THE massacre of dozens of worshippers during mass at Pentecost in a Roman Catholic church in south-west Nigeria was an “act of pure evil and a profound offence to God”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
At least 50 people, including many children, are believed to have died in the attack at St Francis’s, Owo, in Ondo State.
Armed men arrived on motorcycles and entered the church, setting off explosives. They spent 30 minutes inside, shooting worshippers. Some had already entered the church before the service, posing as worshippers, a police spokesman said.
Witnesses saw blood on the altar and the floor, and bodies strewn on pews. The church, which was full when the attack began, can hold up to 1200 people.
A chorister, John Nwovu, told the BBC: “I saw entire families being wiped away: friends, relatives, those I knew.”
Archbishop Welby, who worked in Nigeria before his ordination, said: “The massacre of worshippers — men, women, and children — during a mass in south-west Nigeria was an act of pure evil and a profound offence to God.
“The tragedy is deepened because such vulnerable people found no mercy from their attackers. May God receive their souls in peace.
“My prayers are with all affected by this barbaric attack. I continue to pray for the nation of Nigeria.”
Pope Francis sent assurance of his prayers for the victims and for the country. “His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the horrific attack at St Francis Church in Owo, and he assures you and all those affected by this act of unspeakable violence of his spiritual closeness,” a telegram from the Vatican Secretary of State to Bishop Jude Ayodeji Arogundade of Ondo.
“In commending the souls of the dead to the loving mercy of Almighty God and imploring divine healing and consolation upon the injured and those who are grieving, His Holiness prays for the conversion of those blinded by hatred and violence so that they will choose instead the path of peace and righteousness.”
The acting general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Revd Professor Ioan Sauca, said on Thursday: “This barbaric attack is a crime against humanity, and an outrage against the sanctity and sacredness of life common to all religions. There can be no justification, religious or otherwise, for such an atrocity.”
He called on the Nigerian government to restore security in all affected areas of the country, and to ensure that perpetrators were apprehended and held accountable. “The protection of the lives and properties of its people is the main duty of any government,” he said.
He continued: “The WCC conveys its solidarity and support to the churches of Nigeria as they seek to fulfil their essential ministry for justice, peace, and human dignity and rights in this escalating crisis. We pray that you may experience the presence and the love of God even in the midst of these challenges.”
Owo is in a region that has not previously experienced much conflict over religion. The Yoruba ethnic group, which lives there, is divided equally between the Muslim and Christian faiths, and has co-existed peacefully.
The police have not identified any of the attackers, but some locals have blamed Fulani militia from northern Nigeria, an area that has suffered increasing militia attacks and civilian deaths in consequence.
The Owo attack occurred a week after the Prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria, Dr Samuel C. Kanu Uche, was abducted, with two other clerics in the south-east of the country, and freed after a ransom of £190,000 was paid.
Two weeks ago, two RC priests were kidnapped in Katsina, in the north. They have not been released.
Stampede. Last week, at least 31 people, including children, died in a stampede at a church in the southern Rivers state when hundreds of people turned up to receive free food.