Rome (Agenzia Fides) - "We thank God for the current situation in Maiduguri that has improved in recent months", says in an interview with Agenzia Fides Fr. Patrick Solomon Zaku, Diocesan Director of the PMS of Maiduguri and National Coordinator of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Nigeria, who is participating in the formation course in view of the Extraordinary Missionary Month of October 2019 at the International Center for Missionary Animation (CIAM).
Maiduguri, capital of the State of Borno, in northern Nigeria, has for years been the epicenter of the violence of the Boko Haram Islamist sect. As explained by Fr. Solomon, "Boko Haram has carried out several attacks on civilians in our area over the past 9 years. The peak was reached between 2014-2016 when more than 22 parishes of the diocese were attacked by Boko Haram, becoming de facto territories controlled by the terrorist organization, while over tens of thousands of people were forced to flee to refugee camps. Thanks to the improvement in security conditions, several displaced families have been able to return to their homes".
"The Church immediately offered support to displaced people, also because for many of them the first place where they sought refuge was a parish or another ecclesiastical structure", says the priest. "In the city of Maiduguri we created temporary shelters for refugees from neighboring villages, even though most of the displaced people in the most remote areas of our diocese were welcomed by the diocese of Yola, thanks to the local Bishop's strong commitment and availability. Among other things, at least about two thousand displaced people were welcomed in the cathedral of Yola".
Fr. Solomon emphasizes that "in the last 9-10 years in the diocese of Maiduguri alone Boko Haram inflicted incalculable damage to the Catholic Church: more than a hundred churches, parishes and mission stations were burned and destroyed, as well as numerous schools, clinics and hospitals, without counting the many priests, catechists and simple faithful killed in these years".
However, the violence did not stop the Church's missionary effort. "Despite the violence and threats we continued to proclaim the Gospel", says Fr. Solomon. "In spite of the attacks by Boko Haram, the parish priests continued to administer the sacraments and to go regularly to church with the faithful to celebrate mass. Even people displaced in makeshift camps did not lose faith. I found myself displaced in 2014 because my parish was attacked by Boko Haram. I continued to celebrate Mass together with the other displaced people who flocked to participate", the priest concludes. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 11/4/2019)