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Mass of Solidatity and Healing for Victims of the January 17th and March 7th 2010 Crises in Plateau State

At St. Jarlath’s Catholic Church, Bukuru, 19th March 2010

“Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers [and sisters]” (Lk 22:32)

Homily by Most Rev. Ignatius A Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos

As head of the Catholic family here during these times of crises, I feel like Simon and need the prayer of Jesus to be strong in order to strengthen others. As you all know, the sweet rhythm of life, the serene and attractive atmosphere of Jos and environs changed as we witnessed the rising smoke from burning houses, shops and places of worship; blood on the streets and children cruelly murdered in Dogo Nahawa, Razat, Fan and Sot villages by heartless persons. This is heart breaking and faith shattering. We need God’s grace to absorb the rude shock, for broken hearts to heal, shattered hopes to be restored and walls of hostility dismantled. No matter how demoralizing the situation in Plateau State is, no solution is better than prayers. We need prayers to revive hope and rekindle confidence in God and in one another. It is in this spirit that we have gathered here in St. Jarlath’s Parish, Bukuru, one of the places where destruction took place, to pray as a community of faith; to support, encourage and inspire each other to stand strong in faith and not to allow anything “separate us from the love of Christ, not anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword” (Rom 8:35).

In an extraordinary spirit of solidarity, His Eminence Peter Cardinal Turkson the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace came all the way from Rome to be with us and to bring us the goodwill message and assurance of prayers of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. We are immensely appreciative. We pray here today to feel the sweet motherly embrace of our Mother, Queen of Peace and on this solemnity of St. Joseph, for the gift of unquestioning obedience to God’s will and deeper faith so that we will not allow the recent ugly happenings to make us question if there is any value in forgiving those who harm us or overcoming evil with good. It is not very easy to forgive seventy times seven times (cf. Mt 18:22) or to offer a cup of cold water to our enemy (cf. Rom 12:20) or turn the other cheek (cf. Mt. 5:39) and yet these teachings are at the heart of our Christian faith. A man joked that Peter who drew his sword and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear at Jesus’ arrest (cf. Jn 18:10) was right and Jesus did not do well by plastering the man’s ear back; that Jesus should have allowed Peter not only to cut off the other ear but the whole head! My dear brothers and sisters, to be Christian entail sometimes unmerited sufferings. Jesus foresaw that when he said, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man …” (Lk 6:22).

Since 1994 the wind of ethnic, political, social and religious discord has blown throughout Plateau State resulting in depressing loss of lives and properties. Is God testing our faith so as to purify us and make us more loving? Or are we allowing the devil to take up domicile on this nice Plateau to create confusion and destabilize the polity? Where Muslims and Christians once lived in friendship, love and harmony, now they take up arms against each other and even try to polarize settlements along religious lines. Each crisis seems to bring more tragedies and sorrows with the violence assuming a more crude form.

The 17th January 2010 crisis undid almost all the good work being done towards good neighbourliness and religious accommodation. It created greater ethnic and religious gaps, deepened mutual suspicion and distrust and encouraged a culture of violence instead of dialogue. Life which should be considered sacred is snuffed out of perceived enemies as if they are chickens. The crisis this time went deeper than the usual stereotype of Muslim/Christian conflict to create tension even among Christians. For instance, there was no consensus as to the root cause of the crisis and while some Christians felt dialogue could solve the problem others preferred hostile confrontation. The Muslims too talked tough and those among them who favoured negotiations were accused of being a sell out. Suspicion and the desire for vengeance were palpable everywhere. The security agents could not even correctly explain how the crises originated. The army was accused of partiality as they brushed aside the police and asked them to limit their operations outside of curfew hours. While some of us went into sober reflection, praying, making frantic efforts and seeking the best non-violent ways to resolve the unfortunate crisis, others thought it was a sign of weakness and would have preferred if we called people on to the streets to fight to the bitter end. Truth became a casualty. By means of mobile phone calls, text messages, the electronic and print media, situations were exaggerated and lies spread like wild fire creating great tension.

