Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights defines religious freedom as the ‘freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance’.

In most Islamic countries this declaration is in practice negated by the provisions of Sharia Law. There are frequent abuses of the right to religious freedom in fact. For many radical Islamic groups the only law they recognise is the sharia, plus certain warlike slogans from the Koran. One such group is the terrorist Boko Haram movement, in northeast Nigeria.

On average their terror campaign claims the lives of eight people a day, the great majority of them Christians. For two and a half years now Boko Haram has also been bringing death and devastation to northern Cameroon. Among the worst affected areas are the dioceses of Maroua-Mokolo and Yagoua where, given the climatic and economic conditions, the people already struggle to gain a meagre living from the soil. Theirs is a quiet martyrdom.

What happened with the attacks in Paris is what is happening to us almost every day, but nobody is talking about it, says Bishop Bruno Ateba of Maroua-Mokolo. He and his priests are facing a superhuman task trying to encourage the people to stay in the country and supporting them, both spiritually and humanly. There are too few schools, and fear stalks everywhere. Hunger and unemployment drive many people to flee – or in some cases, into the arms of Boko Haram.

Bishop Bruno is appealing for help. He has requested Mass stipends for his priests, and also financial support for his 30 seminarians and for the families of his 20 lay catechists. They are his front-line troops, troops of love and heralds of courage and new hope, of humanity and mercy. They are his only weapons against fear and terrorism.

Another major problem he faces is transport. He needs a vehicle, and help with the cost of fuel, for transporting these priests and catechists. The distances between the parishes are considerable and often there are sick people in urgent need of medication. We have promised help for all his list of priorities. The loving, human face of these, his ‘troops’ makes it easier for his people to forget the uncaring forgetfulness of the outside world.

In Pakistan too, Christians are living permanently under threat from the fanatics. Just a year ago two suicide bombers attacked the church of Saint John in Youhanabad, in the diocese of Lahore. Altogether, 17 people were killed and 80 others wounded. It was only thanks to the selfless courage of a young Christian security guard – who confronted the attackers at the cost of his own life – that a still greater catastrophe was averted, with yet more bloodshed. Since then many of the victims’ families have been struggling to survive, some living in direst poverty, others still suffering terrible wounds. They too are among the forgotten victims of this anti-Christian persecution.

And there is still real fear that something similar could happen again, possibly at Pentecost this time, or on any Sunday Mass. Security measures have been tightened, with video cameras at all the entrances to the church. We have promised to help, so that the Catholic faithful can pray without fear and with at least some peace of heart, and be able to reflect on the words of St John the Evangelist, patron of their church: ‘Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (Jn 1:17).


This article can be found in Mirror 0316.