News 02 Jun 2023

Nigerian priest calls for beatification of Pentecost Sunday attack victims

One year after the attack on St. Francis Xavier church in Ondo, Nigeria, none of the culprits have been brought to justice. Victims wear their scars as “badges of honour” and their faith is as strong as ever.

A Nigerian priest has called for the beatification of around 40 Christians who were killed in an attack on the parish of St. Francis Xavier, in the town of Owo, Ondo state, on 5 June 2022. The attack, which came to be known as the Pentecost Sunday massacre, also wounded dozens of other Christians, many of whom were left with permanent disabilities.

One year later, in an interview with the Spanish office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Fr. Emmanuel Faweh, rector of St. Albert Institute, in the diocese of Kafanchan, has come out in favour of their beatification. “For me, as a priest in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, it would not be a bad idea if the Church decides to open a cause for the beatification of those who lost their lives in that attack, because they died professing their faith.”

“They died while worshipping God in his own house, so if the Church were to open a process for their beatification, that would go a long way to strengthen the faith of those who are practicing their faith in war-torn areas, or in areas like northern Nigeria, where most of those who go by the name of Christian are persecuted.”

The testimonies of the survivors of this massacre, which ACN published soon after the tragic event, are harrowing, and point to the extreme violence and malice of the terrorists.

The attack on St. Francis Xavier parish was another episode in a long list of attacks on Christian lives and property in Nigeria, carried out by a mix of Islamist terror groups, armed bandits, and ethnic Fulani tribesmen. The purpose is seen largely as an attempt to drive Christians off fertile lands in central Nigeria and to impose Islamic rule in the Muslim-majority northern states. The fact that Ondo is in the West, which is not usually subjected to these attacks, is all the more cause for concern because it indicates that the terrorists may be widening their scope of action. But if the terrorists who attacked on Pentecost Sunday wanted to frighten Christians or weaken their faith, Fr. Emmanuel, says, they failed. 

“Some of the victims still carry their scars and they call them their mark of honour, a reminder that their faith will supersede any kind of attack by those who want to stop the spread of the faith in Nigeria”, he told ACN, citing the example of a victim who attended a celebration to mark the reopening of the attacked parish, on Easter Sunday, this year. “While the celebration was going on, one of the survivors, a nurse who lost both her legs and an eye, was filled with joy and gratitude, and said ‘I have come with my scars as a badge of honour, and there is nothing on the face of the Earth that will make my faith wane’”.

“We remember this terror attack with mixed feelings. There is a feeling of gratitude that despite everything that happens, people still profess their faith, but there is also pain, pain that the government, whose sole responsibility is the protection of life and property, has failed to prosecute the criminals who unleashed this attack on very innocent people one year ago”, says the rector of St. Albert’s Institute, repeating calls already made by other Church leaders that the authorities finally bring the attackers to justice. 

Justice in this case and in many others has been long in coming, but the Christian community has some hope that the new Government, which was sworn in on 29 May, will make a difference. “It is our prayer and hope that the current government will be able to consolidate the fight against terrorism that was started by previous governments. May this government have the will to name those who sponsor these terrorists, and prosecute them, to discourage those who make money out of these crises and the terrorist attacks that have been going on in this country.”

Meanwhile, he tells ACN, “we will remain hopeful, focused, and nothing is going to deter us from worshipping our God in truth and in Spirit.”

- By Filipe d’Avillez 

Featured Image: The St. Francis Catholic church after the terrorist attack. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

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