“Were it not for your prayers, it would have been much worse.”
A climate of fear has spread across northern Nigeria amid continuing attacks which have threatened to make parts of the region ungovernable.
Attacks on government structures, market places and religious communities – both Muslim and Christian – have prompted widespread anxiety. Thousands have fled.
Many violent groups have been operating in northern Nigeria but the most feared is Islamist extremist movement Boko Haram, who have struck at the heart of government and have “declared a war on Christians”, attacking them in their homes, in their places of work and in their churches.
Some reports say that in 2012, more than 900 Christians were killed in Nigeria in religious hatred attacks.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has responded by declaring a state of emergency in the north-east.
The epicentre of the crisis is Maiduguri, not far from where Fr John Bakeni is parish priest, close to the border with Niger.
ACN sponsored Fr John’s training and provides Mass stipends for priests like him.
Fr John told us about life in his parish: “For the first three months at the church, I could not sleep. Shooting and killing go on outside my church. They throw stones into my churchyard and fling dead animals over the church wall.”
In spite of the challenges, Fr John continues to serve his parishioners: “Many people have fled but those who are able to stay are encouraged that I am with them, saying Mass and carrying out home visits.”
Fr John said: “The Church has always been a persecuted Church. I feel that if persecution comes and I have to give my life, let it be.
“We really feel your prayers. If not for your prayers, it would have been much worse.”
“When you go back home, tell the people that there are many of us who want to be priests. Extremists in Nigeria follow the way of violence but we want to follow the way of the Lord.”
Just months away from ordination to the priesthood, Deacon Hezekiah Kovona is one of 327 young men at St Augustine’s Seminary, Jos.
St Augustine’s has suffered repeated threats from extremists.
Once Islamists set fire to a monastery next to the seminary and threatened to overrun St Augustine’s but the students rushed out and the mob ran away.
Now, seminarians take it in turns to patrol the site’s perimeter wall, making use of a hotline to Jos police headquarters if trouble arises.
One seminarian, named Genesis, said: “We attribute our survival to God. People – even our families – sometimes ask why we want to risk our lives as priests, but we are not afraid.”
Genesis is one of more than 5,000 seminarians in Nigeria – the highest number in all of Africa.
ACN is committed to helping students at St Augustine’s and others preparing for the priesthood.
Since 2010, ACN has provided ongoing help for 56 seminarians from the Archdiocese of Jos and provided Mass stipends for 19 priests working at St Augustine’s.
• To watch a video of seminarians from St Augustine in Jos, visit http://www.acnuk.org/nigeria
Comforting the afflicted
Excerpt: “I have a broken heart – only God can help me. I will never lose faith in God.”
Pioneers of faith
Excerpt: “As a woman, I feel I can do a lot more for the Church so this is a wonderful opportunity to evangelize, to help people taste God. I want to bring peace to a world that has no peace.”
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