Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins, pictured on Oct. 13, 2018. / Damien Storan via Shutterstock.
London, England, Jun 13, 2022 / 04:42 am (CNA).
Attributing violence against Nigeria’s Christians to climate change is “incorrect and far-fetched,” according to the bishop of a diocese where at least 40 people were murdered at a Pentecost Sunday Mass.
Bishop Jude Ayodeji Arogundade of Ondo was responding to a statement issued by Irish president Michael D. Higgins after the June 5 massacre at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, southwestern Nigeria.
Higgins condemned the attack on June 7, but appeared to link it to “the consequences of climate change.”
“While thanking the Honorable Mr. Higgins for joining others to condemn the attack and offering his sympathy to the victims, his reasons for this gruesome massacre are incorrect and far-fetched,” Arogundade said in a message dated June 10.
The bishop said he felt compelled to address the president’s statement because of the historical ties between the Republic of Ireland and his diocese.
“The first two bishops of the Diocese of Ondo were Irish men, the Church building in which the attack took place was built by Irish missionaries and some of the people killed were baptized, given the Sacraments of Confirmation and Matrimony — by many venerable Irish missionaries,” he wrote.
“Also, Irish men and women laid the foundations of the faith for us in this part of the world. To their eternal memories, we remain grateful.”
He added: “To suggest or make a connection between victims of terror and consequences of climate change is not only misleading but also exactly rubbing salt to the injuries of all who have suffered terrorism in Nigeria.”
“The victims of terrorism are of another category to which nothing can be compared! It is very clear to anyone who has been closely following the events in Nigeria over the past years that the underpinning issues of terror attacks, banditry, and unabated onslaught in Nigeria and in the Sahel Region and climate change have nothing in common.”
The Nigerian government reportedly suspects that the massacre of men, women, and children at the church, which also left more than 126 people injured, was carried out by the insurgent group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Arogundade’s comments were echoed by the British Catholic human rights campaigner David Alton.
Alton, an independent member of the House of Lords, the upper house of the U.K. parliament, lamented that the suffering of Nigerians had provoked “little interest” in the mainstream media.
“And it is striking how quickly politicians and commentators trot out the same discredited banal narrative that the drivers for such carnage are climate change and lack of resources,” he wrote on his website on June 12.
“They say that the causes are ‘complicated,’ with hardly a mention of the jihadist ideology that is behind the endless atrocities of ISIS and Boko Haram.”
“And then they say that everyone suffers and there is a sort of equivalence with victims coming from varied religious backgrounds.”
“They should tell that to the families whose loved ones are targeted, day in and day out, and see what sort of response they receive.”
He said it was “high time the world woke up to the unpalatable truth” about the attacks.
At least 4,650 Nigerian Christians were killed for their faith in 2021 and nearly 900 in the first three months of 2022.
Nigeria is rated as the seventh worst country in the world in which to be a Christian, according the advocacy group Open Doors. Some aid organizations and experts are even assembling evidence that the killing of Christians in Africa’s most populous nation constitutes genocide.
But in 2021, the West African country was delisted without explanation from the U.S. State Department’s list of countries with the most egregious religious freedom violations.
Bishop Arogundade said that people who followed events in Nigeria closely would realize “that alluding to some form of politics of climate change in our present situation is completely inappropriate.”
“Terrorists are on free loose slaughtering, massacring, injuring, and installing terror in different parts of Nigeria since over eight years not because of any reasonable thing but because they are evil — period,” he commented.
The bishop, who has led the Diocese of Ondo since 2010, said that there was “a profound fear in every part of the country” due to widespread kidnappings, as well as attacks on churches, markets, and public transport.
He underlined that his flock understood the importance of protecting the environment, as set out in Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato si’.
“While we are still mourning our loved ones after the horrible attack, I wish to appeal to those who are trying to take advantage of this horrific event to project any form of ideological agenda, to desist from such opportunism,” he said.
“I implore everyone to pray for Nigeria and indeed for peace in the world.”
“The victims of terrorism and indeed all the people of Nigeria would be thankful if world leaders propose fruitful ideas to the government of Nigeria on how to protect the citizens and make Nigeria a safe place to live.”
“This would be a better way of honoring the victims of hate and putting an end to the incessant killings in Nigeria.”