Violence against Christians in the Middle East and Africa continues to rear its ugly head.
The Vatican and local authorities have confirmed that at least a dozen people were killed and 18 others wounded after a mass shooting at a Roman Catholic church in Nigeria over the weekend. In a message to Bishop Hilary Paul Odili Okeke of Nnewi, Pope Francis was said to be “deeply saddened” by the attack at the Church of St. Philip in the town of Ozubulu, invoking “the divine blessings of consolation and strength” upon the diocese of Nnewi.
As the New York Times reported, authorities believe the gunmen drove up to the church around 6am on Sunday, marched in toward the altar, and opened fire. Congregants allegedly attempted to flee, but the gunmen blacked the exits.
It is believed that the father of a wealthy local mogul, Aloysius Ikegwuonu, who had helped build the church was among those killed. While it is unclear how Ikegwuonu made his money, there is ongoing concern in the country over the powerful hold drug dealers exert due to their generous donations to local political and religious figures.
With that in mind, police were quick to discredit rumors that the incident involved the drug lords or “gang wars.” It remains unclear, however, if terrorist organizations like Boko Haram or its militant faction, Niger Delta Avengers, was responsible.
Concerned citizens in Nigeria used the tragedy to once again warn against the growing influence of nefarious people and organizations in both the church and state. Activist Adeola Soetan shared his fear that some leaders “worship money irrespective of where it comes from and have now become part of the alliance of evil.”
On Monday, Bishop Okeke had no comment about Ikegwuonu or his role in financing the church, but he did celebrate a Mass in honor of the deceased. Additionally, the governor, Mr. Obiano, declared a day of mourning, and, according to the Times, Obiano had received condolence calls from the nation’s president and vice president. Other officials publicly condemned the cowardly attack on a place of worship, with the Nigerian Labour Congress releasing a formal statement:
“Whatever may have been the situation, this attack represents a descent into the pit of hell,” it read. “It is animalistic, cowardly and shameful.”