Hope Is Not Lost: Finding Mercy In Maiduguri Diocese

HOPE IS NOT LOST: FINDING MERCY IN MAIDUGURI DIOCESE
BY FR. POLYCARP MBLARAWA

BRIEF HISTORY OF ISLAM IN NIGERIA

Islam was in existence for more than 200 years before the advent of Christianity to Nigeria. Islam came to Nigeria in the 9th century. By the 11th and 15th centuries, it spread fast to Borno-Maiduguri.

At the beginning of the 19th century, a jihad was fought across much of northern Nigeria. Under the leadership of Uthman Dan Fodio, the leading Fulani Islamic scholar of the day, this sought to spread a purified form of Islam as well as established the Fulani dominated Sokoto caliphate. (Seat of power) The caliphate ruled most of the northern Nigeria for the next century. Kanem-Bornu caliphate was established in the 15th century. This is the base of Boko haram in Nigeria.

CHRISTIANITY IN NIGERIA

Christianity made its first appearance in Nigeria in the 15th century when the Portuguese missionaries introduced the Roman Catholicism. Unfortunately, it extinguished for a long period of time until it resurfaced in 1800s. Since then the Catholic Church has grown and now claims approximately 25,000,000 followership based on 2010 data.

THE ADVENT OF CATHOLIC FAITH TO MAIDUGURI DIOCESE

It was difficult for Christianity to penetrate the northern parts of Nigeria because of Islam.  Muslims vehemently resisted Christianity because they regarded it as foreign, an intrusion, and religion of the “whites.” or the religion of the people of the book. It was extremely considered as a rival religion to Islam.

Roman Catholic Church came to the north in 1904. It finally came to Maiduguri diocese in the early 1940. Through medical ministries, much of the Islamic north opened up to the gospel. Small clinics were established in some of the areas occupied by the Muslims. They received medical treatment free of charge. This made them to tolerate the missionaries to a great extent.

As time went on, great efforts were put forth by the missionaries to evangelize the non-Muslims especially those who subscribed to the African Traditional Religion (ATR)

From among those who embraced the catholic faith, few were taught the use of English. They were trained to interpret homilies and catecheses to the new converts. Slow and steady, the church grew to where it is now amidst resistance and persecutions.

The life of the church in northern Nigeria, both catholic and protestant churches, has been all about threats, violence and persecution. But despite all the turmoil, the faith is on the increase.

DIOCESE OF MAIDUGURI

The diocese of Maiduguri was formally created a diocese on June 7, 1966. It covers 132,000 kilometer square (51,000 square miles). The largest in land mass among the dioceses in Nigeria. It has 40 parishes, more than 350 outstations, and 2 chaplaincies. It has 5 convents for female religious, over 40 elementary, junior and senior high schools, 5 clinics and a diocesan pastoral center. Also, it has 55 active priests, 20 nuns and over 200 catechists and volunteers. The catholic population is more than 125, 000.

THE PRESENT STATE OF MAIDUGURI DIOCESE

Before now, that is, during the raid by Boko Haram, more than 100,000 Catholics were displaced

  • 7,000 married women became widows
  • 10,000 children became orphans
  • 20 religious sisters –Augustinian sisters were displaced and Novitiates and convents destroyed
  • 5 clinics destroyed
  • 20 priests were displaced
  • More than 200 catechists and volunteers displaced. Most of them lost houses and properties worth millions of dollars.
  • 32 out of the 40 elementary, junior and senior high schools destroyed
  • More than 100,000 homes were destroyed
  • Government structures and roads, police stations and others were reduced to mere ruins

EMERGENCE OF BOKO HARAM

Haram Boko Haram emerged as a dreaded Islamic Sect Known as “Jama’atul Ahlil Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad” meaning that a group of people who committed themselves to the propagation of Jihad and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessing be upon Him) Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” meaning that anything that comes from West is not allowed and is sinful according to the propagation of its members

The Boko Haram was founded by Muhammad Yusuf in 2002 in Maiduguri with the vision of establishing Islamic law (Sharia) under governorship of Ali Modu Sheriff. He built mosques and Islamic schools whereby parents from Nigeria and other neighboring countries fetched their children especially poor parents and put them in the school, and soon the centre transformed from Islamic school to a jihadists recruiting centre “Many students from technical colleges in Maiduguri and Damaturu torn their educational certificates and discarded their studies. They joined the Qur’anic lessons and preaching of Muhammad Yusuf” (Danjibo 3)

He influenced the students through his teaching and propagating Jihad on Nigerian government in particular northern part that must adopt Islamic law, if not he would launch attacks on both humans and institutions.

