Following persistent killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen, Nigerian Catholic bishops have invited Pope Benedict XVI to visit Nigeria, saying that such visit will strengthen troubled Nigerians and encourage them to cope with different challenges.
The Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, who was part of arecent “Ad limina” visit by the Nigerian bishops to Pope Francis at the Vatican, announced the invitation in a recent interview with the Vatican News (the mouthpiece of the Holy See), an extract of which was obtained by THISDAY yesterday.
The Lagos prelate remarked: “Oh yes! We’re looking forward to seeing him. Yes, we did invite him and of course, as expected, he couldn’t give us a response then but we hopeful he would react to that. If he does come, it will not only strengthen the people, it will also encourage the people to be able to cope with these different challenges.”
Even though, the Catholic spiritual head had not responded to the invitation to visit Nigeria, Most Rev. Martins noted that the Pope was concerned about the killings going on in the country.
Martins said: “Well, of course, we also asked him what message he wanted us to take back home as a message to our people. He said we should be courageous, particularly with regards to the recent troubles with the terrorists that masquerade as herdsmen. He told us to tell our people that he is with us in spirit and he is with us praying for us; that whatever it is that is possible in order to ameliorate the situation, he is willing to journey with us. We thought that was very good.”
According to the Vatican News website, the Nigerian Catholic bishops, “believe that terrorists and mercenaries have infiltrated the Fulani herdsmen to cause insecurity and mayhem in the Middle Belt of the country.”
Martins also praised the Pope for operating an open-door policy.
“We came in; we wanted to talk about the situation of our people; the situation of their lives and the response had been very cordial in the sense that he is willing to listen to what we have to say. There is that willingness to listen and the willingness to share the kind of challenge that we have. We are there with the Holy Father and he said to us that we could tell him whatever it is that we needed to say even if it meant criticizing him. I thought that was very, very interesting; that we have a man that is open and ready to listen to what other people have to say,” Archbishop Martins said.
The pope was said to be particularly saddened by the recent attack on St Ignatius Catholic Parish, Mbalom, in Gwer West, Local Government Area of Benue state.
During the attack, some men suspected to be herdsmen stormed the church and killed 18 persons, including two reverend fathers, leaving several other parishioners injured.