Another Priest Killed in Africa where ongoing Christians’ Massacre. Appeal by Aid to the Church in Need to Italian Parliament
by Carlo Domenico Cristofori
A priest killed and another kidnapped. This is the toll of the assault conducted by unidentified gunmen against the parish of St. Vincent Ferrer in Malunfashi, in the state of Katsina, in northern Nigeria. The murdered priest is Don Alphonsus Bello, while the kidnapped is Don Joe Keke. The group of armed men who stormed the parish on the night of 20 May fired some shots, injuring people.
The director of national social communications of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Father Mike Umoh, in confirming the news, said that the criminals laid the lifeless body of Fr Alphonsus Bello on the farmland behind the catechetical training school, while it is unknown the fate of Don Joe Keke.
Father Umoh told Fides: “Last night, one of the parishes of the diocese of Sokoto – the Catholic church of St. Vincent Ferrer in Malunfashi, in the state of Katsina – was attacked by unidentified gunmen. Two priests were kidnapped, Don Joe Keke and Alphonsus Bello. Don Keke, the former parish priest, is about 70 years old while Don Bello, the current parish priest, is thirty years old ”.
“This morning (today 21 May) the body of Fr Alphonsus Bello was found lifeless on the farmland behind the Catechetical Training School. We don’t know where Don Joe Keke is. So far, no contact has been established with the kidnappers. “Meanwhile, a reliable source from the Catholic diocese of Sokoto said the deceased priest belonged to the archdiocese of Kaduna, but was seconded to the diocese of Sokoto and engaged in the parish of Malumfashi in Katsina.
“Aid to the Church in Need again asks the government to intervene effectively to ensure the safety of the faithful and priests engaged in their pastoral service” reads the website of the pontifical foundation which had the merit of contributing to the release of the Pakistani Asia Bibi, imprisoned and tortured for years for an unfounded accusation of blasphemy.
The massacre of religious and Christian believers in Africa continues unabated, so much so that it has now become uninteresting news for most of the world media. In 2019 Gospa News had reconstructed all the terrible stories of priests and lay people persecuted or killed in the world for their devotion to Christianity. A chilling and silent holocaust that unfortunately renews itself dramatically every year.
ACS INITIATIVE IN THE CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES
“Respect for religious freedom among the conditions for signing cooperation agreements with foreign countries” This is the strictly political proposal, and with a high symbolic value, which emerged from the two parliamentary hearings that saw the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need as protagonist ( ACS), through its Italian Director Alessandro Monteduro.
On May 19, Monteduro was heard by the Foreign and Community Affairs Commission of the Chamber of Deputies as part of the examination of the draft law C. 3041 “Ratification and execution of the Cultural, Scientific and Technological Cooperation Agreement between the Government of the Republic Italian and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, done in Kabul on April 19, 2016 “. On May 20, the Director of ACS Italia participated in the cycle of hearings of the Senate Foreign Affairs Commission as part of the examination of the CCLXI Document, no. 1 “Reports on the initiatives financed with the resources of the fund destined to support interventions for populations belonging to Christian minorities subjected to persecution in crisis areas (year 2019)”.
«From the ACS Report on Religious Freedom in the World 2021 it emerges that in one nation out of three there are serious violations of religious freedom. According to the study conducted by the pontifical foundation in the two-year period 2018-2020, this fundamental right was not respected in 62 of the 196 sovereign countries (31.6% of the total). Considering this dramatic reality, Monteduro, in the context of the two hearings, proposed to introduce in every bilateral or multilateral act that binds the Italian Government, above all in cooperation policies, the request for a lasting commitment to respect the right to religious freedom by of each State benefiting from our foreign development support policy» ACN wrote in its latest report.
The proposal was favorably evaluated by the two parliamentary committees. Aid to the Church in Need therefore asks the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luigi Di Maio to promote respect for religious freedom in comparison with the States that are currently directly or indirectly responsible for the violation of this fundamental right.
