The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria has urged all Catholics in the country to wear black attires on Ash Wednesday, February 26, as a mark of mourning for Christians killed by insurgents in various parts of the country.
Those who cannot wear blacks are enjoined to wear black arm bands.
The bishops in a circular to all Catholic churches, urged Catholics and all Christians to offer prayers and penance for the repose of the dead.
The circular signed by Most Rev. Augustine Akubeze, President CBCN and Most Rev. Camillus Umoh, Secretary, lamented the level of insecurity in the country.
The Bishops held that the fact that there has been no arrests or prosecution of terrorists in spite of their heinous acts “raises very serious questions about the ability and willingness of the government to protect the lives of the ordinary Nigerians.”
The statement read: “As we begin the holy season, we, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, invite all Catholics in Nigeria as well as other Christians and persons of good will to unite in prayer and penance for peace and security in our country.
“The level of insecurity in Nigeria today is such that whether at home or on the road, most Nigerians, in all the parts of the country, live in fear. The repeated barbaric executions of Christians by Boko Haram insurgents and the incessant cases of kidnapping for ransom linked to same group and other terrorists have traumatised many citizens.
“That the perpetrators of these heinous crimes make public shows of them on social media and Nigerians do not hear of any arrests or prosecution of the criminals raises very serious questions about the ability and willingness of the government to protect the lives of ordinary Nigerians. To make matters worse, many communities are constantly threatened, harassed and sometimes even sacked by herdsmen, as they seek to forcefully take over more territories for the purpose of grazing their cattle.”
The Catholic Bishops reminded all the arms of government in Nigeria and all whose responsibility it was to protect Nigerians that without security there can be no peace and without peace there can be no development or national growth.
They appealed to government to put an immediate stop to the wave of violence and brutality aimed particularly at Christians while calling for the arrest and prosecution of those involved in the senseless killings.
“We are sad. We are in sorrow and grief. But we are confident that the light of Christ, which shines in our hearts, will brighten the dark corners of our Nigerian society.
“As a mark of morning for all our brothers and sisters who have been victims of the most recent wave of violence against Christians, we are all dressed in black today and offer our prayers and penance for their repose. We invite the universal Church and all Christians to join us in prayers for our dead brothers and sisters and for peace and security in Nigeria,” the Bishops said.
They appealed also to the international community to come to the aid of the Nigerian government in the fight against the terrorists.
The Bishops also charged Catholics and all Christians to live such lives that the impact of their faith would be felt in public.
“To all our faithful we make a passionate appeal: The present situation in Nigeria challenges all of us to a life of coherent witnessing to the Gospel. The impact of our Christian faith must be felt in public life. This is not a time for compromises for the sake of personal convenience, but rather for heroism in Christian virtues,” the Bishops added.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten period. For Catholics, it is a spiritual journey characterised by prayer, penance, alms giving and other forms of charitable works.