. . . As Dioceses in Anambra Hold Prayer March, 8th March
By Ifeoma Ezenyilimba
The 2020 Annual Ash Wednesday Celebration for Catholics all over the world turned to Black Ash Wednesday in Nigeria, on February 26. The Black Ash Wednesday which saw Catholics all over the country dressed in black outfits on a prayer protest, was, according to the Church in Nigeria, an act of mourning and penance for those killed in recent waves of violence against Christians in various parts of the country, reports Ifeoma Ezenyilimba.
The prayer protest was in line with the directives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN). According to the group, the choice of Ash Wednesday, a special day that marks the beginning of Lenten Season, was to draw national and international attention to how the sacred human life had been desecrated in Nigeria.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, through an official statement on insecurity in Nigeria, signed by the CBCN President and Catholic Archbishop of Benin Archdiocese, Most Rev Augustine Akubeze, and the CBCN Secretary and Catholic Bishop of Ikot Ekpene Diocese, Most Rev Camillus Umoh, demanded for the arrest and prosecution of those behind the killing of innocent Nigerians.
Insisting that such killings by suspected terrorists had ridiculed the sacredness of human life, the CBCN called on the Universal Church and other Christians to join in the prayers for the dead, as well as for peace and security in Nigeria.
‘We are sad. We are in sorrow and in grief. But we are confident that the light of Christ which shines in our hearts will brighten the dark corners of our Nigerian society. Aware of our moral responsibility, may we once again remind all the arms of government in Nigeria and all whose responsibility it is to protect Nigerians, that without security, there can be no peace and without peace, there can be no development and national growth. We appeal to the government to immediately put a stop to this unprecedented wave of violence and brutality aimed particularly at Christians,’ the CBCN stated.
The Catholic bishops called for the arrest and prosecution of those behind the killings, which, they said, had continued to sow dangerous seeds of hate and distrust among the various segments of Nigerian society. They equally appealed to the International Community to come to the aid of the Nigerian Government in the fight against terrorism.
According to the group, the insecurity in Nigeria as represented by Boko Haram insurgency and kidnapping by herdsmen, had deteriorated to such an extent that most Nigerians lived in fear. The CBCN regretted that the insecurity had worsened, with many communities threatened, harassed and even sacked by Fulani herdsmen who forcefully took over people’s farmlands for grazing their cattle. The bishops flayed the Federal Government, who, it said, had not been able to tackle the menace, even as it doubted the readiness of the government to protect the life and property of ordinary Nigerians.
Speaking to the press after the Black Ash Wednesday Mass at St Joseph’s Catholic Parish (UNIZIK Temporary Site), Awka, the parish priest, Rev Fr Nnaemeka Ezeokeke, identified prayer, fasting and almsgiving as the three arms of lent which the faithful needed to perfect themselves on and wage war against the flesh, the world and temptations which he described as the three devils of human spirituality.
Rev Fr Ezeokeke described the prayerful black protest as a very laudable statement by the Catholic Church, noting that Christians were deeply saddened over the spate of insecurity in Nigeria.
The parish priest regretted that many lives had been wasted and many villages wiped out by suspected terrorists who took over people’s lands for their cattle grazing business.
He called on security agencies in Nigeria to attach seriousness and importance to their duties so as to ensure optimum security of life and property, as well as peace and progress in Nigeria.
Fr Ezeokeke described the demand for prosecution of those responsible for the spate of human killings by the CBCN as a welcome development, insisting that the attacks on Christians must stop.
This was even as he accused the Federal Government of shielding the perpetrators, recalling that no arrest had been made and none persecuted. He averred that the earlier the Federal Government arrested and persecuted the terrorists and put an end to insecurity, the sooner peace and progress would be restored in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, as part of the prayer protest against insecurity and killings in Nigeria, the Catholic Dioceses in Anambra will also hold a black prayer march on Sunday, March 8, 2020.