While we remain locked in debateover Covid-19 statistics, social dis-tancing and lockdown measures, it’sa good time to remember that manyof our Christian brothers and sistersaround the world have more imme-diate concerns: they are (readily)putting their very lives at risk by pro-fessing and practicing their faith.
On 8th January, four youngCatholic seminarians were kid-napped from the Good ShepherdSeminary in Kaduna, north-westNigeria, by gunmen. Kaduna is not asmall shanty town: it is the capital ofKaduna state with a population ofwell over three-quarters of a million,and is a busy trade and transporta-tion hub. The seminary is located ona main highway, and houses around270 young men.
But in January it was raided by thekidnap gang disguised as soldiers,led by Mustapha Mohammed. Theirintention was to use the hostages forransom. In the weeks following theraid, they released three of the semi-narians, aged between 19 and 23, inexchange for $25,000. MichaelNnadi, 18 years old, was never re-leased.
Speaking to Nigeria’s Daily Sun newspaper after his arrest,Mustapha said that he was not ableto have any peace from the momentthey took the young men, becauseMichael “continued preaching thegospel of Jesus Christ to him”. Theseminarian “told him to his face tochange his evil ways” or risk eternallife. In the end, Mustapha decided“to send him to an early grave” as hedid not like the young man’s confi-dence.
Michael Nnadi’s bold witnessshines among many such martyrs. Only 10 days later, Lawan Andimi, amember of the Christian Associationof Nigeria, was decapitated.
Today,some 120 other Christians remainhostage in the hands of BokoHaram; among them are manyyoung women such as Leah Sharibuand Grace Taku, who refused to re-nounce their faith in Jesus Christ. Allthese are part of a worsening andsystemic attack on Christians, whosevillages are attacked, farms setablaze, adults kidnapped and killed,and women taken as sex slaves.
The Nigerian archbishops have re-peatedly appealed to the country’s government for collaboration andprotection, but many Christianshave accused the state of ignoringthe reality of Christian persecution.
Despite the assurances given, theypoint to the inconsistent protectionoffered by security forces and theconsistently late responses to suchincidents.
Hopefully, the thought that suchatrocities are not being challengedand responded to effectively fills uswith horror. Equally hopefully, thefact that men and women just likeourselves are dying gruesomedeaths because they practice theirChristian faith moves us to some de-sire for solidarity with them.
Meanwhile, we are no doubtthankful that such persecution doesnot take place in our liberal and tol-erant Western society. However, thegrowing challenges to Western gov-ernments over their own discrimina-tion against religious practice intheir responses to Covid-19 shouldtell us that we are not entirely immune either.
Last month, severalCatholic groups successfully ap-pealed to the French Council ofState, which ruled that the govern-ment’s ban on gatherings at placesof worship was ‘disproportionate’and ‘seriously and manifestly illegal’.A number of states in the USA haveseen legal challenges against theirclosure of churches and bans on re-ligious gatherings, with, most re-cently, the governor of Virginia fac-ing two lawsuits over this issue.
Our own government sidelinedpublic religious expression by de-claring it as ‘non-essential’ at the be-ginning of the lockdown. The assign-ment of churches to an importancelower than garden centres canhardly, therefore, inspire great confi-dence in the public perception ofthe place of religious freedom. Moreto the point, if such a freedom is not seen to be demanded and practised,its fundamental importance willstop being appreciated.
A number of public figures havenow stepped up to question thisstate of affairs. Edward Leigh MPpointed out on Twitter not long ago:‘If MPs can socially distance in Par-liament, why can’t people sociallydistance for private prayer inchurches?’
Two weeks ago, a letter was sent toCatholic Bishops, as well as toRobert Jendrick (Secretary of Statefor Housing, Communities and Lo-cal Governance), requesting the re-opening of churches, and signed by19 peers, politicians and other no-table Catholics. Another letter wentto Boris Johnson this week signed by20 MPs, requesting the same. And ina recent interview on BBC Radio 4,Cardinal Nichols asked the govern-ment for “a bit more sensitivity” topeople’s spiritual needs.
As Pentecost approaches and weonce again pray for the samecourage that the Holy Spirit gave tothe Apostles in those early, turbulenttimes, it is perhaps an opportunityto make our own stand for our faith.It would be a fitting act of solidaritywith Michael Nnadi, and the manyother men and women, young andold, who are suffering brutal treat-ment and death, to make our ownfaith public, in however small a way.
Until such a time as our churchesare reopened, the first thing that canbe done is to write to local MPsand/or to Robert Jendrick. It need not be a long email, but simpleenough to register the fact that as Christians, our faith is of fundamen-tal importance to us; and as Catholics, it is essential to be able to access our churches and the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Besides this, a group of young Catholics, led by Anton’ de Piro (atrustee of the Christian Heritage Centre) has set up the website https://opendoors.church.This allows Catholics to register their name, contact details, diocese and parishin order to help manage the safe re-opening of churches. Volunteer de-tails will be passed directly to there levant diocese or parish, and will provide priests with the necessary help for to reopen their churches.
Lastly, but most importantly: when our churches do reopen, it is imperative that those Catholics who are able to do so safely provide a public witness to our faith. If every able-bodied and healthy Catholic in the country made the point of making a visit to their parish church once during the working week, the steady stream – even trickle – of visitors would make for a very visible statement.
It is an opportunity not simply foroutward effect, but also for thedeepening and renewal of one’s inte-rior life.
The small efforts and sacrifices wemake are always observed by theGood Lord, who repays with Hisgrace in His own way and time.
After the period of absence wehave suffered from the EucharisticLord, what better way to mark theseason of Pentecost – the era of theChurch – by going out of our way towitness to the Lord, in solidaritywith our martyred brethren?
Pictured far left, Michael Nnadi, 18-year old seminarian killed forpreaching Jesus Christ. ‘Hecontinued preaching the gospel’ tohis kidnappers, telling their leader‘to his face to change his evil ways.’The leader decided ‘to send him toan early grave’ as he did not like theyoung man’s confidence.
Left, Christians in Kwara stateprotest in February against thecurrent persecution
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