By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
ABUJA (Worthy News) – Christian leaders have appealed for prayers after two Catholic priests were kidnapped in northern Nigeria over the weekend amid ongoing abductions of Nigerian clergy by suspected Islamic fighters.
Nigeria’s Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan said priests John Mark Cheitnum and Denatus Cleopas were kidnapped late Friday at the rectory of Christ the King Catholic Church in the town of Lere in Nigeria’s Kaduna State.
“May Jesus, crucified on the Cross, listen to our prayers and hasten the unconditional release of His priests and all other kidnapped persons,” said Diocese Chancellor Emmanuel Uchechukwu Okolo in a statement. “We will use every legitimate means to ensure their quick and safe release,” he said.
At least seven Catholic priests are known to have been kidnapped in Nigeria this month, according to data by Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic nonprofit group.
The latest abduction brings a total of up to 20 Nigerian priests kidnapped since the beginning of 2022. Three of the priests were killed.
Security expert David Otto, director of the Geneva Centre for Africa Security and Strategic Studies, based in Geneva, Switzerland, isn’t surprised about the abductions.
He told the Catholic News Agency (CNA) that security experts in his group agree that the Catholic Church is targeted because it paid steep ransoms of up to $200,000 or more.
Catholic Church officials haven’t confirmed the ransoms in the impoverished country, and the precise circumstances surrounding the release of clergy have not always been shared publicly.
The abductions are part of the growing “Islamic oppression” that rights groups say Christians experience in several parts of Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari.
The government has come under mounting pressure to increase the protection of churches and their leaders in Nigeria, where thousands of Christians have been killed over the last year.
This mainly affects believers living in the Muslim-majority north and Middle Belt, but it’s also spreading to the south, according to church groups and rights activists.
Although all civilians are subject to threats and violence, Christians are often targeted explicitly because of their faith, said the advocacy group Open Doors.
In one of the deadliest single incidents in recent weeks, at least 50 Christians, including children, were killed and dozens injured in an attack on a church in southwest Nigeria as it gathered to celebrate Pentecost.
The presiding priest and several believers were kidnapped.
The attackers shot at people outside and inside St Francis Catholic Church in the town of Owo in Ondo State on Sunday, June 5, while explosives were also detonated.
Nigerian Christians are not only targeted by Islamic criminals known locally as “bandits” or armed Fulani herdsmen: Islamic terror groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province want to “eliminate” Christianity “ in the country.
As violence and kidnappings continue, Catholic leaders urged Christians to remain calm while asking priests to “pray and fast” amid the deteriorating security situation in the African nation.
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