. 

Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, quoted Fr. Patrick Alumuku, director of communications of Abuja archdiocese, as saying that the bishops’ kidnapping was unusual compared to other cases.

He noted that shots had been fired inside the car, but there were no traces of blood.

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“What is also strange is the fact that the bishop’s car was brought back. In addition, the kidnappers left the sacred vestments which were found inside the car,” he told Fides.

He added that “99% of kidnappings for extortion purposes are committed by Fulani pastors [herdsmen], but it is really unusual that they had the courage to carry out a kidnapping in a city like that of Owerri, in southeast Nigeria, with a Christian majority.”

He said that the only precedent was the kidnapping of Fr. Dajo in the town of Yangoji, near the Nigerian capital of Abuja.

Catholic bishops in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, have repeatedly called on the government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, to do more to protect its citizens.

In a collective statement issued Oct. 1, marking the 60th anniversary of the country’s independence, the bishops said: “It is just unimaginable and inconceivable to celebrate Nigeria at 60 when our roads are not safe; our people are kidnapped, and they sell their properties to pay ransom to criminals.”

The U.S. State Department recently named Nigeria as a “country of particular concern,” a formal designation reserved for nations with the worst records on religious freedom, including China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

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A Nigerian Catholic bishop told members of Congress earlier this month that Christians faced “genocide” in the country’s Middle Belt, the area between the mainly Muslim north and largely Christian south. 

“The mass slaughter of Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, by every standard, meets the criteria for a calculated genocide from the definition of the Genocide Convention,” Bishop William Avenya of Gboko, in the center of Nigeria, told a congressional commission.

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