MORE people than usual attended Ash Wednesday Mass in Nigeria following an appeal by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, to use the day as one of national mourning, prayer and reflection for Nigerians – especially Christians, kidnapped or killed by terrorists or criminals in the country.
The record attendance was confirmed by Nigeria’s Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo Diocese who is also Africa’s Bishop-President for Social Communications under SECAM, the continental body of Bishops.
Bishop Badejo told Vatican News that according to reports he had received, from across the country, many of the faithful have turned up in numbers for Ash Wednesday Masses. This was in response to a call by Nigerian Bishops in a Pastoral letter addressed to the faithful. Nigerian Bishops also recommended that the faithful turn up for Ash Wednesday Mass dressed in black –an appropriate Nigerian expression for mourning. The Pastoral letter was to be read in all Catholic Churches of Nigeria during Ash Wednesday Masses. With no prosecutions, Government cannot claim to be protecting Christians. “I believe that the kind of language and gestures we speak now, (as a Church in Nigeria) must be direct to show that Nigeria simply cannot continue this way,” Bishop Badejo said in a telephone interview. He added, “The Bishops have declared their moral responsibility to stand up for the people, and we have directly told the Government it can no longer pretend to be protecting Christians when in fact not one single person has been prosecuted of all those who have been slaughtering people, simply because of their declaration as Christians. If the Government cannot protect the freedom of religion and the security of life and property, we have to ask – what kind of Government is this?” Bishop Badejo says twice the CBCN has asked Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, to resign for being ineffectual. Nigeria’s young people were in the majority at Ash Wednesday Masses. Asked if Nigeria’s young people would draw strength from Pope Francis’ Lenten Message of 2020, not to see Jesus’ passion as a past event but one that gives hope, Bishop Badejo responded in the affirmative. He said young people in Nigeria still have faith that even if the State fails them, the Church will always be there for them.
What happened that morning is that many young people still believe in Nigeria and in the Church. The evidence of this is that young people were in the majority among those who attended (Ash Wednesday) Mass across Nigeria,” Bishop Badejo said.