Lauren Moye, FISM News
The bishop over the Nigerian diocese that was shocked by a brutal massacre early last month recently attended the International Religious Freedom Summit to raise awareness of Christians’ peril in his nation.
Bishop June Arogundade of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ondo told The Christian Post he hoped his presence “put out there for the whole world to see” the tragedy that occurred at the St. Francis Church.
Multiple assailants opened fire on and bombed the Catholic church in southwest Nigeria on Pentecost Sunday, June 5. Around 40 men, women, and children were killed, with up to 80 more wounded in the unprovoked attack that occurred in the middle of mass.
The event “left the entire community broken” and the “entire diocese” shattered, according to the bishop’s interview with CP.
In the aftermath of the attack, members of the church are left with great needs. There are now orphans in the church congregation. CP reported that one woman had a double leg amputation because her injuries from a bomb blast had been too severe to save them. There are other long-term care needs among the survivors that Arogundade did not specify.
“We’ve done everything to raise money here and there, to provide them the education they need,” he added. He also reported the diocese was working on improving security among churches in the aftermath of the attack.
Nigeria has been the second deadliest country for Christians for two years in a row. There were over 4,650 Nigerian Christians killed in 2021. However, in a counterintuitive move most likely motivated by a desire for a foreign relations win, Secretary of State Antony Blinken removed Nigeria’s designation as a “Country of Particular Concern” in regards to violations of religious freedom.
The majority of these attacks are instigated by Muslims within the country. Though Nigeria has a religious freedom policy officially on the books, they allow Sharia law to be instituted in some parts of the country which contributes to the persecution of Christians. However Nigerian government officials portray the deaths as being motivated by squabbles between Muslims and Christians.
Arogundade rejects this narrative, insisting that “farmers have never attacked anybody.”
However, the St. Francis attack is unusual because it’s located in a region of Nigeria the bishop described as “a stable part” of the country that was unknown for this kind of incident. The motivation of the attackers has not been made public to date.
“We’re so shocked and surprised that anyone would come from far away…to attack us,” Arogundade said to CP.
The bishop feels that his government has turned a blind eye to the attack, similar to what Christian victims experience in other parts of the country. He considers the persecution to have reached the “level of genocide,” even while the government claims that religion is not a factor in these attacks.
“I just want the whole world to see and to hear and to know our story,” the bishop stated. He wants to know why Nigerian leadership is not proactively protecting law-abiding Christians.
On June 29, five Republican senators penned a letter to Blinken calling on the secretary to help Nigerian Christians. They said, “We remain concerned that the Nigerian government is failing to protect the religious freedom and basic safety of its Christian citizens.”
That letter has gone unaddressed.