A few years ago the number of Christians persecuted for their faith was around 100 million; today it is more than double that number. Among the worst places are Nigeria and Sudan. And in both countries the violence is carried out by radical Islamists.

Nigeria, with its 180 million inhabitants, is the most populous nation in Africa – but it has also seen the highest number of deaths. Last year more Christians were martyred there than anywhere else. They were murdered just because they were Christians.

Their churches were attacked and set on fire in the middle of religious services, and there were indiscriminate bombings in crowded markets, murders and abductions on an almost daily basis. Almost 3 million Nigerians have been uprooted and made refugees in their own country. And yet the Christians are not giving up. On the contrary, they continue to seek peace with their Muslim neighbours. And there are many Muslims too who have always lived and worked peacefully alongside the Christians.

Most of the 25 million Catholics in the country live in the south. In the new diocese of Pankshin in the north there are around 170,000 Catholics – about 15% of the population. In his pastoral work Bishop Michael Gokum relies heavily on the Sisters of Our Lady of Fatima, a Nigerian congregation with 65 sisters. Their mission includes running the large school here and praying, like the shepherd children of Fatima, for peace.

100 years ago this year, while the First World War was still raging, Our Lady appeared to Jacinta, Lucia and Francisco and promised them that the soldiers would soon be returning home. But added that they must first continue to pray the Rosary daily.

As their vocation combines prayer and education, they need a convent with excellent security, close to the school, with a chapel. We have promised our financial assistance for this. As Father Werenfried said in Fatima, ‘We know that Mary can crush the serpent’s head underfoot. That is why we have consecrated our entire charity to Our Lady of Fatima, who has shown us the way to liberate the persecuted Church.’ 

It is a way of conversion, penance, praying the Rosary – and sacrifice. Our Lady desired peace, so may there be peace for the sisters, the schoolchildren and the people of Nigeria. Let us help them.

This article can be found in Mirror 0317.