Liz Dodd, CNS
Nigeria’s bishops condemned the Islamist terror group Boko Haram for forcing children to commit crimes such as suicide bombings.
“We deplore the fact that young children are used to commit such crimes, and the fact that young Nigerians are used by politicians to intimidate and inflict violence on their political opponents is a disturbing symptom of breakdown of family values in our society,” the bishops said at the end of a five-day meeting on the theme, “Good Families Make Good Nations.”
On 22 February a girl with explosives strapped to her chest, whom witnesses said looked no more than eight years old, killed five people and wounded dozens of others at a security checkpoint outside a market in the north-east Nigerian town of Potiskum.
“We wonder: Who are the parents of these young Nigerians? Do these young ones not belong to families?” the bishops’ letter said.
The bishops said that many families were currently facing challenges caused by the Boko Haram insurgency and the heightened tension occasioned by the coming general elections, which are now scheduled for 28 March and 11 April.
It added that the insurgency had resulted in people being forced to flee their homes, innocent people killed and families separated.
“Our hearts go [out] to children separated from their parents, especially our beloved daughters, the Chibok girls, and others who have been abducted by mindless terrorists. We think of many others who live in camps far away from their homes lost in the insurgency,” it said.
Bishops from North Africa met Pope Francis yesterday and he thanked them for their efforts to maintain a peaceful presence in the face of increasing persecution and danger.
He told bishops from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, who were in Rome for their ad limina visit, that they had shown bravery in a region where freedom of conscience was under threat. He singled out the clergy and Religious in Libya, which has descended into lawlessness since the 2011 removal of President Gaddafi, in “courage, loyalty and perseverance”.
Francis stressed the importance of the bishops of preserving the spiritual patrimony in North Africa, where Muslim authorities have become increasingly intolerant of Christianity.
“I am pleased to hear that in recent years, various Christian shrines have been restored in Algeria. By welcoming all, kindly and without proselytizing, your communities show that they wish to be a Church with open doors, always reaching out,” he said.
Last May the church of St Augustine in Hippo – modern-day Annaba – was re-opened after renovations and raised to the status of a basilica.
Francis also praised them for the work they did among the sick, the elderly and to migrants from other countries in Africa.