THE MUSLIM ATTACKS IN NIGER
“In Niger, the feast of the conclusion of Ramadan, Aid el Fitr, was celebrated yesterday. In the capital Niamey everything took place in the calm and serenity of this day of prayer and family celebration. Only a long black-out accompanied a good part of the hot day of celebration “was reported last May 15 to Agenzia Fides, the information body of the Pontifical Mission Societies since 1927, by Father Mauro Armanino, missionary of the Societies of African Missions ( SMA), which operates in Niamey.
“The real and dramatic ‘black-up’ occurred in the village of Fangio, about 300 kilometers from Niamey, in the Songhay-Zerma area, where the country’s first Catholic communities were born. The first baptized Catholic from Nigeria, Antoine Douramane, originates from this area. It was he who founded the community in Fangio, “says Father Armanino who reports yet another attack by jihadist groups against rural Niger communities.
“On the morning of the party, around seven, armed elements arrived on motorcycles and attacked the village in question, killing 5 people and injuring two others. The village was ransacked and a member of the Christian community, named Joseph, was also killed ”. The jihadists have also desecrated the local church. “The statue of Mary, the altar ornaments and various liturgical books were burned,” says Fr. Armanino. “The state school director’s office was also destroyed. Once again, everything that can represent a threat to the ‘jihadist’ hegemony is placed in a position not to harm “.
It should be noted that, in the ‘Three Borders’ area (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger), the Chadian soldiers are located in the framework of the Barkhane operation in the Sahel. In the same area, several hundred people have lost their lives at the hands of armed terrorist groups and bandits. “The capital Niamey appears as ‘surrounded’, underlines the missionary.
“Thousands of people have now fled seeking shelter and safety elsewhere. At least one million people are estimated to be internally displaced, with increasing needs for aid from humanitarian agencies. Part of the Christians in this area live their faith in ‘clandestinity’ and therefore in fear of reprisals. The time of the martyrs is now while the feast of the Ascension is being celebrated here “concludes Father Armanino.
Unfortunately, however, the persecutions carried out by jihadists in war-torn Syria remain shrouded in silence under a sordid veil of diplomatic embarrassment as they are perpetrated under the political aegis of Turkey, a historic NATO ally with which even the authorities of faith different from the Islamic one want maintain fruitful relationships.
In fact, in October 2019, Christian and Jewish religious leaders met with Muslim ones to pray for the Turkish soldiers involved in the invasion of Rojava (North East Syria) decided by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sarcastically called “Peace Spring” , source of peace. The military operation not only caused a resurgence of ISIS attacks, which have always been in contact with Ankara MIT intelligence, but also consolidated the climate of daily violence, aimed at ethnic replacement, in the Kurdish-majority enclave of Afrin In this climate of daily attacks, members of the Christian community in Syria have also often been hit.
PANIC IN MOZAMBIQUE, ATTACKED IN SUDAN
On 8 March the Pope appointed Father Christian Carlassare, Italian Comboni Missionary, bishop of the Diocese of Rumbek (South Sudan). In the night between 25 and 26 April, the religious was hit by several gunshots exploded by subjects not yet identified. The elements gathered by Aid to the Church in Need (ACS) suggest that it was a deliberate and planned attack against the Comboni missionary who was supposed to be installed on 23 May next. Bishop Carlassare was shot in the legs and left in a pool of blood, but his life is not in danger. The diocese of Rumbek, located in the center of the nation, has been without a bishop since July 2011, following the death of another Italian Comboni, Monsignor Cesare Mazzolari.
“Panic is widespread” among the population and there is fear of new attacks by terrorist groups, even in Pemba, the capital of the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, according to what Fr Kwiriwi Fonseca, member of the team, reports to Aid to the Church in Need of the Communication of the diocese of Pemba, in Mozambique.
