Religion Cannot Justify Violence, Nigerian Bishops Say

Leader Fears «Symptoms of Greater Inner Discord» in Nation

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LAGOS, Nigeria, SEPT. 12, 2001 ( Nigeria´s bishops expressed profound concern over the deadly Muslim-Christian clashes following protests over the imposition of strict Islamic law.

At its second plenary meeting, the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of Nigeria opened with a Mass celebrated at St. Leo´s Catholic Church, Ikeja Lagos, attended by 41 bishops, as well as priests, religious and lay faithful.

At the opening ceremony Tuesday, Archbishop John Onaiyekan, president of the conference, lamented the atmosphere of tension and violence which made it impossible for some of the bishops to attend.

«As we gather here, there is tension and violent clashes in the city of Jos and the surrounding towns,» he said. «Our colleague, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, has to remain at home to be able to keep an eye on developments and so cannot be with us.»

The death toll stood at more than 165 people killed and 928 wounded since Friday, in confrontations between Christians and Muslims in the central city of Jos.

The archbishop pointed out that Jos is not the only place where there is discord and conflict.

«We have heard about recent happenings in Nassarawa and Bauchi states,» he said. He described the tensions and clashes as «symptoms of greater inner discord within our Nigerian nation.»

«Whatever may be the cause of discord and conflict, real or imagined, the Church must constantly be there to be counted on as an agent of reconciliation and peace,» Archbishop Onaiyekan said.

«Those who use the name of religion to perpetrate atrocities are only giving religion a bad name,» he said. «We believe that the majority of Nigerian Christians and Muslims want nothing other than to live in peace with one another.»

The president of the conference reiterated that the issue of Islamic law, or Shariah, still needs to be thoroughly addressed, if there is ever to be religious harmony in this country.

«The failure of government to call to order those who insist on disturbing our religious peace becomes an encouragement for them to continue to take undue liberties,» the archbishop said.

Archbishop Osvaldo Padilla, the apostolic nuncio, called on the bishops to «draw inspiration from the purifying spirit of humble repentance of the Holy Year, and reflect upon our episcopal ministry, not as a form of power and prestige but, rather, as an authentic expression of service for the Church and the world.»

The assembly will close Thursday with a bishops´ declaration on the state of the nation.

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