Catholics in Aotearoa, New Zealand stand in solidarity and pray with parishioners at St Francis Xavier Church in Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria following the monstrous atrocities committed during their mass of Pentecost Sunday.
Unidentified gunmen attacked the church during mass, killing up to 50 parishioners and injuring many others. It was a shocking tragedy in what is normally the peaceful southwestern part of Nigeria.
The Catholic Bishops of Aotearoa support the message sent by Pope Francis to Bishop Jude Ayodeji Arogundade and the faithful of the Diocese of Ondo, conveying the Pope’s pain in the face of the attack and assuring the spiritual closeness of His Holiness to the people affected by the “indescribable act of violence”.
We also note and affirm the comments of the National Chairman of the Catholic Laity Council of Nigeria, Sir Henry Yunkwap, that ordinary Nigerians are fed up with the words of their political leaders and want action to be taken, including the arrest and urgent prosecution of the perpetrators of this evil. law.
Nigeria has seen increasing lawlessness in recent years, largely directed against its Christian communities, which make up around 45% of the population. Sunday’s attack came a week after the leader of the Methodist Church in Nigeria was kidnapped and ransomed for his release. Two Catholic priests were kidnapped a fortnight ago in the home state of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari. Many New Zealanders will remember the horror of the kidnapping of Christian schoolgirls by a terrorist group. Churches have been attacked before, but not with the savagery seen on Sunday.
New Zealanders have a particular empathy for the victims of atrocities in religious places, due to our recent experience of the Christchurch mosque tragedies in 2019.
We ask all New Zealand Catholics to pray for their parishioner sisters and brothers in Owo and to pray for peace in Nigeria. We also stand with Pope Francis in praying “for the conversion of those who are blinded by hatred and violence, so that they choose instead the path of peace and justice.”
John Dew, Cardinal Archbishop of Wellington, Apostolic Administrator of Palmerston North and President of NZCBC
Michael Dooley, Bishop of Dunedin
Michael Gielen, Bishop of Christchurch
Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Auckland, Apostolic Administrator of Hamilton and Secretary of NZCBC
Paul Martin SM, Coadjutor Archbishop of Wellington.
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