“Whenever he hears a shot, or any exchange of gunshots,” even if they come from “army training camps, people immediately panic and run out of their homes. For this reason the government, NGOs and the Church will have to speak intensely and constantly about peace and security, because there is really a lot of fear, “explains the priest. This is also the case in Pemba itself, the main base of the government security forces of the entire region. The terror described by Don Fonseca transforms every unusual movement, every sound louder than usual, every isolated blow into an imminent attack.
If this happens when there is only fear of an attack, it is easy to understand what happens when the attack is effective, as happened on April 22 last. “Since the first attack – the most violent, on 24 March – the news came in a fragmentary manner, but on 22 April four people were killed and others kidnapped”. Almost a month after the attack in Palma, in the far north, the city at the center of the megaproject for the exploitation of offshore natural gas, the same city was once again the scene of a serious attack. “The government has not yet manifested itself, although several people have confirmed that, yes, there have been attacks,” says the priest.
Undeclared war by ISIS-affiliated armed groups has devastated this area of northern Mozambique. The conflict, since October 2017, has caused approximately 2,500 victims and over 750,000 displaced persons. The Church is committed to trying to help the population forced to flee and now totally dependent on the solidarity and support of others. Fr Kwiriwi Fonseca, in describing the current needs of the population, is succinct: “Everything is missing here”.
KIDNAPPED AND RAPED GIRLS IN PAKISTAN FOR FORCED MARRIAGES
On the other hand, the phenomenon of the kidnappings of underage Christian girls by Muslims in Pakistan remains very serious, who in most cases manage to get away with repeatedly raping the girls until they get pregnant, then forcing them to convert to Islam to legitimize the union with a “shotgun” marriage.
For this reason, the package of projects was formalized that sees side by side the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace of Pakistan (CCJP). The act concerns the campaign for the protection of minors and young women belonging to religious minorities, above all the Christian one.
Father Emmanuel (Mani) Yousaf, director of the CCJP, recently said that “one of the most obvious challenges is the recent increase in cases of forced kidnapping, marriage and conversions. This phenomenon, although not new, has accelerated in the recent past due to the lack of adequate laws and the absence of the application of existing security measures in order to protect young minors and women belonging to the minority community. religious “.
Laws as the Child Marriage Restraint Act, in force in Sindh since 2014 with the aim of preventing marriages of kidnapped girls through the minimum age limit set at 18, has not prevented the courts from favoring kidnappers, as happened in case of Huma Younus, kidnapped when she was only 14 years old. Based on a Supreme Court ruling on Muslim marriages, Judges Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Irshad Ali Shah in February 2020 ruled that Huma would convert to Islam and, having had her first cycle, marry the alleged kidnapper. Abdul Jabbar was considered valid.
The initiative taken by the CCJP with the support of ACNprovides for legal assistance to victims, discussions with political-institutional leaders at various levels and a campaign to raise public awareness on the tragedy just described.
“At the CCJP we are documenting and monitoring the cases of kidnapping, marriages and forced conversions that have occurred against underage girls, Christian and Hindu, and against adult women”, explains director Yousaf in an interview with ACN. “The pressure of extremist groups on the courts, the biased attitude of the police, the fear of reprisals by the kidnapper, the resulting stigma often force victims to make statements in favor of their kidnappers,” continues Father Mani. “The CCJP believes that in order to initiate and give effect to change it is necessary to commit nationally and internationally to make one’s voice heard, to demand that the State take appropriate actions” and at the same time to launch “a public appeal to legislate”.
According to Pakistan’s Movement for Solidarity and Peace, approximately 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls and women between the ages of 12 and 25 are kidnapped every year. According to the same organization, however, due to the lack of complaints and the problems experienced with the police forces, the order of magnitude of the drama could be much higher.
“ACN has been following for some time, that is, since the kidnapping of Huma Younus, the tragedy of this violated adolescence, in particular by supporting the legal assistance of the victims”, comments Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN Italy. “To make our action more effective, we have decided to collaborate with the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace of Pakistan, with the hope that this tragedy will be internationally recognized and the victims adequately protected”, concludes Monteduro.