VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis sent his condolences to the victims and survivors of a deadly shooting that occurred during Mass Aug. 6 at a parish in Nigeria.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, expressed the pope’s sentiments in a message dated Aug. 7 to Bishop Hilary Odili Okeke of Nnewi.
Pope Francis, the message said, was “deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and injury following the violent attack” in St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Ozubulu, a town located in the Nigerian southern state of Anambra.
According to the Nigerian newspaper, The Vanguard, witnesses say a gunman entered during an early morning Sunday Mass and opened fire during the prayer of the faithful.
The BBC and other news outlets reported Aug. 7 that at least 11 people were killed and as many as 18 others wounded as they attempted to flee the carnage. While no suspects have been caught, authorities believe the target was a young businessman involved in a drug deal gone wrong.
The pope extended “heartfelt condolences” to the faithful of the diocese, especially “the families of the deceased and all those affected by this tragedy.”
In southwestern Nigeria, bishops called for the government to strengthen security to guard against the murder of innocent citizens.
In a statement at the end of a regional meeting, the bishops called the attack “horrendous and callous” and said they had heard different accounts analyzing the mayhem.
“The bottom line is that the security situation in Nigeria remains at best, tenuous,” said the bishops from the Ibadan ecclesiastical province. “Those charged with securing human life and property in the nation must simply do more to protect the citizens.”
They advised Nigerians to collaborate with security agencies by giving information where necessary and obeying the rules of vigilance and personal security at all times.
Contributing to this story was Peter Ajayi Dada in Lagos, Nigeria.
Msgr. Pius N. Ilechukwu, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Bluffton, is from the Diocese of Nnewi. He released the following comments about the recent attack.
On Sunday Aug. 6, 2017, the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor, as the priest was celebrating the Holy Mass in St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu, gunmen attacked the worshippers in the church, shooting randomly. According to the report of Bishop Hilary Paul Odili Okeke, the bishop of the diocese, as of Aug. 8, 13 victims had died and 22 people were injured. Of the 12 wounded and in the hospital, 15 victims were in A/E; one was in ICU; one was in FSW; two were in Pediatric Surgical; one was in the Trauma Center and two were discharged.
For the dead, may the good Lord grant them eternal rest; may he grant the injured quick recovery. To the families: condolences and consolation. It was horrible and disrespectful to human life and blood. People must know that life is sacred and must be respected.
It was horrifying to me when I saw, in a video, pools of human blood in the church. I was deeply touched. I wrote a note of condolences to the bishop, to the families, to the Ozubulu people and to the entire Nnewi diocese and expressed my deep concern. The Diocese of Nnewi is doing what it can to help the victims and their families. To do that, the diocese has opened a bank account to which all funds for the care of the victims will be deposited for proper accountability. The account is:
Name of the account: Cdn Ozubulu Casualties Charity Fund
Bank: UBA PLC (NNEWI)
Account Number: 1020519192
Any parish, institution, company, society, association or group that would like to join the diocese in providing assistance to the victims and their families can send their contributions to that account. We shall keep accurate records of the contributions and the distribution of the funds.
I join many people calling on the government, state and federal, to do something to protect the people. The security men and women should be doing something. However, it was an isolated matter. So the government must do everything possible to bring the perpetrators to justice and try to prevent such incidents in the future. May the dead rest in peace. I pray for a quick recovery for the injured and for condolences and consolation for the people.
Msgr. Pius N. Ilechukwu
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