PROBABLE CAUSES OF BOKO HARAM

  • Insecurity: Political, economic and social insecurity
  • Youth unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Monumental corruption

BE THE LIGHT OF CHRIST SHINING GOD’S MERCY IN THE WORLD

The Christians in the diocese of Maiduguri do not only preach love with mere words,     but also with their actions. I am proud to state here that despite the heinous attacks on them by Boko Haram that led to the loss of thousands of life, properties and structures worth millions of dollars; there was no single instance of reprisal attacks from Christians.

  1. It may interest you to know that among the thousands of Christians that took refugee in our sister diocese-Yola, hundreds of them were Muslims. The bishops, priests and the lay faithful of the dioceses of Yola and Maiduguri proudly took care of both Christians and Muslims in their camps. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt 5:7).
  2. Hundreds of people that have returned to their various towns and villages are now living together with Muslims. They preach peace, love and tolerance with their words and actions. The persecution has awakened both Christians and Muslims to the fact that they are brothers and sisters, children of one father. Pastors, priests and Muslim clerics have embarked on serious education on the need to recognize religious diversity in Nigeria. They now try to speak with one and strong voice to condemn violence, intolerance, bigotry, and any form of religious practice that will undermine the relative peace they enjoy for now. They preach forgiveness. Jesus has made clear that, “if we forgive others their transgressions, our heavenly father will forgive us. But if we do not forgive others, neither will our father forgive our transgressions” (Mt 6:14-15).
  3. The bishop of Maiduguri, Most Rev. Oliver Dashe Doeme since the beginning of 2016 embarked on pastoral visit to the affected areas, strengthening the hope of his flock. “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). This hope sustained the priests and faithful since they began to co-exist with Muslims many decades ago. The same hope continues to be our strength and our food.
  4. Christianity is all about love because God is love. “He who loves lives in God and God lives in him” (1 Jn 4:16b-17). It could be hard to continue to love those who do not appreciate it. But when you hate those who hate you, what do you stand to gain? Two wrongs cannot make a right. Jesus admonishes us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, so that we can be children our father in Heaven (Mt 5:44). Yes, we have lost church buildings, convents, schools, clinics and lives, but we have not lost God. As long as God exists, we fear no evil. He is our shepherd, shield, and refuge (Ps 23). Even if we walk through the valley of darkness, we fear no evil. The Boko Haram can only succeed in killing the body but “cannot kill the souls”.
  5. The persecution in the words of Bishop Oliver has “purified” the faith of the people. When Boko Haram began to attack Christians, burning homes and churches, young men and women often run to churches to protect the priests and church buildings. For them, the Boko Haram could destroy their homes, but let them spare the churches and rectories.
  6. Before Christians finally fled the affected areas. They risked their lives to attend Masses and Sunday services as their communities had fallen prey to violence from the radical extremists. “There were a lot of bomb explosions, but did not seem to deter people from coming to church.” One of our priests once said, “It was a very humbling and edifying experience for him to see many people at Mass.” He also heard some of his  parishioners said that, “if the attacks would worsen they would rather die in church than somewhere else.” During one of his Masses, the priest told the faithful that attended Mass that there was no need for him to preach, their presence in such large numbers was a homily itself.
  7. We must try to live as our heavenly father. “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” ( Mt. 5:48) “By your love for one another the world will know that you are my disciples” (Jn 13:34-35).  Love one another as I have loved you. Christ’s love for us led to his death on the cross. Our love for one another must resemble that of Christ in order for us to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. “Let your light shine before men so that seeing your good works, they will give glory to your father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).