Nigeria: Church “always full” two years after massacre

Two years on, the terrorists suspected of murdering more than 40 worshippers during Pentecost Sunday Mass in south-west Nigeria still have not been charged.

The parish priest at St Francis Xavier’s Catholic Church, Owo, where over 40 worshippers were murdered during Pentecost Sunday in 2022, told the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that two years after the massacre, the suspects are in police custody but have not yet been brought before a court.

On 5 June 2022, extremists opened fire and detonated explosives inside the church at the end of Mass, killing 41 people and injuring more than 70. Father Michael Abugan said his parish commemorated the second anniversary of the massacre with a special Mass and a talk about martyrdom.

The priest added that the survivors have been “very resolute, very committed, very resilient in their practice of faith” since the attack. Nurse Margaret Attah – who lost both legs and an eye in the atrocity and has been in a wheelchair since then – told ACN that despite the widespread fear in the community, “the church is always full on Sundays – to God be the glory”.

Mrs Attah said that “there is tension everywhere in Nigeria”, with many people “afraid to leave their homes” because kidnapping is common in parts of the country. She added: “There is no peace of mind. We cannot sleep with our two eyes closed. We cannot even travel short distances without fear. But we still thank God.” She stressed that prayer was people’s only hope, and “the future of the country is only God”.

Nigerian terrorist attack survivors - Margaret and Dominic Attah - during the Red Wednesday mass
Nigerian terrorist attack survivors – Margaret and Dominic Attah – during the Red Wednesday mass

She added: “We have to continue to pray to God that His Kingdom should come. It is only God’s Kingdom that can reign in Nigeria – that is the only way we can have peace.”

Despite the lack of justice, Mrs Attah said that she “found it very easy to forgive the attackers”, explaining: “I pray to God to forgive me my own sins, so likewise I have to forgive others.” Mrs Attah received ACN (UK)’s first ever ‘Courage to be a Christian’ award last November in London, as part of the charity’s #RedWednesday programme in London.

The massacre was also remembered in the USA, where Bishop Jude Arogundade of Ondo, the diocese where the attach took place, spoke at an online event organised by ACN on 5 June. Bishop Jude reflected on some of the victims, in particular a three-year-old that was shot in the head and whose parents are still finding it difficult to cope, a woman who was paralyzed and another victim that was a double amputee.

Bishop Jude Arogundade of Ondo, Nigeria visiting survivors of the terrorist attack
Bishop Jude Arogundade of Ondo, Nigeria visiting survivors of the terrorist attack

Bishop Jude explained that despite the traumatic experience suffered by the Catholic Church, hope is strong among the people, as can be proven by continued expansion of the parish and the opening of ten new pre-parishes.

A park to remember the victims

Immediately after the massacre, ACN reached out to the community to offer material and spiritual support, calling for prayers for the victims and survivors and echoing the local church’s appeals for justice.

The diocese also submitted a project to ACN to build a memorial for the victims, so that the atrocity is never forgotten. The plans are for a memorial garden, where people can gather to remember the victims and pray for them, and for peace. ACN is contributing to the construction of the memorial.

Bishop Jude Ayodeji Arogundade of Ondo, Nigeria
Bishop Jude Ayodeji Arogundade of Ondo, Nigeria

Fr Damian Ezeokafor, on behalf of the Diocese of Ondo, explained that “the memorial park will become part of the history of the Church as a community, a story to be retold in the future. Without the memorial garden, the likelihood is that this unpleasant part of their history could be forgotten or erased with each successive generation. Remembrance is important for two reasons, first to pray for the dead and secondly to be able to show how the faithful witnessed with their blood to the Christian faith.”

The plans for the park include an altar space, so that Mass can be celebrated as well.

Speaking to ACN, Mrs Attah said: “I want to thank ACN’s benefactors. I pray that God will continue to bless all of you.”

 

By Filipe d’Avillez and Amy Balog.

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