Some 70 Nigerians were killed on Pentecost Sunday, June 5, in a terrorist attack thought to be carried out by Muslim Fulani herdsmen—although no one has officially taken responsibility for the massacre.
The terrorists attacked the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, a city in the southwestern state of Ondo, as the service was ending around 9 a.m., church leaders and residents told Morning Star News.
“We were in worship … when the terrorists attacked us,” said the Reverend Andrew Abayom, a priest at the church. “They shot at the congregation while breaking into the church by throwing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at the church building. Some of us hid inside the church as they shot randomly at us. This lasted for about 20 minutes before they retreated.”
Nigeria is ranked No. 7 on Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians. Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Fulani militants have long terrorized Christians in northern and central Nigeria, but religious persecution has become more common in the southern states as well.
“The south of Nigeria is known for peace and safety for the church,” said Zulu*, Open Doors’ country manager for Nigeria. “But now things are changing. The violence from the north and the Middle Belt is spreading and rapidly increasing. This is a result of violence that has gone unpunished.”
Anselm Ologunwa, the Ondo state chairman for the Christian Association of Nigeria, agreed, saying, “Nowhere is safe in Nigeria.”
Last year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom removed Nigeria from its list of Countries of Particular Concern despite the fact that the country led the world in Christians killed for their faith last year.
“Religious freedom has not improved in Nigeria since the U.S. State Department took it off its Countries of Particular Concern list,” said Sam Brownback, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom. “If anything, it has worsened. The U.S. must do more to advocate for religious freedom there.”
But above all, Zulu asks that Christians around the world pray for Nigeria.
“Please pray for us—pray for the church to be strong … and continue to pray for our faith to be increased.”
*Name changed to protect anonymity.
Photo: Joerg Boethling/Alamy