Over the past few months, extremists escalated their attacks on priests in Nigeria with gunmen kidnapping them and later killing them, thus creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion among the believers.
On Sunday, 19 June 2022, gunmen attacked two churches in rural northwestern Nigeria and killed three people, weeks after a similar attack in the West African nation that left 40 worshippers dead.
A recent report indicates that Fr. John Mark Cheitnum and Father Denatus Cleopas, were abducted on July 15, 2022 at the rectory of Christ the King Catholic Church, in the town of Lere in Nigeria’s northern Kaduna State. Fr. Cleopas escaped with his life, but Cheitnum was “brutally killed” by his abductors on the day of his kidnapping.
The question that arises and needs an answer is "why are priests being targeted in this way?" Priests are not men armed with weapons ready to shoot and kill anyone who stands in their way. They are men of God armed with a message of love, peace, harmony, and salvation. They are the men who preach the word of God, as mentioned in the Holy Bible, with the target of the salvation of souls and entrenching a life marked by harmony and common living that serves the good of humanity, while accentuating the need to preserve human life.
Father Andre Mahanna, president of Saint Rafka Mission of Hope and Mercy, a religious liberty advocacy group based in Lakewood, Colorado, said in an interview with Catholic News Agency that “the priests are being targeted, silenced, kidnapped, burned alive, and killed because they are educating the people that they need to build their nation by deciding their own fate based on principles of law, justice, property rights, faith, family, and freedom."
What is the importance of priests in societies? Priests play inevitable roles in societies, among which is the Holy Eucharist without which there is nothing. The Holy Eucharist means "the Bread of Life", with which millions of men, women, and children on Earth are blessed. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to be with us in the most intimate and efficacious way until the end of time. It is very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of humanity. Priests are God's tool designed for the rectification of societies by instilling the sublime and divine message of the Holy Bible.
No matter how people make successes in life, they still miss an important part of their lives, namely the spiritual aspect which is vividly expressed by the presence of priests. In all moments of life, people seek pious people who are glorified through their august deeds in the service of the Lord. They are namely “the priests” who are the instrument used by the Almighty God for the salvation of souls.
In his Angelus prayer, on July 26, 2009, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “Priests become instruments of salvation for many, for all!"
Furthermore, on February 6, 2016, Pope Francis addressed the priests on the occasion of the Jubilee for Priests saying, “The priest is the sign and the instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner.”
In his homily during the ordination of new Deacons and Priests that was held at St. Bakhita’s Girls High School in his Episcopal See on 22 July 2022, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kakamega in Kenya Joseph Obanyi Sagwe said, "The world needs priests now more than ever before because they remain relevant and they remain the conscience of the society. It is not the priesthood that is passing away, but the secular culture.”
He added, “The priests will always remain the men of the present and the future. Their relevance, therefore, does not end. When every memory of every popular culture has passed away, the priesthood will remain.”
Priests are always instruments in the hands of God. All they do and achieve are the fruits of being such good instruments. As such, they hand over themselves to God as they fulfill a mission for and of the Kingdom of God.
With reports indicating that US houses of worship have increased security after several shooting incidents, it is due time to assert that priests--being God's messengers of divine peace--have to be given due attention that ensures their security, safety, and well-being.
As priests are highly venerated for the divine services they provide to satisfy people's spiritual needed, we recite the prayer of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus for priests saying: O Jesus, I pray for your faithful and fervent priests; for your unfaithful and tepid priests; for your priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields; for your tempted priests; for your lonely and desolate priests; for your young priests; for your dying priests; and for the souls of your priests in purgatory. O Jesus, keep them all close to your heart, and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity." Amen