Bishop says Nigerian church where massacre occurred to reopen by this spring

A man cries during a funeral Mass in the the parish hall of St. Francis Xavier Church in Owo, Nigeria, June 17, 2022. The Mass was for at least 50 victims killed in a June 5 attack by gunmen during Mass at the church. (CNS photo/Temilade Adelaja, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Bishop Jude Ayodeji Arogundade of Ondo, Nigeria, is resolute in the wake of tragedy.

St Francis Xavier Church in Ondo, where at least 40 worshippers were slain by terrorists on June 5 during Pentecost Mass, will reopen by the northern fall (the southern spring).

“We’ll resume full activities as it has always been,” Bishop Arogundade told Catholic News Service on June 28 in Washington, where he attended the International Religious Freedom Summit.

No arrests have been made in relation to the massacre. Nigeria has only a federal police system; there are no local or state police investigators. Nigerian bishops have criticised government officials for doing nothing to stem the nation’s increasing violence.

Many Nigerians believe ethnic Fulani, who are predominantly Muslim, were responsible for the attack, the first in Nigeria’s Christian-majority South. Fulani extremists have killed Christian farmers in the country’s north and central sections.

Bishop Arogundade said Ondo Governor Rotimi Akerodolu has been an outspoken opponent of the extremists’ plans to turn Nigeria into a Muslim caliphate, and they have been unable to negotiate with the governor.

“To attack worshippers inside a church is not new,” Bishop Arogundade told CNS. “Nigeria would mean, for them, the expansion of the caliphate.”

The city of Ondo, he said, is “up to 80 per cent Christian.”

Bishop Arogundade said he was about 20 miles from the church when the attack occurred, and he arrived just after the bodies had been removed. He visited the wounded at St Louis Hospital with Father Andrew Adeniyi Abayomi, assistant parish priest.

The bishop said his faith has not been challenged as a result of the attack.

“It creates fear in the hearts of the community,” he said. “As a Christian, I am very resolute. People have the right to choose the faith they want to belong to. People are stronger in their faith in the long run.”

The terrorists “are trying to match the goodness of the Church with their own evil. The people know what the Church has always been to their community. This kind of attack is counterproductive in that environment”.

Bishop Arogundade said he tries not to worry about his own safety: “Life is precious, but of course, I have apprehension that they will do something. I’m not thinking of that. I’m just doing what I need to do.”

And interfaith cooperation in the city still exists, he observed. One Muslim leader in Ondo gave him money to help repair the damage to the church. “So we are very close. We do things together.”

The International Religious Freedom Summit is sponsored by a coalition of more than 75 organisations that operate together for the cause of religious freedom around the world.

Photo: A man cries during a funeral Mass in the the parish hall of St. Francis Xavier Church in Owo, Nigeria, June 17, 2022. (CNS photo/Temilade Adelaja, Reuters)

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