Pope Francis prays before Our Lady of Fatima May 13, 2015. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Pope Francis prayed Saturday for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Mother of Hope,” for Nigeria’s persecuted Christians and for peace in conflicts in Africa.
“Today I would like to pray in particular for the population of the northern region of Nigeria, victims of violence and terrorist attacks,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Aug. 15.
“The Virgin Mary, whom we contemplate today in heavenly glory, is the ‘Mother of Hope,’ he said. “Let us invoke her intercession for all the situations in the world that are most in need of hope: hope for peace, for justice, hope for a dignified life.”
More than 600 Christians in Nigeria have been killed in 2020 so far, according to a report on May 15 by the Nigerian human rights organization, International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety). The same report found that up to 12,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria since June 2015.
Christians in Nigeria have been beheaded and set on fire, farms set ablaze, and priests and seminarians have been targeted for kidnapping and ransom.
In July, members of the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) posted a video of the execution of five kidnapped Christian aid workers. ISWAP is a breakaway faction of Boko Haram, another Islamic extremist terrorist group in Nigeria.
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, Nigeria told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that the systematic violence could constitute genocide, adding that many Muslims have also been victims of violence.
“The inefficiency of the military has made the terrorists bolder and there are also issues of the complicity of the various levels of the military,” Kukah said in the interview published Aug. 6.
“We hear promises from the United States and Europe and they all come to nothing,” the Nigerian bishop added.
In his prayer for the victims of violence in Nigeria, Pope Francis invoked a title for Mary that was recently added to the Litany of Loreto: “Mother of Hope”. The pope approved the inclusion of three additional invocations in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary on June 20.
“Even in this present moment which is marked by feelings of uncertainty and trepidation, devout recourse to her, which is full of affection and trust, is deeply felt by the People of God,” Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Liturgy and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote in a letter announcing the new Marian titles.
On the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, Pope Francis also said that he is paying particular attention to the negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan regarding the Nile River.
The construction of a dam on the Nile has been a source of tension between the countries since Ethiopia began the project in 2011 with Egypt and Sudan expressing concern that the upstream dam will reduce access to water. The three African countries agreed to resume talks over the dam — projected to be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa — in late July.
Pope Francis invited the three African countries to continue “the path of dialogue” so that the Nile River “might continue to be a source of life that unites, not divides, that always nourishes friendship, prosperity, fraternity, and never enmity, misunderstanding or conflict.”
“Let dialogue, dear brothers and sisters of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, let the dialogue be your only choice, for the good of your dear populations and of the entire world,” the pope said.