Monday, January 9, 2012

Nigerian cardinal vows: Christians will not flee

Despite the threats of violence by Boko Haram, Christians will not leave northern Nigeria, vows Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie of Lagos.

“The Nigerian Church is strong and vital, it will not be intimidated and like Jesus on the cross, it is ready to testify its faith to the ultimate sacrifice,” the Nigerian cardinal told Vatican Insider. He said that Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group, does not represent the sentiments of most Muslims in the north of the country. Nevertheless, he said, the government has not shown the ability or willingness to protect Christians from attacks.

Terrified that the Islamist group Boko Haram will continue its recent spate of attacks on Christians, some indigenous Christians in the northern part of the nation are preparing to heed the terrorist group’s ultimatum and leave their ancestral homes for the south.

Following a recent trip to Nigeria, Father Timothy Lehane Barrett, secretary general of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith, emphasized that “Boko Haram does not represent Nigerian Muslims: I have seen many manifestations of interreligious dialogue and solidarity, because Muslims see the good works carried out by Christians.”

Nonetheless, tensions between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria have grown in recent days after a Protestant leader said that “the pattern of these killings does suggest to us a systematic ethnic and religious cleansing.”

“We have the legitimate right to defend ourselves and ... we will do whatever it takes,” said Ayo Oritsejafor, head of the Christian Association of Nigeria.

“We find the utterances ... an intimidation and a threat to Nigerian Muslims,” responded Sheikh Khalid Aliyu, secretary-general of an umbrella group of the nation’s Muslims. “Pronouncements calling for ... Christians to defend themselves are unacceptable to us and are meant to wage attacks on Muslims.”

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