Rome Newsroom, Dec 3, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- A priest who was kidnapped in Nigeria has been released after being held captive for 10 days.
“We thank God for the safe release of our brother, Fr. Matthew Dajo … We thank you all for your kind prayers. We also thank the family of Fr. Dajo and all those who assisted in securing his release,” Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja said Dec. 2 in a statement sent to CNA.
“We pray that there will be improved security in the country. Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us,” the archbishop said.
Dajo was released by his kidnappers on Dec. 2, according to the archdiocese. During the 10 days that Dajo was held captive, Kaigama repeatedly appealed for people to pray for his safe release and for others also held captive.
On Dec. 1, the chancellor of Abuja archdiocese said: “His Grace requests that you and your parishioners should not relent, but rather, intensify your prayers for his safe return and for our country Nigeria. May Our Lady Queen of Nigeria continue to intercede for us. Amen.”
Dajo was abducted by gunmen on the night of Nov. 22 during an attack on the town of Yangoji, where his parish, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, is located.
“Armed bandits raided the community and shot sporadically for about 30 minutes,” Fr. Kevin Oselumhense Anetor told CNA’s African news partner, ACI Africa.
“The gunmen scaled through the fence of the priest’s house, while others positioned themselves outside, before entering Fr. Matthew’s bedroom and whisking him away.”
Kidnappings of Catholics in Nigeria are an ongoing problem that not only affects priests and seminarians, but also lay faithful, Kaigama said at a virtual event on persecuted Christians Nov. 25.
“We have cases of abductions, detentions, and killings by terrorist groups, criminal herdsmen, bandits, and gangs of kidnappers to contend with,” he said.
“Last week, in one of our parishes in Abuja archdiocese behind the parish house, five children of the same parents were kidnapped, and the following day a woman preparing for her church wedding was also kidnapped. They have not been found.”
The Islamist group Boko Haram is behind many of the abductions. On Nov. 28 Islamist militants massacred at least 110 farmers and beheaded an estimated 30 people in Nigeria’s northeast Borno State.
Pope Francis said Dec. 2 that he was praying for Nigeria after the attack, which a United Nations representative called the most violent direct attack against civilians in the country this year.
“I want to assure my prayers for Nigeria, where blood has unfortunately been spilled once more in a terrorist massacre,” the pope said at the end of his general audience.
“Last Saturday, in the northeast of the country, more than 100 farmers were brutally killed. May God welcome them in His peace and comfort their families, and convert the hearts of those who commit similar atrocities which gravely offend His name,” he said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but local anti-jihadist militia told AFP that Boko Haram operates in the area and frequently attacks farmers. The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has also been named as a possible perpetrator of the massacre.
More than 12,000 Christians in Nigeria have been killed in Islamist attacks since June 2015, according to a 2020 report by the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, a Nigerian human rights organization.
The same report found that 600 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first five months of 2020.
Christians in Nigeria have been beheaded and set on fire, farms have been set ablaze, and priests and seminarians have been targeted for kidnapping and ransom.
Boko Haram kidnapped 110 students from their boarding school in February 2018. Of those kidnapped, one girl, Leah Sharibu, is still being held.
“Leah has become a symbol of Christian resilience against forced conversion,” Archbishop Kaigama said.
He added that “however we must not forget the remaining 112 Chibok girls and others who are held captive with many either dead or forcefully married off,” referring to the kidnapping of 276 girls in the town of Chibok, Borno State, in 2014.
“Others like her are used as human shields, sex slaves, or bargaining chips for ransom from government and international organizations,” he said.
“The forceful abduction and conversion of underage Christians girls is real. On the other hand, Muslim girls who freely choose to marry Christian men face threats of death.”
Kaigama said that the United Nations, the European Union, and key countries like the United States could do more to share strategic intelligence and give more technical support to Nigeria in the face of terrorist threats.
“Western nations need to pay the same attention to this reality as they vigorously do in their countries in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
“The Christian-dominated Middle Belt and some parts of northern Nigeria will have no future if groups like Boko Haram and allied terror groups continue to harass them.”
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