February 21, 2006


Don't let us down Papa Benedetto!
Vatican says pope saddened about violence against Nigerian Christians
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI urged security officers to restore peace and the rule of law in Nigeria after violence against Christians left up to 50 people dead, including a Catholic priest.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's secretary of state, said in a telegram sent to church and government officials in Nigeria that the pope was "saddened to learn of the tragic consequences of the recent violent protests in northern Nigeria."

A Muslim protest against a series of European cartoons offensive to Islam, originally published in Denmark, proceeded peacefully Feb. 18 in the city of Maiduguri, capital of Nigeria's Borno state.

But after the demonstration, armed men took to the streets, setting afire churches, homes and businesses owned by Christians. Some 50 people, reportedly all Christians, were killed in the blazes or by their attackers, said Bishop Matthew Ndagoso of Maiduguri.

The papal telegram, which the Vatican released to journalists Feb. 21, said the pope was praying for all those affected by the violence, especially those who had been killed and their loved ones.

The pope made special mention of Father Michael Gajere, the Nigerian priest who died inside a burning parish compound after staying behind to save a group of altar boys from attackers.

The pope called on all those "involved in providing security ... to ensure peace and to promote the rule of law for which all people of good will long," the telegram said.

Speaking to Catholic News Service by phone Feb. 21 from Maiduguri, Bishop Ndagoso said the church and local Christians are questioning why no adequate security was provided for the Feb. 18 demonstration.

He said there was "no visible police presence" when fires started in different parts of the city as soon as demonstrators dispersed from the city's main square at 10 a.m.

Government "agencies gave permission for this demonstration, but they know demonstrations in our country often turn violent, and so they should have taken adequate security measures," he said.

He said police only came on the scene "after the damage had been done. To us, this shows the complicity on the part of the government."

The bishop said in addition to those killed, hundreds were injured, and 40 church buildings were destroyed. Among them were four Catholic churches and the bishop's house.

"My house is burned completely down, even the walls have fallen down," Bishop Ndagoso said. He said he was away at a seminar the morning the violence broke out, "otherwise I would have been caught there" in the burning home.

Father Gajere was the diocesan justice and peace director and helped dig wells and build dams for the surrounding Muslim communities, the bishop said. Born locally in 1964, the priest was ordained in 1992 and always worked in the same diocese.

Bishop Ndagoso said the priest was with about eight altar boys inside the rectory when the church next door was set ablaze. The priest faced the attackers as they stormed the rectory, and he urged them to not cause anyone any harm, said the bishop.

"When he realized the flames were closing in, he told the kids to run and they jumped the wall" surrounding church compound, the bishop told CNS. The priest stayed behind "to persuade the attackers to do nothing, but instead he paid the supreme price" with his death.

"The situation is still very tense. Even though people are going about their business, there is an uneasy calm," he said.

While some have suggested criminals or local hoodlums were responsible for transforming the peaceful demonstration into an inferno, Bishop Ndagoso said one "cannot rule out religious motives."

"It has clearly religious undertones, because why would they only burn Christian businesses, homes and churches?" he asked.

The northern Nigerian state of Borno is more than 60 percent Muslim. There are about a half million Christians in a state of 3.5 million people, the bishop said.

He said the government listed the official death toll at 15 in an effort to minimize the severity of the incident and prevent outbreaks of retaliatory violence in the city and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the apostolic nuncio in Nigeria, Archbishop Renzo Fratini, told the Vatican missionary news agency, Fides, that he believes there was "no specific hatred against Catholics in Nigeria" and that the latest violence "had little to do with religion."

He said there have been tensions between Muslims and all Christians, not just Catholics, but that political unrest may have been the trigger in Maiduguri, since protesters were also contesting a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian, to run for a third term.
I guess I understand the problem the Pope must have with ANY (real or alleged) desecration of religious symbols, BUT... what does it matter what exactly triggers off the deadly ire of the Muslim street? They will riot anyway. It's not about "outrage" it's about power, pure and simple.

Dear Papa, give the apostolic nuncio in Nigeria a big Bavarian kick in his behind (you MUST have some experience from beer tent brawls in your youth) and tell him to shut the fornication up. I trust you will know how to say that in Latin!

Everybody who reads this in good faith, pray for Father Michael Gajere, for Father Andrea Santoro, the Italian priest murdered in a church in Turkey and, so it seems, already forgotten and for all Christians and all other victims of the mindless, senseless and much apologised rioting by Muslims. Don't let their deaths be in vain!