Nigeria church attack: Priest says 'God is on our side and faith is alive'
By Antonella Palermo & Linda Bordoni
Father Andrew Abayomi, assistant parish priest at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Owo, in Nigeria’s southwestern Ondo state, was speaking two days after the attack that left scores of faithful dead.
Criminal attacks, including on priests and churches are increasingly frequent in Nigeria where, especially the northern region has been facing security challenges in the past years with criminal gangs fueled by the activities of the Boko Haram Islamic extremist group, as well as clashes between nomadic herdsmen and indigenous farmers.
Of course, Father Abayomi said, people are afraid because their security is threatened, “their safety is threatened.”
From the pastoral point of view, the assistant parish priest said we continue in our work.
He said immediately after the attack he visited at the hospital together with the Bishop of the Diocese and the pastor of the church where the attack took place: “We all came to visit the wounded and to pray with them, to sympathise with them and to encourage them to be strong in faith.
We could see, he continued, that they have the assurance that “there is God and that God has chosen and called us to be a witness to his love, so that everyone will come to terms with the fact that we are children of one Father and that humanity needs to to be saved together.”
We are going forward, Fr Abayomi, affirmed, but “the fear will still be there, especially for those with little faith.”
Love prevails over hatred
Many government and religious leaders across the world have condemned the brutal attack. Pope Francis has described it as an unspeakable act of violence, praying that peace may prevail over hatred. The Nigerian cleric said he has come to terms with the fact that “we are called to bear witness, to show the world that, yes, love prevails over hatred. It's part of our life already.”
“So come what may,” he explained, “we continue to be a witness to peace, to unity to oneness, to harmony, to love, showing that, yes indeed, all of us we are children of one Father, one God the Creator of all.”
Father Abayomi upheld the Nigerian Bishops’ demand to the government to improve security in the country and stated his opinion that the government also needs to stand by its assurance that Nigerians have a right to freedom of worship by also making sure the faithful are protected in churches and in other places of worship.
He also reiterated the need to await the results of an investigation before pointing to one or another group behind the attack.
Pope bringing message of peace to Africa
Father Abayomi looked ahead to the Pope’s upcoming visit to two African nations, a journey that brings a message of peace and reconciliation to the whole continent.
“The people in Africa will know that the Church, the universal Church, is with them, together with the Church in Africa with the Holy Father proclaiming peace and reconciliation,” he said noting the message will also resonate loud and clear “as a challenge to political leaders, and even to religious leaders and to people of different faiths.”
God is on our side
“We have God on our side and so our hope is alive,” the priest concluded, and while “it is clear we need more security measures” for Church-goers, “on our part, we will continue to preach, so that people will come to terms with the fact that though we have been divided by race, culture and colour, we have been created, we have been brought into this world by one God.”