Bomb kills 21 in Jos, Nigeria, Feb. 26. CNS photo/Stringer, EPA

Create united front against violence, Pope tells Nigeria's bishops

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • March 17, 2015

VATICAN CITY - As the people of Nigeria prepared for general elections, Pope Francis wrote to the nations' bishops urging efforts to build up a "culture of encounter" that would create a united front against Boko Haram terrorists and ethnic tensions.

"Believers, both Christian and Muslim, have experienced a common tragic outcome at the hands of people who claim to be religious, but who instead abuse religion to make of it an ideology for their own distorted interests of exploitation and murder," the Pope said, referring to the terrorists, who have been on a deadly campaign since 2009.

Pope Francis' letter to the bishops of Nigeria was released by the Vatican March 17; general elections were scheduled to be held March 28 with voting for a president and members of both houses of the legislature.

In his letter, the Pope noted how Nigeria, with a population of more than 170 million people, has experienced strong economic growth, attracts foreign investments and has "distinguished itself as a political player widely committed to the resolution of crisis situations" around Africa.

Yet, the terror of Boko Haram, ethnic tensions in other parts of the nation and tensions over the exploitation of natural resources have led to death, kidnappings, destruction and the displacement of tens of thousands of Nigerians.

Pope Francis told the bishops he prays each day for the suffering people of Nigeria and for the gift of peace.

While true peace comes from God, he said, it also is "a daily endeavor, a courageous and authentic effort to favor reconciliation, to promote experiences of sharing, to extend bridges of dialogue, to serve the weakest and the excluded. In a word, peace consists in building up a culture of encounter."

Pope Francis thanked the Catholic Church in Nigeria for continuing to give witness "to hospitality, mercy and forgiveness," and he thanked the priests, religious, missionaries and catechists who have refused to abandon their flocks.

"We give thanks to the Lord for them, as for so many men and women of every social, cultural and religious background, who with great willingness, stand up in concrete ways to every form of violence and whose efforts are directed at favoring a more secure and just future for all," the Pope wrote.

Pope Francis urged the bishops to persevere in hope on the path of peace. "Accompany the victims," he said. "Come to the aid of the poor. Teach the youth. Become promoters of a more just and fraternal society."

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