By Courtney Mares
The Nigerian diocese of Kafanchan has asked for prayers after two Catholic priests were kidnapped Friday evening.
Father John Mark Cheitnum and Father Denatus Cleopas were abducted at around 5:45 p.m. on July 15 at the rectory of Christ the King Catholic Church in the town of Lere in Nigeria’s northern Kaduna State.
“May Jesus, crucified on the Cross, listen to our prayers and hasten the unconditional release of His priests and all other kidnapped persons,” Father Emmanuel Uchechukwu Okolo wrote in a statement shared with CNA.
Okolo, who serves as the chancellor of the diocese of Kafanchan, said that the diocese is asking people to pray for the quick and safe release of the kidnapped priests.
“We will use every legitimate means to ensure their quick and safe release,” he said.
At least seven Catholic priests have been kidnapped in Nigeria in the month of July, according to data compiled by Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic nonprofit organization.
The latest abduction brings the total up to 20 Nigerian priests kidnapped since the beginning of 2022. Three of the priests were killed.
Security expert David Otto, director of the Geneva Centre for Africa Security and Strategic Studies, based in Geneva, Switzerland, told CNA that the consensus of security experts in his group is that the Catholic Church is being targeted because it has been paying the steep ransoms demanded by the bandits, which can be as high as $200,000 or more.
Bishop Jude Arogundade of Ondo, in southwestern Nigeria, where still-unapprehended gunmen on June 4 killed at least 40 people attending a Pentecost Mass in Owo, believes that the Catholic Church in Nigeria is both a threat and a strategic target for radicalized Muslim Fulani herdsmen and Islamic terror groups using violence to destabilize Nigeria.
Nigeria’s Kaduna state, in particular, has been described as “an epicenter of kidnapping and violence by non-state actors” in Nigeria by the UK-based human rights foundation Christian Solidarity Worldwide. A 2022 report by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom cites six attacks against churches in Kaduna State in 2021.
Catholic priests in the archdiocese of Kaduna organized a protest of the violence against Christians in Nigeria at the funeral of a slain priest at the end of June.
The Nigerian Diocesan Catholic Priests Association has called on priests to observe a week of prayer, fasting, Eucharistic adoration, and recitation of the rosary to help them in their ministry despite the dangerous security situation.
“Our duty is to lay before the altar of God the gratitude, cares, worries and petitions of the faithful and ours. We are advocates of pro-life and peace,” the priests association statement said.
“We were called and sent to preach the good news to the poor, give liberty to captives, free the oppressed, heal the broken-hearted, bind up wounds, and the likes. We have been fulfilling this call and we shall continue.”