Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Bishop weigh in on search for missing Nigerian girls

Published May 29, 2014

WASHINGTON (CNS)—Among the U.S. leaders speaking out for action to track down and return 276 kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria are the chairman of a Catholic bishops’ committee and the director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network.

In statements May 9, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, and Dominican Father Aniedi Okure, a Nigerian native, echoed calls by Nigerian bishops for dialogue among leaders of various elements of the society and for civil reforms.

The BBC reported May 12 that a video had surfaced apparently showing about 130 girls kidnapped from the northern Nigeria school on April 14. It quoted a leader of Boko Haram, the extremist group that took the girls, offering to release them when “all imprisoned militants” are freed. The news agency reported that the Nigerian interior minister rejected the “terrorist group’s” attempt to set the terms of negotiations.

Bishop Pates, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Peace and Justice, in a letter to National Security Adviser Susan Rice condemned the raid by armed gunmen at Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in which the students were taken. A few escaped to give accounts of the events. Subsequent raids on other communities have resulted in the disappearance of more girls, reportedly at the hands of Boko Haram, an extremist group that opposes education for females, which has threatened to sell the girls.

Bishop Pates urged Rice and the United States to assist the Nigerian government in promoting national security by partnering with civil institutions including faith-based groups “to strengthen their efforts to stop the violence and build social cohesion. Their efforts will be crucial in counteracting the extremist religious views espoused by Boko Haram,” he wrote.

At a rally in Washington the same day, Father Okure, director of the Washington-based Africa Faith and Justice Network, joined protesters in demanding “the safe and unconditional return of the kidnapped girls to their families so they can continue their education. Education is a human rights issue; it should never be denied to anyone. We unequivocally call on Boko Haram to release them now.”

He added that Boko Haram has succeeded in such acts “mainly due to the larger political culture that plagues and destabilizes Nigeria. Politicians live above the law and feel unaccountable to no one. Therefore, we urge the Nigerian government to address the root causes of Nigeria’s social, economic, and political problems.”

The BBC was among news outlets reporting that the majority of the kidnapped girls are Christians.