Paul Samasumo –Vatican city
Pope Francis urges Nigerian Bishops to be courageous
Pope Francis told Nigerian Catholic Bishops who visited him, last Thursday, in what is known as an Ad limina Visit, that he is praying for Nigerians in the face of mounting insecurity in that country. This is according to the Archbishop of Lagos, Alfred Adewale Martins who spoke to Vatican News.
The Holy Father was particularly saddened by the recent attack on St Ignatius Catholic Parish, Mbalom in Gwer West, Local Government Council of Benue state. Last week, on Tuesday, suspected herdsmen stormed the Church and killed 18 persons, including two priests. Several parishioners were injured. Nigerian Bishops believe that terrorists and mercenaries have infiltrated the Fulani herdsmen to cause insecurity and mayhem in the Middle Belt of the country. Nigeria is at the same time battling a nine-year-old insurgency by Boko Haram Islamist militants, in the north-east.
Lagos’ Archbishop says that during the Bishops’ visit to Pope Francis, they felt his closeness to the people of Nigeria.
“He said that we should be courageous particularly with regard to the recent troubles (and) with regard to terrorists that masquerade as herdsmen. (The Holy Father) told us to tell our people that he is with us in spirit and he is praying for us,” Archbishop Martins said.
Pope Francis told Bishops they could criticise him
Archbishop Martins praised Pope Francis’ openness and willingness to listen.
“He said to us that we could tell him whatever it is that we needed to say even if it meant criticising him. I thought that was very, very interesting that we have a man that is open and ready to listen,” said the Lagos prelate.
Bishops invite Pope Francis to visit Nigeria
The Bishops have invited Pope Francis to visit Nigeria and hope that he accepts their invitation. If he does, it would be a big boost to the African continent’s most populous nation.
Pope Saint John Paul II visited Nigeria in 1998
In 1998, Pope Saint John Paul II made a second Apostolic Voyage to Nigeria during a turbulent period. The country’s president at the time was the military ruler, General Sani Abacha. During the three-day visit to Nigeria, Pope John Paul II repeatedly challenged Abacha’s military government to respect human rights and work towards national reconciliation.
In an extraordinary gesture, Pope John Paul II handed to Abacha’s government a list of 60 names comprising political prisoners and journalists who were languishing in Nigerian prisons. The Holy See’s Secretary of State at the time, Cardinal Angelo Sodano gave the list to Nigerian Foreign Minister, Tom Ikimi, asking that clemency be extended to those arrested for opposing Abacha. Asked about the names on the list, Vatican officials stated only that it included “all the names best known to the public." Nigeria’s famous political prisoner at the time was Moshood Abiola, the presumed winner of the 1993 elections annulled by the military.
While in Nigeria, John Paul II beatified Cyprian Michael