The Vatican and a local Catholic bishop responded on Sunday to an attack on a church in Nigeria in which at least 50 people are believed to have been killed.
The massacre took place during a Pentecost Sunday Mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, in southwestern Nigeria.
A video posted on Twitter showed graphic scenes of bodies and blood inside the church. Ondo State governor Arakunrin Akeredolu said that many children were among the dead.
The Vatican released a statement after Pope Francis learned of the attack.
“The pope learned of the attack on the church in Ondo, Nigeria, and the death of dozens of faithful, many children, during the celebration of Pentecost,” Matteo Bruni, the director of the Holy See press office, said in the June 5 statement.
“While the details of the incident are being clarified, Pope Francis prays for the victims and for the country, painfully affected in a moment of celebration, and entrusts both to the Lord, to send his Spirit to comfort them.”
The Catholic Diocese of Ondo said on Sunday that local Bishop Jude Ayodeji Arogundade appealed to Catholics to “remain calm, be law-abiding and pray for peace and normalcy to return to our community, state, and country.”
“It is Pentecost Sunday when every Catholic is expected to be in church to commemorate the solemnity,” said a June 5 statement signed by Father Augustine Ikwu, head of the diocesan directorate of social communications.
“It is sad to say that while the Holy Mass was going on, unknown gunmen attacked St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, leaving many feared dead and many others injured and the church violated.”
“The identity of the perpetrators remains unknown while the situation has left the community devastated.”
“However, for now, security agencies have been deployed to the community to relatively handle the situation. At this point in the history of our dear country Nigeria, we need God’s ultimate intervention to restore peace and tranquility.”
The statement went on: “Meanwhile, all the priests and bishop in the parish are safe and none was kidnapped as the social media has it. Nevertheless, let us continue to pray for them and the good people of Owo and the state at large.”
“We turn to God to console the families of those whose lives were lost in this distressing incident, and we pray for the departed souls to rest in peace.”
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the “heinous” killing of worshipers in a statement issued on his behalf on June 5.
“The President says only fiends from the nether region could have conceived and carried out such dastardly act, adding that eternal sorrow awaits them both on earth here, and ultimately in the hereafter,” the statement said.
“President Buhari mourns the dead, condoles with their families, the Catholic Church, and the Government of Ondo State, charging emergency agencies to swing into action, and bring succor to the wounded.”
“‘No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people, and darkness will never overcome light. Nigeria will eventually win,’ the President says.”
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