Michael Nnadi, one of four philosophy students kidnapped in 2020 from a seminary in Nigeria’s Sokoto diocese, was later found dead. CNS screenshot/SW News 91

Nigerian seminarian killed for being Christian

  • March 30, 2023

In 1936, English novelist Evelyn Waugh published a short biography of Edmund Campion, English priest and martyr. When an American edition of the book was published 10 years later, Waugh wrote in the preface, “We are nearer Campion than when I wrote of him.” 

At the time, Waugh was speaking specifically of the priests of Mexico and Croatia. Today, Catholics in Nigeria are the ones close to the sufferings and martyrdom of the 16th-century Englishman.

This Lent, Aid to the Church in Need, a papal charity that provides pastoral and financial support to the persecuted Church, is drawing attention to the Nigerian priests and nuns who find themselves, like Campion, “hunted, trapped, murdered” because of their faith.

At a recent online information session organized for journalists, Regina Lynch, international project director at ACN, noted in her opening remarks that it is easy to become “complacent about conflicts that have gone on for a long time.”

Easy too, perhaps, to be complacent about a country far away and furiously complicated in its linguistic, political and religious diversity.  

Complacency is less easy when confronted with the stories of the persecuted.

On Jan. 8, 2020, four seminarians were taken by gunpoint from Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna province, Nigeria. Three of them were eventually released, one was killed.  

Pius Tabat and Stephen Amos, two of the surviving seminarians, spoke at the online briefing. Tabat recounted the miserable days spent in captivity. The seminarians were blindfolded throughout the day, forced to sit immobile for hours at a time and subjected to arbitrary but regular “floggings.” 

The kidnappers would demand amusement, making the young men “moo like cows or cry like goats.” They would ask the boys to dance and sing the songs of the seminary. Tabat recalled that they were reminded of the 137th psalm, “For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ ” 

The motivation of the kidnappers, in this instance, appears to be primarily financial. The men were forced to make regular phone calls to their families to relay a demand for ransom money.  But it was 18-year-old Michael Nnadi’s faith in Christ that led to his death.

In the camp where they had been brought there were other captives. Tabat said that one of them, “not of our faith,” began to enquire about the Christian faith and asked to be taught the Lord’s prayer.  Nnadi obliged. He encouraged the seeker to “leave your way of life and convert.” 

After several weeks in captivity, one of the four seminarians had been released. The three who remained agreed to undertake a simple novena together. One Our Father, one Hail Mary, one Glory Be and a few words of encouragement shared between them. Each of the men led three days of the nine-day novena. It was on the second day of Michael Nnadi’s novena that he was killed.

The kidnappers later told journalists and security forces that Nnadi had been sharing his faith with the other captives and that it was for this reason that he had been singled out.

“His only crime was being a Christian,” Tabat said.

The violence and persecution have not abated since 2020. Last year in Nigeria, 28 priests and seven nuns were kidnapped and four priests were killed. Bishop Matthew Man-oso Ndagoso of Kaduna has told ACN that, “In the past three and a half years, eight of my priests have been kidnapped, two have been killed and one has been in captivity for nearly four years.”

The violence directly affects the Catholic faithful. Ndagoso says, “Priests cannot go to the villages and say Masses. People cannot go to farm, so they cannot feed themselves. With this insecurity people are starved of the sacraments.”

Tabat and Amos chose to return to the seminary after their ordeal. Tabat believes that “if God has spared us, then He has plans for us.”

Let us pray for the people of Nigeria. Let us pray for those saints of whom Waugh wrote, “In fragments and whispers we get news of other saints in the prison camps of Eastern and South Eastern Europe,” and now Nigeria, “of cruelty and degradation more frightful than anything in Tudor England and of the same pure light shining in the darkness, uncomprehended.” 

(Farrow is a writer in Montreal.)

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