.- Boko Haram’s expansion has meant murders, forced conversion, and forcible expulsion from homes, causing Catholics in Nigeria to pray and to reach out to help and console the militant Islamist group’s victims.
“Brothers and sisters, there is no better time to storm the heavens with prayers and petitions than now,” Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos said during a national prayer pilgrimage Nov. 13-14.
Thousands of people have recently lost their homes and their loved ones due to Boko Haram, he said.
“Our darling innocent school girls from Chibok are still being held over six months since their abduction. Only God knows the psychological and physical trauma they are going through,” the archbishop said, referring to the more than two hundred schoolgirls who were taken by Boko Haram from their school in the northeastern Nigerian town in April.
The radical Islamist group Boko Haram began its deadly insurgency in 2009, killing over 4,000 people in 2014 alone, according to Human Rights Watch.
“There are still ongoing terrorist activities that are not only causing the loss of lives and so much havoc but are enjoying territorial expansion,” the archbishop continued. “Bombings and slaughter of innocent Nigerians, especially in the northeast, have become regular.”
He said active security solutions have not been found. He questioned whether leading Nigerians were serious about bringing “sanity and order” to the country, rather than “using the unfortunate situation as a political weapon.”
Boko Haram has been threatening to cross into Cameroon, which shares a 300-mile border with Nigeria. The Nigerian government’s inability to contain the group has drawn heavy criticism.
The emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi, an influential Muslim leader, has called on Nigerians to arm themselves for protection against Boko Haram.
“These terrorists slaughter our boys and abduct our girls to force them into slavery,” he said, according to BBC News.
Boko Haram took the town of Chibok on Nov. 13, and the Nigerian army retook the town three days later.
Archbishop Kaigama said parishes in the Maiduguri diocese have been closed, with the people “scattered and killed.” Thousands have been displaced from their homes in the Diocese of Yola.
“They have sought refuge and turned to the Church for consolation and support.”
Father Gideon Obasogie, communications director of the Diocese of Maiduguri, said that Boko Haram’s expansion in Nigeria has resulted in the forcible conversion of many Catholics, while thousands more fled their homes.
“A good number of our youth are forcefully conscripted, while the aged, women and children are converted to Islam. A lot of Nigerians are trapped and are forced to practice strict sharia law,” the priest said in a Nov. 19 report made available to Aid to the Church in Need.
Fr. Obasogie said this is the case in at least six communities along the federal road that links Maiduguri and Yola, in the state of Adamawa.
“All of these captured towns by our estimation are no longer part of the Nigerian entity because no one can go in, but those who would luckily escape have got stories to tell,” Fr. Obasogie said.
“The terrorists have declared all the captured towns as Islamic Caliphate. The people trapped are forced to accept and practice the strict doctrines the militants are out to propagate.”
Boko Haram overran the predominantly Christian community of Mubi Oct. 29, forcing over 50,000 people to flee. The Nigerian army said it recaptured Mubi last week, but the damage has been done.
According to Fr. Obasogie, over 2,500 Catholics have been killed in the diocese, and another 100,000 Catholics forced to flee. The diocese is now working to care for all internally displaced people regardless of their religious beliefs.
He said 50 churches and parish rectories have been razed. Dozens of churches and schools have been deserted, as have two convents.
Despite all the horrors of war, Archbishop Kaigama thanked God for his mercy and faithfulness.
“We may not have received everything we prayed for, but by his grace most of us are still alive and we have remained one people and one nation. Today, gauging the general despair and disillusionment in the land, we converge here again to cry on to the Lord for enduring peace and for God to stir strongly in the hearts of Nigerians the spirit to transcend narrow ethnic, religious, and political boundaries so as to always pursue the common good.”
He also reminded Nigerians to do good and avoid “religious externalism devoid of godliness,” as when people wish harm to their neighbor or “engage in bitter, hostile, antagonistic political, religious or ethnic struggles that lead to loss of lives and the destruction of property.