After armed men opened fire on Massgoers in Nigeria – leaving 13 people dead – the local bishop has provided fresh information about the attack.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need about the attack on Sunday (6th August), Bishop Hilary Paul Odili Okeke of the Diocese of Nnewi, south-east Nigeria, said: “I have no reason to think that this was an attack against the Church”.
During the 6 am Mass, armed men entered the Church of Saint Philip in Ozubulu and opened fire on worshippers.
“Some people were killed immediately inside the church, while others died in hospital or in the ambulance on the way there,” the bishop told ACN.
“So far the death toll is 13, with another 26 people injured.”
According to Bishop Okeke, the attack was linked to local issues and is not thought to be a terrorist attack.
He said: “I have no reason to believe that Boko Haram or any other terrorist group was behind the attack.
“I don’t think it was an attack against the Church but simply an attack that took place inside a church.”
On Monday the bishop visited the victims’ families and also the wounded in two separate hospitals.
Bishop Okeke said: “I met with every one of them and endeavoured to comfort them. I urged all my faithful to continue to have trust in God.
“Incidents like this can happen to any one of us and at any time, and all we can do is to leave everything in God’s hands and accept His Will.”
According to the prelate, the church attack has caused alarm among the local community, as the mainly Christian south of Nigeria has not suffered from the terror attacks carried out in the north by Boko Haram.
He said: “There is great concern, but despite this, there were many people who came to the Mass that I celebrated yesterday in the Church of Saint Philip.”
Shortly before the Mass began, a telegram of condolence arrived from Pope Francis.
“I was surprised, I wasn’t expecting to receive a message from the Holy Father. I read it out immediately to the congregation, who were extremely moved by the closeness of the Pontiff, which gave them comfort in such a tragic moment.”
Now Bishop Okeke’s main concern is to organise help for the wounded and for the families of the victims, and he is asking the support of all Christians around the world.
“But even more than this, we are asking our brothers and sisters in the Faith to pray – for us, for the victims, and even for the attackers themselves. It is the first thing we ask of you – prayer, prayer, prayer.”