The Catholic bishops of Nigeria have issued a warning that the country risks sliding into far worse civil war unless urgent steps are taken to stop the violence. In a statement, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria condemned “in the loudest possible manner” both the continuing attacks on Christian churches and “the so-called reprisal attacks”.
Commenting on the violence that recently claimed more than 100 lives, the Catholic bishops warn of the repercussions of a complete breakdown in inter-faith relations. The letter states: “Whether by design or not, (attacks on churches) put grave stress on the already fragile mutual relationship between the Christian and Muslim communities in Nigeria.”
“The sense of anger and hatred is growing by the day and has reached a dangerous level. We must all act now and decisively to arrest and defuse the tension.” The letter, signed by Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, the conference’s president and its secretary, Archbishop-elect Alfred Martins of Lagos, describes growing dismay about ongoing attacks on people attending services.
The bishops state: “If there is no clear and concrete sign of improvement, the patience of many Christians will wear out, our sermons of restraint will fall on deaf ears, and those who see violent reprisals as justified deterrence will fall beyond our control. There is palpable danger in the air.” They added that they will continue to preach peace, love, and forgiveness.
In their letter, the Catholic bishops call on Christians and Muslims to work together to resolve the situation: “Our country is one; hence, we must together find the solution to our woes.” They point out that, while the terrorists had carried out their acts of violence in the name of Islam, it was only Islamist extremists who were carrying out such attacks. “There is need for concrete and pro-active action to call to order those responsible and to make them desist from causing any further havoc on our nation in the name of religion.” They said it was “sad” that the media had portrayed the crisis in terms of a conflict between Muslims and Christians, “instead of looking at it as the misdeeds of a few elements among us who are claiming to be acting for and in the name of religion…”
The bishops called on all the faithful to turn to prayer. “In particular, we reiterate the importance of daily family rosary, and the ‘prayer for Nigerian distress’ – as a powerful spiritual response to the grave challenge of insecurity that has engulfed our nation.”
They added their own prayers for those of all creeds who had been killed in the violence. “The people who died in the bomb blasts and in the reprisal attacks were all innocent children of God, men, women and children, Muslims and Christians, of different tribes, all Nigerians, all equally created and loved by God. “May they rest in peace and may God grant strength and consolation to the loved ones they have left behind.”