The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) has called on all Catholics, as well as Nigerian Christians to unite in prayer and penance for peace and security in the country.
Giving this charge in a press release made available to newsmen on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lenten period, the bishops urged Christians all over the world to begin a spiritual journey of repentance, marked by prayer, penance, alms-giving and other charitable works.
According to the release signed by the president, Most Rev. Augustine Akubeze and secretary, Most Rev. Camillus Umoh, Lenten observance affords the church opportunity to participate more intimately in the suffering of Jesus Christ, in preparation for the celebration of the solemn feast of his Resurrection at Easter.
The bishops who decried the high level of insecurity in Nigeria, noted that it was such that whether at home or on the road, Nigerians lived in fear in their country.
According to the CNBC, “The repeated barbaric executions of Christians by the Boko Haram insurgents and the incessant cases of kidnapping for ransom linked to the same group and other terrorists which the perpetrators of these heinous crimes make public, have traumatised many citizens.
“Nigerians do not hear of any arrests or prosecution of these criminals and this raises grave questions about the ability and willingness of the government to protect the lives of ordinary Nigerians”.
They noted that many communities were constantly threatened, harassed and sometimes sacked by herdsmen that forcefully seek to take over more territories to graze their cattle.
“Aware of our moral responsibility, may we, once again, remind all the arms of government in Nigeria and all whose responsibility it is to protect Nigerians that without security, there can be no peace, and without peace, there can be no development or national growth,” the CNBC went further to say.
While appealing to the government to put a stop to the unprecedented wave of violence and brutality aimed particularly at Christians, the CBCN called for the arrest and prosecution of all those behind the killings which they said sows the dangerous seeds of hate and distrust among the various segments of the Nigerian society.
Expressing sorrow and grief, the bishops also expressed confidence that the light of Christ, which shines in their hearts, will brighten the dark corners of the Nigerian society.
The bishops revealed that as a mark of mourning for their brothers and sisters who have been victims of the most recent wave of violence against Christians, they (bishops) are dressed in black today, as they offer prayers and penance for the dead.
“We invite the universal Church and all Christians to join us in prayers for our dead brothers and sisters and for peace and security in Nigeria. We equally appeal to the international community to come to the aid of the Nigerian government in the fight against these daredevil terrorists, who want to graze our country. The consequences, should they succeed, will be grave not only for the West African sub-region but also for Africa as a whole.
“To all our faithful, therefore, we make a passionate appeal: The present situation in Nigeria challenges all of us to a life of coherent witnessing to the Gospel. The impact of our Christian faith must be felt in public life. This is not a time for compromises for the sake of personal convenience, but rather for heroism in Christian virtues. Remember the words of our Lord: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but, cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Matthew 10: 28)
“Furthermore, foreseeing a period like this in the life of his disciples, our Lord said: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but no hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance, you will secure your lives” (Luke 21: 19). Before long, it will be Easter and the Lord will show that he has triumphed over evil, darkness and death. Be of good courage! Our Lady Queen of Nigeria and Queen of Peace, pray for us”.
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