ABUJA, Nigeria - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan urged religious leaders to mold the characters of their followers to help stop the current crises facing the country.

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LAGOS, Nigeria (CNS) -- A Nigerian archbishop joined others in his country in questioning the wisdom of a plan that the Nigerian government dialogue with the Boko Haram Islamic sect, responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in the past several years.

Critics, including Archbishop Felix Job of Ibadan, urged Nigerian authorities to be cautious of negotiating with an extremist "faceless group" that had been involved in maiming and killing of innocent Nigerians.

Archbishop Job also criticized a Boko Haram suggestion that among its delegates to the negotiations in Saudi Arabia would be former Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the country's military ruler from 1983 to 1985 and a presidential candidate in 2003, 2007 and 2011.

Archbishop Job told Catholic News Service by telephone: "Is it not funny that the Boko Haram group, a faceless group, has a spokesman" and is seeking "dialogue with the Nigerian government as a means of resolving the insecurity?"

"Nigerians have not been told who are the sponsors of the faceless sectarian group that had been maiming and killing innocent Nigerians over time," he said. He said he wondered if the general's nomination might be "translated into meaning that he is indirectly one of the financiers of the sect."

Bishop M. John Goltok of Bauchi wondered why Saudi Arabia was chosen as the venue for the dialogue.

"There are a lot of complications involved in the issue,'' he said.

Among Boko Haram's targets have been Christian churches. One of the most recent attacks occurred Oct. 28 in the city of Kaduna, when a car bomb slammed into St. Rita's Catholic Church, killing at least eight people and injuring 135 -- many of them children.

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VATICAN CITY - The president of the Nigerian bishops' conference called for the international community to help his country improve its security operations to stop the "fundamentalist, fanatic" Boko Haram terrorist group.

The day after a Catholic church, an elementary school and a police station in Damagun were attacked, presumably by Boko Haram members, Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos told Vatican Radio: "There is high religious tension in Nigeria, but we are not at war between Christians and Muslims. The Boko Haram is at war with Christians, because they have vowed they will kill Christians because they are 'infidels.' This is a fact, but it is not the whole Islamic community."

In its two-year campaign to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law on the entire country, Boko Haram has been blamed for more than 1,400 deaths of Christians, Muslims and police officers.

Kaigama, who was interviewed Aug. 20 in Rimini, Italy, where he addressed a meeting of the Communion and Liberation lay movement, told Vatican Radio that in his country, where the population is about half Muslim and half Christian, "there is no neat division between political problems and religious problems. They are intertwined."

"It is erroneous to always reduce every crisis in Nigeria to religion. Religion does a lot of good; we shouldn't see it as always generating crisis," the archbishop said.

In addition, he said, people must look for the root causes of tensions in Nigeria, including the economic, political and social issues that "trigger these crises, but somehow eventually they always become Christian-Muslim crises."

The vast majority of Nigerians — Christians and Muslims — want to live in peace and are frightened by the actions and agenda of Boko Haram, he said, "but somehow the violence continues to grow."

"The government seems helpless. The security agents, even though they are all over the place, don't seem to provide the security that would allow people to go about their normal business peacefully," Kaigama said.

"People are afraid that if this conflict situation continues, the consequences will be disastrous: There will be either an open, very terrible religious conflict or even a civil war that will pit the North against the South," he said.

The majority of people in the North are Muslim, while the majority of people in the South are Christian.

If there is war in Nigeria, he said, it will affect other West African nations and, perhaps, the whole continent.

"We don't want a war in Africa, that is why we are asking the international community to assist in a way that we can resolve the problems of security so that we can live happily in peace," the archbishop said.

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LAGOS, Nigeria - Nigeria's Catholic bishops expressed concern that anger and hatred are growing among Christian and Muslim communities and have reached a dangerous level following a spate of church bombings believed to be carried out by a fundamentalist Islamic sect.

"These are sad days for Nigeria and for all Nigerians," the bishops said in a June 26 statement released in Abuja. "We feel greatly pained by the violent events which have become almost daily occurrences."

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VATICAN CITY - Expressing his "deep concern" about terrorist violence in Nigeria, Pope Benedict XVI urged an end to "the shedding of the blood of so many innocent people."

Speaking at the end of his weekly general audience June 20, the Pope said the terrorist attacks are continuing and are "directed mostly against Christian faithful."

For months, bombs have exploded at Christian churches in various cities; the attacks were carried out on Sunday mornings when the churches were full. Forty-five people were reported killed June 17 after four churches in Zaria and Kaduna were bombed, and mobs carried out reprisal attacks on Muslims.

