Nigeria’s Mass attendance is one of highest in the world despite persecution

A woman is pictured in a file photo praying during Mass at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Abuja, Nigeria. (OSV News photo/Afolabi Sotunde, Reuters)

(OSV News) — Nigeria is one of the countries in the world with the best Mass attendance. As many as 94% of self-identified Nigerian Catholics surveyed said they attend weekly or daily Mass, according to a study published in early 2023 by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

The World Values Survey, which conducted the poll, doesn’t survey all countries in the world, but among those asked, Nigerian Catholics had the highest Mass attendance, followed by Kenya (73%) and Lebanon (69%).

At the same time, both Christian Concern and Open Doors, organizations that track Christian persecution in the world, rank Nigeria as one of the worst countries for Christians to live in after North Korea, and followed by India, Iran, China, Pakistan and Eritrea as top countries for Christian persecution.

Open Doors reported that 90% of the more than 5,600 Christians killed for their faith last year were from Nigeria, with the total number of Christians killed in 2023 up 80% from five years ago.

More than 7,600 Nigerian Christians were killed between January 2021 and June 2022.

On Christmas Eve 2023, at least 140 Nigerians were slain across some 15 central villages by rampaging herders wielding guns and machetes, the worst such attack in the region since 2018. The area has for several years been prone to clashes between Muslim Fulani herdsmen and mainly Christian farmers.

In the most recent wave of attacks, a gunman ambushed a Christian school bus Jan. 29, carrying more than a dozen schoolchildren under the age of 10, and two priests of Nigeria’s Diocese of Pankshin were kidnapped Feb. 1.

Six kidnapped pupils and three teachers of a primary school in Ekiti, in southwest Nigeria, regained their freedom after a week, according to the police, but the bus driver was killed.

Father Kenneth Kanwa and Father Jude Nwachukwu, who were abducted from St. Vincent de Paul Fier Parish, were released Feb. 10. The kidnapping of priests and the attacks on schools and Christian villages are a plague in Nigeria.

Christians, however, remain steadfast.

Father Moses Iorapuu, director of social communications for the Diocese of Makurdi, told OSV News that Christianity should continue to grow in an environment as hostile as Nigeria.

“This is the mystery of our faith: The blood of the martyrs remains the seed of Christianity,” the leading Nigerian priest said.

The Intersociety advocacy group in Nigeria has said over 100,000 unarmed and defenseless citizens have died directly or indirectly outside the law in the hands of security forces in the past eight years, between August 2014 and December 2023.

“Shockingly, about 70% of the direct dead, tortured, abducted and disappeared victims are found to have (been) … Christians and non-Muslim others,” the report stated.

The director of Intersociety, Emeka Umeagbalasi, said the killings are part of a government agenda to “Islamize Nigeria.”

In April 2023, Intersociety published a report that made headlines around the world, indicating that since 2009, when the Boko Haram Islamist militant group began its murderous campaign to set up a caliphate across the Sahel, at least 52,250 Christians and 34,000 moderate Muslims had been butchered or hacked to death.

“It’s genocide,” Umeagbalasi told OSV News.

“There is a silent genocide going on in Nigeria — a genocide of Christians,” he said, all because “the leaders have refused to govern the country multiculturally and multireligiously.”

At the same time, 94% of self-identified Nigerian Catholics surveyed said they attend weekly or daily Mass.

Father Iorapuu identified several factors accounting for the nation’s high rate of Mass attendance, explaining that the church offers several services in areas where “the government has failed,” he said.

“Christians are still responsible for education, health care, provision of social amenities, and priests and pastors remain agents of change in a manner that the average politician is no match,” Father Iorapuu said.

“The access the people have to priests gives them the kind of hope the politicians do not represent. The people are emboldened to believe that things will change for the better through the availability of priests and pastors who attend to their immediate needs,” Father Iorapuu said.

“This is because the faith planted in Nigeria was not limited to Church and spirituality. It was all embracing and holistic. Our impact is felt even among non-Christians,” he added.

The priest said that Nigeria has always been a deeply religious country, where “you can find 10 churches on one street.”

“The Catholic faith is generally very strong in the country and I think it is the prayer of the faithful that has not wiped out Christianity in Nigeria,” Father Iorapuu told OSV News.

Intersociety’s Umeagbalasi added that the high Mass attendance “is occasioned by those that believe in Christian faith, those that have been hearing (the) Gospels, and those that have been evangelized.”

Father Iorapuu regretted that at the same time, those persecuting Christians in Nigeria have paradoxically benefited from Christian services.

“Some of those who persecute us today have attended our schools or their children have, or are attending. This is why their acts are senseless and inhumane” he said.

The priest blasted the jihadists and terrorists for trying to exterminate Christians and yet failing to offer any alternatives. He praised Christian leaders for enduring the suffering, noting that “if the leaders of the church had encouraged revenge, Nigeria would have gone
up in flames.”

“We believe in the peace and reconciliation we preach!” the Nigerian priest stressed.

Father Iorapuu, however, voiced concern over what looks like the “complicit silence” of the international community.

“Unfortunately, the same international community spends months and months holding special sessions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, especially after the October 7 massacre of Israelis by Hamas, but the genocide going on in Nigeria does not attract as much as 10 minutes of (their attention),” he told OSV News.

Father Iorapuu said the government has continued to frame what’s happening in Nigeria as a “farmers’ conflict,” noting that “as long as those providing information are government-sponsored, nothing will ever be revealed contrary to their narrative.”



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