“Nobody is safe: today it’s the Shia, tomorrow it could be us Catholics too,” says the Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan.
Cardinal Onaiyekan explained to Vatican Radio that recently, for the government in Nigeria, the question of Shia Muslims has become an issue.
He said [Shia] followers have been holding protests to demand the release of their leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, who has been detained in prison for the last four years.
Various tribunals and courts, he noted, have ordered that he be released, and the government has refused to obey the courts’ order.
Thus, Cardinal Onaiyekan said, the established Sunni majority in Nigeria “doesn’t want to recognize that the Shia are also Muslims, and because of this the government treats them with serious violence”.
He said Shia have been holding almost daily protests in the streets of Abuja for over a month.
“From my own understanding, the protests were always peaceful and we never saw them armed,” he said.
And yet, he noted, government soldiers and police have attacked them with arms, rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters.
News outlets said at least 20 members of the group were killed over the past week during the demonstrations.
“I am scandalised by all these men dying at sea, by the human trafficking, by the mafia networking, by the organised slavery.”
A Catholic priest and scholar has some useful insights into the Islamic world, its relationship with Christianity, and its relationship with the Western World.
“To understand what is happening today in regard to the Western World and the Middle East we must understand the main branches of contemporary Islam. They are a) Pan-Arab nationalism, and, b) Takfiri [also commonly referred to as Wahhabi-Salafist] Jihadism which has roots in both the Middle Ages and the nineteenth-twentieth centuries.”
UK visas: YES to radical Islamists, NO to Christian archbishops!
It is hard to imagine a more incongruous headline – just as the world’s attention focuses on the liberation of Mosul, the UK government has refused to grant a visa to the Archbishop of Mosul to attend the consecration of the UK’s first Syriac Orthodox cathedral, a church whose flock includes many refugees fleeing persecution from Islamists in Iraq and Syria………..
……….. Yet, at the same time this is happening, radical Islamist leaders are being told they can have visas – even though they represent organisations or movements that incite violence and persecution against Christians.
“The reason I’m sitting here before you,” Bishop Oliver Doeme tells me mid-interview, “is the grace of God.” For a moment I think this is a pious generalisation about divine providence. But that’s not what Bishop Doeme means. He means that, by rights, he shouldn’t really be alive.
The bishop’s diocese is Maiduguri in Nigeria – the epicentre of terrorism in the country. Nigeria is where Boko Haram is most active. Founded in 2002, the Islamist group claims affiliation with ISIS, and is no less demonic in its aims and methods. Among its chief aims is to kill as many Christians and to blow up as many churches as possible. Bishop Doeme is an obvious target.
The story of Maiduguri’s Catholics is one of terrible suffering. “To experience what we are going through is enough martyrdom,” says Bishop Doeme. But it is also something else: a story of supernatural intervention, and of the immediate power of prayer. For Boko Haram has run into trouble – partly thanks to a successful campaign by the Nigerian military, but also, it seems, for more supernatural reasons.
In 2014, Bishop Doeme had a vision while praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus appeared to him, and handed the bishop a sword – which, as soon as he received it, turned into a rosary. Jesus then repeated the words: “Boko Haram is gone.” Bishop Doeme decided at once that this was an invitation to spread devotion to the rosary. So he began doing just that.
Maiduguri had always been a Marian diocese – when Bishop Doeme was installed in 2009, at the age of 48, he consecrated the diocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a consecration which has been repeated every year.
But after the vision, the bishop wrote a pastoral letter encouraging the daily saying of the rosary – and especially, rosary processions – in families, schools and parishes. At his own residence there is a rosary procession every evening; if he isn’t there, his secretary or someone else will lead it. Every Saturday, meanwhile, Mass is offered throughout the diocese in honour of Our Lady.
Why does Bishop Doeme think Jesus appeared in 2014? “It happened that way not because of me,” he says. “I am just a poor sinner … It was about Jesus and his Mother, and his suffering people, his suffering children. It happened at the climax of the suffering of our people… 2014 will never be forgotten by our people.”
That was when Boko Haram’s attacks were at their most terrible. In that year they killed more than 6,000 people; the 276 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok were abducted (218 are still missing); over 80,000 Catholics were displaced; 25 priests (half those in the diocese), 45 nuns and 200 catechists and parish workers had to flee.
“Churches were razed down,” the bishop remembers, “schools were razed down, hospitals were razed down. So our people were devastated, our people were traumatised. And the Lord came in order to console his people, [to show] that his Mother is there for us.”
The vision encouraged Maiduguri’s Catholics to believe “that the rosary would ultimately give us victory over this evil. Boko Haram is evil. ISIS is evil. So as long as we go to a place with his Mother, especially by praying the rosary, which is the most pronounced form of Marian devotion, we will be victorious.”
Although it is too early to declare victory, Boko Haram has suffered defeat after defeat since the people of Maiduguri stepped up their Marian devotion. In September 2015, the Nigerian military reported that the terrorists were “completely in disarray”, and that they were no longer capable of holding territory.
A few months later, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated”. Bishop Doeme says the terrorists have been driven into the forests, and “will soon fizzle out”.