Boko Haram Suffers Setback, Refugees Return Home

ACN photo: Faithful in the Diocese of Maiduguri

ACN photo: Faithful in the Diocese of Maiduguri

“It is all up to God—it’s not up to us to avenge and take retribution.” That’s the message proclaimed by Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri, Nigeria, one of the dioceses heaviest hit by the deadly raids of Boko Haram.

Over the past few weeks, a strike force of the Nigerian army joined by troops from Chad and Cameroon has reclaimed several Nigerian towns that had been occupied Boko Haram, allowing the first refugees to return home. Their pastoral care is the bishop’s primary concern as he is travelling through his diocese during the Easter season. At some stops, confessions took as long as three hours, the bishop’s staff told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

There is great sorrow to contend with. Most of the faithful had fled into neighbouring Cameroon. Many perished along the way. Homes were looted, their churches burned down. Some parents have not found their children yet. Old people who were unable to flee were killed by Boko Haram when they refused to renounce their faith. Still, the bishop preaches a message of forgiveness.

The suffering and devastation in the largest diocese of Nigeria is great:about 5000 of the diocese’s 125,000 Catholics have been killed; and 100,000 people have fled, including 26 of the 46 priests of the diocese, more than 200 catechists and more than 30 nuns.

Of the 40 parish centers, 22 are currently deserted or still occupied by Boko Haram. More than 350 churches have been destroyed. Three quarters of all Catholic schools remain closed.

In a recent letter to the Nigerian bishop’s conference, Pope Francis noted that both Christians and Muslims in Nigeria are suffering under religious extremism. Pope Francis wrote that Boko Haram claims to pursue a religious vision, “but [that] they abuse religion to make of it an ideology for their own distorted interests of exploitation and murder.”

The Pope thanked the Nigerian bishops, priests and missionaries for their commitment to peace and emphasized that any form of violence is to be rejected. “Do not grow tired of doing what is right,” Pope Francis urged.

In 2014, the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need supported the work of the Catholic Church in all 56 dioceses in Nigeria with some $1.2M.

Most of the aid money was used towards building projects, Mass stipends and the training of priests. Nigerian parishes, monasteries and convents also received money for fuel for the vehicles used for pastoral care and equipment to bake hosts.

In response to the great need in the Diocese of Maiduguri, ACN in 2014 provided $55,000 in emergency relief for displaced persons.

Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action. Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world. The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide. For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384. www.churchinneed.org