A top U.S. State Department official met with a local bishop in Nigeria following a massacre at a Catholic church in that country, the office of Rep. Chris Smith confirmed.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland met via a Zoom teleconference with Bishop Jude Arogundade after Smith, a Republican representing New Jersey, raised concerns about the safety of Christians in Nigeria.
“The meeting took place as Congressman Smith requested, and we understand that the opportunity to raise concerns was met,” Michael Finan, Smith's press secretary, told CNA.
Smith released a statement June 15 about a letter he sent, urging Nuland to meet with Arogundade during her trip to that country.
“In the aftermath of the horrific attack that took place on June 5 at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Owo, Ondo State, and in advance of your upcoming visit to Nigeria,” Smith wrote, “I ask that you make time in your schedule to meet with Bishop Arogundade of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo.”
The statement comes in the wake of the massacre, where 50 people were confirmed dead and more than 60 injured.
Smith wrote that “the attack indicates the southward migration of terror towards Christian-majority regions as well as Nigeria’s oil-producing areas.”
Nigeria, a nation of more than 216 million that is Africa’s most populous country, is of “outsized importance” to West Africa, Smith said, adding that the increased violence toward Christians can no longer be ignored, according to the statement.
Before the massacre in the Diocese of Ondo, the State Department omitted Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern in its annual International Religious Freedom Report.
In the press release, Smith noted alarming statistics from Open Doors USA, a network that serves persecuted Christians. The religious-freedom watchdog reported that a Christian is killed every two hours for practicing his or her faith — in Nigeria alone. This amounts to approximately 13 Christians killed per day, or 372 killed every month.
According to Open Doors, Nigeria accounted for almost 80 per cent of Christian deaths around the world last year.
Finan told CNA that Smith's office will continue to work with Arogundade.