Margaret Attah, who lost both her legs in an attack on a church in western Nigeria, travelled to London to receive the award, presented by the UK office of Aid to the Church in Need.
The survivors of an attack that left 41 Christians dead, and more than 80 injured, in Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria, on Pentecost Sunday, 2022, were commemorated at an award ceremony at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, London, which recognised fortitude and faith in the face of persecution on 22 November.
The “Courage to be a Christian” award was created by the UK office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) to be part of its 2023 #RedWednesday activities. The goal of #RedWednesday, which in some countries has evolved into #RedWeek, is to remind society of the persecution faced by Christians all over the world. In parts of Nigeria, the simple act of going to Mass is an extraordinary act of courage.
Margaret and Dominic Attah were both in St Francis Xavier’s Church on the day of the attack and travelled to London to receive the award on behalf of their fellow parishioners. “Just as Mass was finishing, we heard the first gunshots. The bandits soon realised that their guns couldn’t kill people quickly enough, so they lit dynamite and threw that into the crowd”, Dominic Attah told a crowd during an event held in Parliament, on Wednesday, 22 November.
After the terrorists had fled, Dominic began to scour the church, searching for his wife, who had hidden behind the altar during the attack. He walked past her three times without recognising her, because of the extreme injuries she sustained during the explosion. Margaret, a nurse, lost both her legs and the sight in one eye. Many others also received life-changing injuries. The Nigerian government blamed Islamist terrorists for the attack, but no one has been brought to justice for the atrocity.
“We need to shout louder”
Speaking at the event in Parliament, which was attended by MPs and members of the House of Lords, Fiona Bruce, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, told her fellow parliamentarians that “We need to shout louder. We need to tell the world what is happening in Nigeria. Margaret is a very precious person, who sadly represents thousands of others who are suffering and being attacked simply because of what they believe. Both our Government and the Government of Nigeria need to do more to address this.”
Later that day Margaret and Dominic Attah attended a Mass organised by ACN at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark. The Papal Nuncio to the UK, Archbishop Miguel Maury Buendia, who presided, said that “religious freedom is of the utmost importance and Aid to the Church in Need is doing a wonderful service by honouring those who have shown such extraordinary commitment to their faith in the face of persecution.”
National Director of Aid to the Church in Need in the UK, Dr Caroline Hull, stated before the event: “Margaret represents so many others in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere who are called to live out their faith in ways we in the West can hardly imagine. And they do it – Margaret does it – with so much dignity and love and devotion… cannot fail to inspire in us a greater commitment to find a voice to demand an end to religious persecution in our world today.”