Nigerian Priest: Another Victim of Violence

Rome, Italy - A Nigerian priest murdered at his parish was another victim of the violent protests, ostensibly linked to religious motives, that have erupted in the wake of the Mohammed cartoon controversy.

Father Michael Gajere "is the new victim of the climate of violence and intolerance that seems to be spreading around the world," L'Osservatore Romano said in its Italian edition today. "He has given witness to the Gospel with the supreme gift of his life."

Father Gajere was killed last Saturday, less than two weeks after the Feb. 5 murder of Father Andrea Santoro, an Italian missionary, in Turkey.

This is "violence provoked by yet another attempt to exploit religion for political purposes," Fides reported local Church sources in Nigeria as saying.

A month ago, Father Gajere arrived to St. Rita's Parish in Bulunkutu, a neighborhood in the city of Maiduguri, Nigeria.

"The priest was brutally slain by a group of armed men, after heroically having saved the life of the altar boys present in the parish," L'Osservatore Romano reported.

Churches burned

Besides taking the life of the priest, the aggressors killed some 15 Christians. Before firing, they asked their victims to speak in the local dialect, warning them that they would be considered "colonized" if they were unable to do it.

"Stores and public buildings were assaulted and devastated, various churches were burned, some of the faithful were killed while praying, other Christians were lynched on the streets," the Vatican's semiofficial newspaper reported.

According to the Fides agency, the mob also torched the local bishop's residence.

L'Osservatore Romano contended: "The cruel violence in Nigeria has been encouraged by the social context in which the local political motives -- particularly the tension between the majority-Islamic populations in the north of the country and the president of the Federal Republic, originally from the south and Catholic -- have been mixed with the emotional/religious reactions linked to the case of the cartoons offensive to Islam."

Fides reported that the violence was condemned by the secretary general of the Supreme Court of Nigeria for Islamic Affairs, Lateef Adegbite.

Adegbite declared: "It is not Muslim to demand the life of innocent people and give way to material destruction. The non-Muslims of Nigeria have nothing to do with the publication of the cartoons. We call on Christians to keep calm and to avoid retaliation for this unfortunate episode. We should consider it a wild initiative of Muslims acting against the principles of Islam."

Today, Christian mobs rampaged through the southern city of Onitsha, burning mosques and killing several people in an outbreak of anti-Muslim violence that followed deadly protests against the caricatures of Mohammed.