In a special appeal at the end of his weekly General Audience Wednesday in Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis asked for prayers for the victims of the events of recent days in “beloved Niger.” The Pope also forcefully condemned “the brutality towards Christians, children and churches” perpetrated there in recent days.
“Let us pray,” he said, that “religious sentiment may never become an occasion of violence, oppression and destruction. You cannot make war in the name of God!”
In the Nigerien capital of Niamey, 45 churches were burned Saturday and five persons were killed during riots protesting caricatures of Mohammed published last week by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. In addition to the five deaths, protests left 128 injured, including 94 in the security forces and 34 among the demonstrators.
On Friday, five others were killed and 45 more were injured in anti-Charlie riots in Zinder, Niger’s 2nd largest city in the southeast.
Reports now estimate that upwards of 70 Christian churches have been destroyed, along with numerous Christian schools and organizations, including an orphanage, and more than 30 Christian homes were looted and torched.
For his part, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, sent a message of sympathy and solidarity to Catholics in Niger on Tuesday, denouncing the “systematic looting,” the destruction of churches, and the “desolation” caused by events these days. The Archbishop assures the faithful of his prayers, as well as “his spiritual closeness, his communion and solidarity.”
The Evangelization ministry also calls on “political, civil and military authorities” to restore peace and “put a permanent end to the violence against Christians.”
“You cannot possibly cause death and suffering in the name of God, nor justify the violation of fundamental freedoms of the human person,” the letter said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome