By Jessica Easthope and Melissa Enaje
EAST NEW YORK — The Nigerian Igbo community celebrated its annual remembrance of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt with a Mass and fellowship Feb. 23 at St. Fortunata Church, East New York.
“Moving from Nigeria to here, we formed a community,” said Father Cosmas Nzeabalu, the Diocese of Brooklyn’s coordinator of ministry to Nigerians.
“We formed a body of love, and we share with each other — both those who are in sorrow and those who are in joy. It made us all feel that even though we are not in our country, we are also very comfortable because we have our brothers and sisters here with us.”
While the day was a celebration of sorts, it also served as an occasion to remember Nigerians who are being persecuted for their faith. Christians in Nigeria have been targeted by terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and by bandits seeking to extort money from the Catholic Church.
Last month, in the Diocese of Sokoto, four seminarians and the wife of a doctor were kidnapped. Seminarian Michael Nnadi, 18, and the wife of the doctor were killed. The remaining three seminarians were freed in late January.
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto was the homilist at the slain seminarian’s funeral Mass. Bishop Kukah has called on Christians to “rise up and defend their faith with all the moral weapons they have.”
The African country has been in a constant fight against the Boko Haram insurgents, who in 2014, kidnapped girls from a secondary school in Chibok, northern Nigeria. On Feb.24, the bishops of Nigeria asked the faithful to wear black on Ash Wednesday, or at least black armbands, as a sign of mourning and solidarity with the victims of kidnapping and other violent crimes.
In a statement, signed by the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, the faithful have been invited to join a “Day of Prayer Procession” to kick off the Lenten season. The bishops’ statement read: “May we, once again, remind all the arms of the government in Nigeria and all whose responsibility it is to protect Nigerians that without security there can be no peace, and without peace, there can be no development or national growth.”
Nigerian-born Father Kieran Udeze, parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands, attended the Brooklyn event and spoke passionately about the injustices Christians face in his home country.
“We really understand what the Holy Family did in their life because persecution led Jesus Christ to Egypt … We are called to stand up for them, pray for them and get involved for our Christian faith,” Father Udeze said.