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VATICAN CITY - Bishop George Dodo of Zaria, Nigeria, was in the middle of his homily June 17 "when we heard a loud explosion." A car bomb had just exploded near the Cathedral of Christ the King, where the bishop was celebrating the second Mass of the day.

"The car bomb created a crater two feet deep; all around there was broken glass, rubble and burning cars," the bishop told Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Reuters, the British news agency, reported 10 people were killed at Christ the King.

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LAGOS, Nigeria - Cardinal Anthony Okogie of Lagos consoled the families of the victims of the crashed Dana Air plane and urged them to draw strength from God.

"My heart goes out to all those who lost their loved ones, friends and well-wishers. I condole with them and indeed all Nigerians," the cardinal said in a statement June 4, the day after the crash.

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There is a new archbishop in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. That might not strike you as big news, but it is. The last time Lagos had a new archbishop was in 1973. Cardinal Anthony Okugie, now 76, retired in May after an astonishing 39 years as archbishop. His successor, Archbishop Alfred Martins, is already 52, so likely will only serve for about 25 years or so.

In the four decades since Cardinal Okugie was appointed, Nigerian Catholicism has come to the forefront of the universal Church. Nigeria’s explosive growth, its sending of missionary priests to the dying Churches of Europe and North America, and its face to face confrontation with militant Islam all have lessons to teach Catholics the world over.

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LONDON - The leader of the Catholic Church in Nigeria has criticized his government for allegedly failing to protect Christians in the north of his country from attack by Islamist terrorists.

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, said he could not understand why the government appeared powerless to prevent the killings of Christians.

Speaking April 30, a day after 21 people were killed and 20 others injured in co-ordinated attacks on Sunday services at a university campus in Kano and a Protestant chapel in Maiduguri, the archbishop said the incidents showed "that government security is not working."

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LAGOS, Nigeria - A Nigerian archbishop credited security forces for preventing a catastrophe at a Christian church on Easter when a suicide bomber was turned away and ended up detonating a car bomb on a busy street in the northern city of Kaduna.

Archbishop Mathew Ndagoso of Kaduna said that while the blast claimed dozens of lives, the death toll would have been much higher had the bomber been able to enter the grounds of the Evangelical Church of West Africa, where Easter services were being held.

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LAGOS, Nigeria - Delivering a message from Pope Benedict XVI, the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue urged Christians and Muslims in Nigeria to be tolerant of each other in an effort to build understanding and end the violence that has plagued much of the country.

Speaking at an interfaith meeting in the northern city of Jos March 25, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran said tolerance was the only path to achieving a peaceful coexistence among people of different faiths.

The cardinal explained during the meeting, organized by Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos, that the pope sent him to join religious leaders in seeking ways of ending violent attacks that have left nearly 2,000 people dead and widespread destruction.

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LAGOS, Nigeria - The suicide car bombing of a church in Jos was an "evil, irrational, beastly and criminal" act, said the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria.

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos also called on Christians to remain calm after the bombing March 11 -- during a Mass -- claimed the lives of three worshippers and led to retaliatory violence that resulted in at least seven deaths around the city.

"We want those that are behind this crisis to come and seek dialogue rather than attacks," Archbishop Kaigama said hours after the bombing.

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ABUJA, Nigeria - Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja challenged Nigerians to do everything possible keep their nation united and to resist any attempts to divide it along narrow religious lines.

"We live in a nation where everyone is supposed to be free to profess whatever faith he or she decides to follow," Archbishop Onaiyekan said in his homily at the opening Mass of the Nigerian bishops' plenary Feb. 26.

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MADALLA, Nigeria - Officials of the Archdiocese of Abuja celebrated Mass for 18 victims of the Christmas bombings at St. Theresa Catholic Church, then buried the remains within the church grounds.

Abuja Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan told about 2,000 people gathered at the church Feb. 1 that "those who killed others, either in the name of their faith or ideology, are murderers.''

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VATICAN CITY - Two Nigerian bishops deplored bloody attacks in a northern city by a radical Islamist group, warning of deep social divisions and displaced populations, the Vatican missionary news agency Fides reported.

"They are destroying the hope of a united Nigeria," said Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos, referring to simultaneous attacks on government buildings by the extremist sect known as Boko Haram, Jan. 20 in the city of Kano, according to Fides.

News reports said that more than 150 people, most of them Muslims, are believed dead following the attacks, the latest in a series by the radical organization, which seeks to impose Islamic law in the country's Muslim-majority North.

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