NAPLES, Fla., March 10, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Following a surge in beheadings, abductions and other violent assaults by Islamic extremists targeting Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and ordinary Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, 20 leading experts in international religious freedom convened a three-day emergency strategy session, March 5-7, on how to respond. It was held at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida.
At the meeting, the experts resolved to form a new international network named, "The Strategy Coalition to Protect Christians and Religious Pluralism in Sub-Sahara," in order to press for new government policies and humanitarian aid.
The meeting heard eye-witness testimony and discussed policy initiatives of governments and inter-governmental entities, with briefings from governmental, congressional, and episcopal representatives. It concluded with identifying strategies to help the persecuted sub-Saharan African communities. Most participants have been involved in aiding and advocating for the Christians who faced ISIS genocide in Iraq and Syria since 2014.
- Rev. Joseph Fidelis, a Nigerian priest of the Maiduguri Catholic diocese, the epicenter of the persecution, opened the session detailing atrocities in his area stating, "What is happening to Nigerian Christians is gross persecution and terrorism. The entire population is poor and suffers at the hands of the militant groups. If climate change was the sole reasons for terror, why are non-Christian villages passed by, while Christian villages are razed, and their residents slaughtered?" The priest related that he frequently traveled the same highway out of the northeastern city of Maiduguri where a Catholic bride and her wedding party of six women were abducted and beheaded in late December.
Over two thousand Nigerian Christians have been murdered since 2018 in Nigeria and nearly two dozen Christians there were beheaded around Christmas by local Boko Haram militants, some with direct links to the Middle Eastern terror group ISIS. Along the Niger border in Burkina Faso last month, at least 24 more people were killed, 18 injured and others kidnapped when armed men thought to be linked to Al-Qaeda attacked a Protestant church during the Sunday worship service. In eastern Kenya, extremists extracted Christians from a public bus and executed them on the spot, in recent days.
- Ave Maria Law Professor Jane Adolphe, the session's organizer and main sponsor, said: "The presentation of Rev. Fidelis vividly portrayed the gruesome reality of sexual violence as a tactic of terror. Specialized in trauma support, he is on the front lines welcoming female victims with his gentle manner and soothing voice. His very being is in marked contrast to the criminals and terrorists who have captured, enslaved, and systematically raped women and girls as religiously justified treatment of the "infidel," something codified and regulated."
- "ISIS and Al-Qaeda -- the same violent forces that brought Iraq's Christian communities to near-extinction -- are now joining efforts against sub-Saharan Christians and we must act before it's too late," said co-sponsor Nina Shea of the Washington, DC- based Hudson Institute. She recommended that "Congress and the State Department review whether religious genocide threatens sub-Saharan Christians and others and USAID support African locals to document the abuses." "The Pentagon should drop any recommendation to withdraw US troops from Africa at this time," she added, noting that Nigeria's President Buhari appeared "unwilling to take meaningful action to protect the Christians and other vulnerable communities from growing Islamic extremism, while elsewhere governments may be unable to do so."
- "ACN is made aware of the need for a global strategy through its local projects partners," said Marcela Szymanski and Edward Clancy of the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need, another co-sponsor. "After hundreds of unpunished murders during 2019 in Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Kenya and Mozambique, the terrorist groups feel confident enough to leave notes in the Christian villages demanding that the young men and women be "delivered" to them in servitude or else they will raze the village."
- Genocide Watch's Gregory Stanton, after briefing the group on genocide's legal meaning, stated that, in Nigeria and Cameroon, "Boko Haram," is a "terrorist group bent on genocide." He declared that "Fulani militants in central Nigeria are also committing crimes against humanity and genocidal massacres against Christians."
- Former Congressman Frank Wolf, sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, read from a message he received: "I am back from Nigeria. Absolutely the worst situation in the world and maybe the most dangerous." Wolf urged action ranging from raising public awareness to the creation of advisory groups on the ground to the special envoys for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.
- "Aware of the previously good relations of Muslims and Christians in the region, the involvement of the Muslim communities, supporting their Christian neighbors and promoting pluralism is urgent and should be achievable," said Kent Hill, of the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington DC.
Africa surpassed Latin America as the continent with the most Christians in 2019. The Vatican has called Africa the "beacon of hope" for the Church in the future. The question is whether the Christian community in sub-Saharan Africa will face the same fate of the Christian community in Iraq.
The meeting was organized under the auspices of the International Center on Law, Life, Faith and Family (ICOLF) www.icolf.org, headquartered at Ave Maria School of Law; and co-sponsored by Ave Maria School of Law www.avemarialaw.edu, the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, and Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International. It gathered experts from the United States, Poland, Brussels, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, the United Kingdom and Nigeria.
It is the second event organized by ICOLF on the persecution and genocide of Christians. The first one, in 2016, led to the book edited by Ronald J. Rychlak, Jane F. Adolphe, "The Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East: Prevention, Prohibition, & Prosecution" (Angelico Press: 2017).
ABOUT AVE MARIA SCHOOL OF LAW
Ave Maria Law was founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1999 and in 2009 relocated to Naples, Florida. Ave Maria Law was named the best Catholic Law School in the U.S. by The National Jurist's PreLaw Magazine. Ave Maria Law was ranked #1 Most Diverse Law School by PreLaw. The Princeton Review named Ave Maria Law one of the nation's most outstanding law schools since 2005. The Law School was ranked number one on the "Most Conservative Students" list in the book. Ave Maria Law has earned the Military Friendly® School designations by VIQTORY since 2017. Ave Maria School of Law is licensed by the Florida Commission for Independent Education, License Number 4007 and is fully accredited by the American Bar Association.
SOURCE Ave Maria School of Law