#1 The Exodus Of Nigeria’s Christians
05-19-2014, 02:44 PM
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- Jun 2008
The Exodus Of Nigeria’s Christians
Christian groups say minority in country's troubled north is experiencing some of the worst suffering of 21st century as Boko Haram attempts to 'eradicate' them
Arriving at St Joseph’s church in the Nigerian town of Gashua, Father John Bakeni knew he was taking on a tough posting. A flyblows settlement near the northern border with Niger, his new parish was smack in the heart of Boko Haram territory, and in the previous three years, all but a fraction of its 3,000-strong Christian minority had fled.
Sent by his bishop to show that the diocese had not deserted the town, he spent much of the following year trying to reassure the 200 remaining parishioners. But nearly every time he ventured from his rectory, a reminder would await him of the difficulty of his mission.
“Several times a week I would find a dead animal had been thrown in the compound, usually a chicken, goat or sheep, but sometimes dead cats too,” said Fr Bakeni, 38. “Stones would get thrown at the church almost every day, and sometimes also people would bang the gates and shout: ‘Infidel, we are going to kill you.’
“Almost every priest who had been posted to Gashua had the same experience, so I knew it was going to be hard. But I was not sad to leave.”
Fr Bakeni’s mixed feelings about his time at St Joseph’s reflect a sense among Nigeria’s Christians of a losing battle in the north, where Boko Haram’s kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls is seen as part of a wider onslaught to drive them out for good.
With Muslims among the missing pupils as well as Christians, international reaction to the crisis has been to emphasise Nigeria as united in anger against a foe that targets both faiths with equal ferocity.
But the platitudes do not disguise the fact that Christians now feel particularly vulnerable in the north, where they form a small but highly visible minority that Boko Haram has specifically vowed to “eradicate”.
The threats have not proved idle. Christian groups estimate that up to a quarter of the 4,000 people killed by Boko Haram since 2009 have been Christians, and more than 700 churches have been attacked in the last seven years alone, according to the Nigerian Catholic Bishop’s Conference. Across the troubled north-east, many Christian neighbourhoods are now ghost towns as tens of thousands of residents flee south. It is one of the biggest Christian exoduses of the century, yet largely unremarked outside of Nigeria....
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