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Extremists issue more threats against Christians in Nigeria

MAIDUGURI and VATICAN CITY (CNS/agencies): In the wake of the Christmas Day bombings of churches and other targets in Nigeria by Boko Haram, a Nigerian group that purports to be inspired by Islam, the country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, declared a state of emergency in parts of four states hard hit by violence. 

The bombings killed more than 40 people, including Muslim passersby (Sunday Examiner, January 1). The country’s mainstream Muslim leaders condemned the attacks.

However, according to a January 2 report on the website of Nigerian newspaper, Vanguard, Boko Haram gave all Christians three days to leave northern Nigeria and threatened further acts of violence against Christians who remain in the region. 

In a January 8 interview with Vatican Insider, Anthony Cardinal Olobunmi Okogie of Lagos, said, “It is a tragic escalation… but never have Boko Haram terrorists issued an ultimatum to us Christians to induce us to leave the north of our country.” 

He added, “The Nigerian Church is strong and vital, it will not be intimidated and like Jesus on the cross, it is ready to testify its faith to the ultimate sacrifice.”

Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue said on 30 December 2011 that the bombings “convince me even more of the importance of dialogue between religions and of the need to intensify it always.” 

Speaking to L’Osservatore Romano, he added that the attacks clearly demonstrate the need to strengthen religious teaching that violence cannot be committed in God’s name.

Cardinal Tauran said the Christmas bombings “underline the urgency of interventions by all religious leaders to infuse the hearts and minds of their faithful with a true mentality of peace.” He said a true religious leader teaches “the idea of a nonviolent God who loves all men and women without regard to race, culture, convictions or social condition, a God in whose name one cannot commit violence or arouse hatred.” 

The cardinal said interreligious dialogue “does not have the aim of uniting the faithful of different religions into one temple or church,” but rather to promote knowledge of one another’s teaching, mutual respect and cooperation for the good of humanity. True religious leaders condemn violence, he said, but some seem to have difficulty in convincing their communities. 

“One must focus especially on the young and on their formation,” said Cardinal Tauran, who noted that “the pope has insisted strongly on the formation of young people for peace, solidarity, justice and universal brotherhood” and focussed on them in his message for World Peace Day on January 1. 

The cardinal said other religious leaders should do likewise. 

“To educate the young for peace and justice is an obligation for all believers if they want to uproot violence from the world, at least that kind of violence that falsely cloaks itself with religious motivations,” he said. 

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