Tragically, I could have written a “think piece” post about the following topic during every week over the past few years and it would have been relevant in terms of debates about politics, human rights, religious freedom and the practice of journalism.
I am talking about religious conflict in Nigeria, which often escalates into ISIS-level outbreaks of violence and persecution. But Nigeria is only one example of a wider problem in international news, at the moment. For more background, see the recent Richard Ostling religion-beat Memo with this title: “Buried story of 2022? The persecution of Christians keeps surging around the world.”
But let’s start with this new Reuters headline: “Catholic priest burned to death, another shot in north Nigeria.”
Actually, there is testimony that Father Isaac Achi was already dead, from gunshot wounds, when his attackers set fire to his home. There is some chance, however, that he was burned alive. Here’s the overture of the Reuters piece, which may be the only mainstream media coverage that has been done of this latest hellish vision of religious life in Nigeria:
Gunmen burned a Catholic priest to death and shot and injured his colleague in northwest Nigeria on Sunday, police said, the latest violence raising concerns about security ahead of an election next month.
Nigerians will vote for a new president on Feb. 25 but kidnappings for ransom and killings by armed gangs in the north have lead to fears that polls may not be held in some areas.
The motive for the latest attack was not immediately clear but gunmen have previously targeted priests in the largely Muslim north.
Once again, we see a phenomenon that I have written about many times here at GetReligion.
This kind of international story, in the context of America’s niche-media realities, is now seen as a merely religious, Catholic or even “conservative” story. Click here to see a Google News file illustrating this, in the case of the murder of this particular priest. There are the major, trend-defining newsrooms in this picture? That is, of course, the question.
But you can find more details (#DUH) in Catholic media. What you will read at The Pillar — “Nigerian priest killed in Sunday attack; another in critical condition” — shows that this bloody, fiery dark-of-night attack isn’t all that unusual.
The second priest, Fr. Collins Omeh, is the parish’s parochial vicar. He was shot several times as he tried to escape the scene, and is now hospitalized. From the hospital, Omeh has described the violence to priests in the Diocese of Minna, in messages shared with The Pillar.
According to Omeh: “The bandits, who were about 15 in number, came fully armed and shooting sporadically in the air shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is great].”
Here is more of his testimony:
The two priests, held at gunpoint by the terrorists, began praying together, and offered one another the sacrament of confession, Omeh said. After the men prayed, Omeh said that his pastor urged him to escape.
While Omeh ran from the compound, Achi was shot in the chest by terrorists, the priest said — while the gunmen continued to shout jihadi slogans, he said. Omeh himself was shot in the shoulder as he ran.
It is not clear how long it took police to arrive on the scene.
That’s the reality in central and northern Nigeria. This is old news.
However, this leads us to a fascinating piece at Crux that raises another burning question. Yes, the mainstream press is silent about events in Nigeria, but what about the Vatican and other global religious bodies? The headline on this read-it-all feature: “Nigerian nun sounds alarm on anti-Christian attacks, blasts Vatican silence.”
There are two sources worth noting in this piece. The first is the voice of Sister Nkiru Esther Ezedinachi of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Lord Jesus. The second is a reported published by the Pontifical Charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Some key states from that report? For starters, more than 100 priests and religious sisters were kidnapped, arrested or killed in 2022. The report adds this: “At least 12 priests and five religious sisters were murdered during 2022 while fulfilling their mission.”
Nigeria, of course, plays a major role in this hellish drama — but Nigeria is not the whole story.
“At least 12 priests and five religious sisters were murdered during 2022 while fulfilling their mission,” the report concludes. … Five religious sisters were murdered: Luisa Dell’Orto in Haiti; Sisters Mary Daniel Abut and Regina Roba in South Sudan; Sister Mari de Coppi in Mozambique; and Sister Marie-Sylvie Vakatsuraki, killed in October in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Besides the killings, scores of priests and religious were also kidnapped, with a total of 42 priests kidnapped in different countries in 2022.
“Nigeria is the country where there have been most kidnappings, with a total of 28 in 2022,” the report states. …”
Here is one final blast from Sister Nkir, and it’s one that could lead to coverage by newsrooms in Rome, London, New York City and elsewhere.
Ezedinachi also blamed the Vatican for seeming to look the other way as the kidnappings and killings continue unabated.
“Again, many clergymen act as if nothing is happening, except a few of them. Many of us here also wonder why the Vatican and Canterbury are keeping so quiet about what is happening in Nigeria — the abduction and killing of religious people.”
Charges worthy of coverage? I mean, worthy of coverage other than in religious, Catholic and “conservative” media?