In the early hours of March 7th, a barbaric attack said to be unleashed by Fulani pastoralists brought about the very brutal killing of children and women in the Jos South and Barkin Ladi Local Government Areas. Another one took place a few days ago near Riyom. In despair we ask where could the next one be? Crises which have occurred in Plateau State are often said to be religious. This is somehow true in that churches and mosques are always the first casualties and as the two main religions in the State are Christianity and Islam and those often killed are Muslims or Christians, it is easy to conclude that Christians and Muslims are fighting a religious war. But at various gatherings of stakeholders both at the Presidency in Abuja and here in the State where I have been present, the main reasons for the crises often mentioned include the motive behind the creation of Jos North Local Government, indigene certificate, creation of electoral wards, indigenes versus settlers, superiority complex, expansionist tactics, non integration, bad governance, policy of exclusion, denial of rights, media bias, failure to respect host communities, shielding perpetrators of violence, partisanship of security officials, cattle owners versus farmers, youth unemployment, etc. These social issues along with religiously motivated interests must frankly be addressed by Plateau elders, ethnic, political, traditional, religious and youth leaders. Some outsiders who are said to be interested in destabilizing Plateau State must be identified by the security agents and brought to book.

It is no secret that Nigerians are religious and love religious symbols. If a crisis begins over politics, instead of solving the problem, religion is brought in because it attracts more sympathy and attention. I have said many times that the root causes of the Plateau crises must be identified and tackled. While religion is part of it, it is wrong to think it is all about religion. The more we don’t call the crises by their names and keep saying they are all about Muslim/Christian conflicts, the more outsiders will continue to fan the flame of religious hatred, sending in support in the name of defending or promoting their faith. The irresponsible pronouncement recently by a foreign leader that Nigeria should be divided into Christian and Muslim countries is an attempt to encourage and sustain religious bigotry in Nigeria and who knows what his role and others like him has been in fermenting the Jos crises? Any crisis said to be religious does not end quickly. Northern Ireland is a case in point. Its conflict lasted over thirty years because it was claimed that Protestants were fighting Catholics or vice versa, but in 1998 with the Good Friday Peace Agreement the crisis was settled through power sharing. It was politics rather than religion that caused the fighting for years. They fought not because they wanted to be holy Catholics or Protestants but because of political power. It is time to liberate religion from the manipulative hands of people who when they fail, use religion as an excuse for their failure. While we do not deny that the Muslims will want to expand their territorial control and make more Muslim converts just as Christians will want to expand and also gain more converts, this must be done in an atmosphere of non-violence and gentle persuasion. Preaching through good religious living is the best way to gain converts and not through acts of terrorism and violence. We should stop trying to fight for God. Doing so means we admit that God is a failure and needs our help. Rather than using religion as an instrument of holiness, to create a loving humanity and stronger bond with God, we tear each other to pieces over it and destroy the neighbour who should be at the heart of our religious practice.

Our deepest sympathies go to those who suffered great losses, just as we pray for the eternal repose of those who died. May they rest in perfect peace. The Emergency Response Team of our Archdiocese informs us that some 25,000 persons were displaced since the 17th January crisis out of which over 5,000 are Catholics. We need to support them in the best ways we can. We appreciate those groups and individuals who helped us to bring relief to affected persons irrespective of faith or tribe. We thank God for those of you who have been praying to God for a change of heart in those who engineer these Plateau crises. We thank God for those of you who see killings as contrary to religion and see those who kill as sinners in need of repentance. We thank God for those of you who are interested in peaceful resolutions rather than encouraging that we should fight to the bitter end. We thank God for those of you who prefer dialogue to violent conflicts. I hope that both Christians and Muslims can overcome petty religious prejudices and work for the peace and happiness of everyone realizing that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. Christians and Muslims who promote violence must be ashamed of themselves because even the traditional religious adherents whom we look down upon and call “pagans” are at peace with one another. They are not killing each other because of religion. Should we conclude that the pagans practice the virtues of love, forgiveness and tolerance better than our two religions? We should all confess the shame we have brought to the two dominant religions here, pray for the circle of violence to stop, seek God’s forgiveness and refuse to follow the path of violence again as God’s plan for us is not war but peace (cf. Jer 29:11).

... Ignatius Kaigama, Erzbischof von Jos

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