Pray: 50 Nigerian Christians murdered and priest kidnapped

June 6, 2022 by Ryan Hamm in Stories of Persecution

Yesterday, June 5, unknown gunmen attacked the St. Francis Catholic Church in the town of Owo, Ondo State in southwestern Nigeria as members gathered to celebrate Pentecost. They killed an estimated 50 people and abducted the priest [Update 6/7/22: Fides has reported that no priest was abducted] and an unknown number of congregants.

The police spokesperson for Ondo State, Funmilayo Ibukun Odunlami, told Reuters the gunmen shot at people outside and inside the church building, killing and injuring worshipers. According to eyewitnesses, the attackers also detonated explosives. The attackers then kidnapped the presiding priest and some other church goers, according to a BBC report.

So far, there is no official death toll, but Adelegbe Timileyin, who represents the Owo area in Nigeria’s lower legislative chamber, told media at least 50 people had been killed, though others put the figure higher. State politician Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole said the dead included many children.

Shortly after the attack, Open Doors’ country manager Zulu recorded a special message to help us know how to pray. Listen now:

A doctor at a hospital who declined to be named said at least 50 bodies had been brought to two hospitals. Dozens of wounded sought medical attention, overwhelming hospital staff.

Ondo state Governor Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who visited the scene of the attack and some of the injured at the hospital, described Sunday’s incident as “a great massacre” that should not be allowed to happen again.

Why did this happen?

No one has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.

While most sources said a motive is not clear, Adeyemi Olayemi, a lawmaker in Ondo, told the Guardian the attack is believed to be the work of ethnic Fulani terrorists, sometimes referred to as bandits, who have staged relentless attacks predominantly in northern Nigeria but also in other parts of the country.

Olayemi said the attack was likely to have been in retaliation for recent restrictions by the state government on grazing in Ondo, including in forests where the assailants have carried out attacks. The restrictions were adopted after an upsurge in kidnappings in the state.

“We have enjoyed improved security since herdsmen were driven away from our forests by this administration,” Olayemi said. “This is a reprisal attack to send a diabolical message to the governor.”

Open Doors is investigating these claims.

Zulu*, the Open Doors country manager for Nigeria, called the incident “sad and concerning”—and noted this is a pattern of larger violence in Nigeria. “The south of Nigeria is known for being peaceful and [safe] for the church, but now things are changing,” he said. “The violence from the north and Middle Belt is spreading rapidly and this is the result of violence that have gone unpunished. Please, we want you to pray for us.”

President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack, calling it “heinous.”

Rev Augustine Ikwu, a secretary of the Catholic Church in Ondo, said in a statement that the attack had “left the community devastated.” “We turn to God to console the families of those whose lives were lost,” he said.

The Vatican said Pope Francis was praying for the victims, who had been “painfully stricken in a moment of celebration.”

While attacks like these are generally very rare in the south of Nigeria, such targeted attacks have been meted out against Northern Nigerian Christians with very few consequences.

One week ago the head of the Methodist Church in Nigeria was abducted along with two other clerics in the southeast of the country. The Methodist prelate said he paid $240,000 to be freed with his companions.

Two weeks ago, two Catholic priests were kidnapped in Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state in the north of the country. They have not been released.

And, of course, who can forget Deborah Yakubu, the student who was brutally murdered in northern Nigeria simply because she follows Jesus?

Please join your Nigerian family in prayer:

  • Please pray for the families of the victims of the Owo church massacre. Pray the Lord Jesus will comfort their hearts and help them in these difficult times.
  • Pray for the Lord’s healing to all who suffered physical and emotional injuries during the attack.
  • Pray for the speedy and safe release of the priest and congregants.
  • Pray that the Lord Jesus will help the Church in Nigeria to continue to stand firm in the faith despite increasing targeted attacks.
  • Pray for diligent action by authorities to identify perpetrators and bring them to justice.

*Name changed to preserve security

Top photo: St Francis Catholic Church following an explosion in Owo Nigeria, Sunday, June 5, 2022. Lawmakers in southwestern Nigeria say more than 50 people are feared dead after gunmen opened fire and detonated explosives at a church. Ogunmolasuyi Oluwole with the Ondo State House of Assembly said the gunmen targeted the St Francis Catholic Church in Ondo state on Sunday morning just as the worshippers gathered for the weekly Mass. (AP Photo/Rahaman A Yusuf)

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