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Catholicism in Nigeria: The Church stays strong while facing terrorism, persecution

In some ways, Nigeria is a fine example of why many believe the “future of the Church is in Africa.” The continent’s largest nation (now more than 200 million people), with its fast-growing populace and strong religious tendencies, routinely exports priests to countries in need of clergymen.

On the other hand, Nigeria has become a nightmare for many Christians, particularly in the northern region. As extremist groups—motivated by a mix of religious hatreds and profit-seeking (whether by looting or kidnapping for ransom)—continue to indulge themselves, Nigeria has become the world’s leading source of Christian martyrs. In fact, according to the Christian persecution watchdog group Open Doors, Nigeria alone accounted for 90 percent of Christians killed for their faith worldwide in the year 2018.

The main perpetrators have been the jihadist group Boko Haram along with semi-nomadic Fulani herdsmen. Over the last five years, they have murdered more than 11,500 Christians and destroyed about 2,000 churches. The violence has displaced more than four million Christians.

“No news around shows the extent of horror,” says Father Joseph Kalu Oji, chaplain to the Igbo and Nigerian Catholic community in North Carolina.

It is strange to consider that Nigeria, the site of so much Christian suffering and persecution, is also a nation of such abundant Christian worship—the country now has the world’s sixth-highest Christian population and the highest number of Christians on a continent that has seen the faithful multiply exponentially.

Specific to the Catholic Church, there were one million worshipers in Africa a century ago. Now there are more than 170 million. Nigeria is at the forefront of sending priests to Western nations suffering from a clerical shortage. Such priests are part of the “reverse missionary” phenomenon, in which clergy from Africa and Asia seek to reinvigorate the Faith in the same Western nations that, during previous centuries, were so ardent in bringing Christianity to Africa and Asia.

Despite the dangerous reality that many seminarians in Nigeria must face, the country’s seminaries are thriving in a way that the Western world can no longer approach. In fact, Father Oji relates that these days, “Nigeria has the largest number of seminarians and ordains the largest number of priests each year throughout the globe.”

Read more at Catholic News Agency

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