A bishop in north-western Nigeria expressed his heartfelt thanks to a leading Catholic charity, describing how it is offering help at a crucial moment in the country’s struggle against extremism. His statements come amid reports from Kontagora, in Niger state, indicating that militant Muslims have tried to stop new churches being built — and even knocked them down during the night.
In response to these and other challenges, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, has announced that it will be giving over $190,000 over three years to help provide aid such as literacy classes, well digging, basic health care, and education for tribes in the region.
Bishop Timothy Carroll, Vicar Apostolic of Kontagora said, “Without your aid these missions could not survive.”
According to the bishop local people are increasingly turning their back on tribal religions, and looking towards more global faiths. Bishop Carroll said, “Our indigenous people are at a crossroads. In the next 10 years or so they will either embrace Christianity or Islam. Thank God a lot of people are turning to the Catholic Church as the gateway to God, and the gateway for progress in literacy, health, water, etc., because we cater for both body and soul.”
Bishop Carroll said, “I wish to express our deep gratitude to ACN, who are making it possible for the seeds of the Gospel to be planted… please thank your generous donors.” The bishop added, “May all at ACN and all your generous donors share in the fruits of our missionary labors.”
ACN’s help comes amid militant Islamic opposition to the growth of the Church and the adoption of Shari‘a law in Niger state — despite there being roughly equal numbers of Muslims and Christians.
The Church is leading the way with social programs, including literacy courses, which take place during the January-April dry season, in order not to interrupt the farming cycle. Bishop Carroll said, “As most of our indigenous people are still semi-nomadic and almost 80 percent illiterate, we place great importance on literary courses.”
Those who successfully complete three years’ study can go on to the courses at the Masuga Language Center where they learn to lead prayer services, and teach Bible stories and the basics of the faith. ACN’s Child’s Bible, God Speaks to His Children , in the native Hausa language is one of the materials used, and a New Testament and Psalms is in preparation in another local language, Kamberi.
A Church-organized well-digging team provides its services to any communities who request it – not just the Catholic ones – teaching them the importance of looking after their well to avoid contamination of the water. Bishop Carroll said, “By improving the quality of water we also improve the quality of health, as most of the common illnesses are water related.”
Health education is key to the mission’s work, and a Sister, who is a fully qualified nurse, goes around the villages educating mothers about the causes of common diseases. Bishop Carroll stressed the importance of mothers in informing the whole community. He said, “An African proverb says, ‘Educate a mother and you educate a whole family.’”
Inoculation against the common killer diseases in Africa is also carried out in the mission, and AIDS awareness and prevention classes run alongside literacy classes during the dry season. Bishop Carroll expressed his hope that some of these missions will be split into parishes in the next 5-10 years.
He said that the Shafashi mission, which serves 118 Catholic communities, could already be divided in to two parishes, but due to a shortage of priests this will have to wait. While there are plenty of priests in eastern and southern Nigeria, where the Church has had a presence at least for the last century, 80 percent of the communities in the north-west are less than a decade old.
Bishop Carroll said, “Indigenous vocations are the fruit on the tree. Here we are only planting trees at present. Fruit will come in God’s time. Vocations are now starting to come in older parishes.”
In conclusion the bishop thanked ACN for all its support for the work of the missions. ACN’s help has included the support of missions in Karenbana, Shafashi, Bobi, Nsanji Nkoso, and Galadima in the north-west of the country.