By Courtney Mares
The president of the European bishops’ Commission has promised persecuted Christians in Nigeria that he will advocate for increased support from the European Union.
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, who leads the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), wrote a letter to the Nigerian bishops stating that the commission will advocate for EU assistance and cooperation with the Nigerian authorities to combat violence and persecution.
The cardinal expressed solidarity with Nigerian Christian communities, who, he wrote, are “living a situation of continuous attacks by terrorists, insurgents and militias, that in some cases reaches levels of genuine criminal persecution,” according to a European Commission statement July 2.
An estimated 6,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed since 2015, mostly by Boko Haram and militant Fulani herders, the European Commission reported.
More than 600 Christians have been killed so far in 2020, according to an International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) report on May 15. Christians have been beheaded and set on fire, farms set ablaze, and priests and seminarians have been targeted for kidnapping and ransom.
A Boko Haram attack on a village in the northeastern Nigerian State of Borno, left at least 81 people dead June 9. The attack was the latest in an ongoing Islamist group against the country’s Christian population. Earlier in June, a Christian pastor and his pregnant wife were killed in their farm in the northeastern region of the country.
In January, militants kidnapped four Catholic seminarians from Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, killing one of them, Michael Nnadi. On March 1, a Nigerian priest Fr. David Echioda was kidnapped by gunmen after offering Sunday Mass, but was released days afterward.
The European bishops’ Conferences Commission has been vocal in calling on EU member states to “increase their efforts in order to stop the violence in Nigeria, bring criminals to justice, support the victims and promote dialogue and peace,” according to the COMECE statement.
In May 2020, the bishops “urged the international community to use diplomatic, political and financial instruments to assist Nigerian authorities to stop the violence, bringing the criminals to justice, supporting the victims and fully including Christians (47% of the national population) in all state structures and levels of administrations — including the police and armed forces.”
Leaders within the United States have also called for further support of Nigeria’s Christians. On June 25, former Rep. Frank Wolf said that the U.S. should send a special envoy to Nigeria to coordinate the protection of the Christian population and prevent further destabilization of the area.
In February, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told CNA that Nigeria was one of the countries of highest concern when it came to violations of religious freedom.
Brownback said he was concerned that the situation in Nigeria would spread to nearby countries if nothing was done to crack down on religious persecution.
“There’s a lot of people getting killed in Nigeria, and we’re afraid it is going to spread a great deal in that region,” he told CNA. “It is one that’s really popped up on my radar screens — in the last couple of years, but particularly this past year.”
Cardinal Hollerich said that he was particularly concerned for the people who are forced from their homes by the increased violence in Nigeria. He said it was important that Europe welcomes and protects them.
“My thoughts and my heart are with the many young people who are forced to leave the country because of violence and lack of socio-economic prospects,” Hollerich said.