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MARTYRS OF MBALOM

FOR US CATHOLICS, THE holy eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest act of worship.  In it, the unrepeatable saving sacrifice of Christ, offered once and for all on the cross, is brought into the here and now of our existence.  In the eucharist, we do not and cannot repeat what Christ accomplished on the cross.  But what he accomplished on Calvary is made real and present to us and for us on the altar of eucharistic sacrifice. 

In the eucharist we commemorate the greatest act of love when the Son of God revealed God's love to us by offering his own his life that we might live.  What the eucharist brings about is summed up in what Jesus said to Nicodemus in the Gospel according to John: "God  so loved  the  world  that  he  gave his only Son  so that whoever believes in him shall not  perish but will have everlasting life" (Jn 3: 16). 

In the eucharist, we offer bread and wine to God who, in a wonderful exchange, gives us the body and blood of his Son.  In the eucharist, death is present, yet life is given.  Death is present because, as St Paul said,  "Whenever you eat this bread, then, and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11: 26).  In the eucharist, where death is present, life is offered.  And life conquers death.  For even as we proclaim Christ's death, we also announce his resurrection, as we say in the first Memorial Acclamation.

As in every eucharistic sacrifice, death was present but life was given when, early in the morning of April 24, 2018, at St Ignatius Catholic Church, Ukpor-Mbalom Parish, Gwer East Local Government Area of Benue State,  Fathers Joseph Gor, Felix Tyoleha and their parishioners gathered to offer this commemorative sacrifice, a sacred duty. As they gathered to commemorate the supreme sacrifice of Christ the High Priest, they were made to share in the same sacrifice by murderous herdsmen.  We all share in this sacrifice when we receive the body and blood of Christ.  This time around, these two priests and their parishioners became, like Christ, victims and martyrs.  Death came to take them away. But Christ, conqueror of death and Lord of life, gave them life.

Gunned down in the house of God, they bore witness to the point of death.  Fathers Gor and Tyoleha, and their parishioners-Josh Ivior, Micheal Tor, Hycent Ape Chia,  Judith Tyodzer,  Doofan Tyodzer, Tyolaha Bee,  Kimbir Begher, Iorakaa Kazever,  Saaondo Bee,  Peter Dick,  Begi Nomor,  Sabastine Michi, Uba Tyorkishu,  John Ivor, David Liamzua,  and Saaondo Tyolaha-were made victims of failure of government, an increasingly familiar feature of our life in recent times.  For the simple truth is that, on its scorecard, this government has scored zero in matters of security because it has failed to secure Nigeria and Nigerians. Having failed in its primary responsibility of protecting lives and property this government has truly failed.  This government needs to improve drastically in the way it handles security. 

These our brothers and sisters, fellow citizens of Nigeria, who gathered to commemorate Christ's sacrifice were themselves offered as sacrifice. The death of these martyrs brutally remind us that Nigeria is at war.  There are armed robbers on our highways,  kidnappers in our cities,  bloodshed in the Middle Belt, and  insurgency in the North East.  Murderers have invaded the house of God while those who are trained to police us are out on the streets extorting money and brutalizing innocent Nigerians, sometimes mowing them down with guns procured with the citizen's money.  The violence within and between political parties, the increasingly heightened tension that precedes the 2019 elections, the negligence and or incapacity of politically partisan security agencies, of service chiefs who disobey the lawful authority of the commander-in-chief, refusing the summon of the highest legislative house in the land-these are indices of war, signs that all is not well with our beloved country.  But instead of responding to our security needs, our political leaders are preparing for the next election, and governance has taken the back seat.  Fr Gor alerted them when he wrote on his Facebook page days before their death: "Living in fear.  The fulanis are still around us here in Mbalom.  They refuse to go.  They still go grazing around.  No weapons to defend ourselves."

These victims remind each of us that we are victims.  We are victims of a government that repeatedly fails to carry out its primary duty.  We are victims when security agencies like the police fail to protect us while they protect political office holders and their families.  We are victims when government is negligent and irresponsible.  We are victims when government assures us we are safe but in fact there are killers on the rampage.  We are victims in the hands of a government whose explanation of this carnage, this ethnic cleansing, is perpetually shifting.  First, the President called it a communal clash, then he blamed it on invasion of Nigeria by remnants of Muamar Ghadafi's regime in Libya.

Those who were killed were Christians.  Those who killed them are not.  Killing them in the Church during Mass was a sacrilege which clearly suggests that there is a religious dimension to this dastardly act.  But while we may not want to call it a religious war,  a war waged on Christians by Muslims, the fact remains that those who killed them belonged to a particular religion different from the religion of those they killed.  While we may not speak of the religion of Islam as a religion of terrorists, we at least need to acknowledge that those who are committing this crime wear the garb of the religion of Islam.  For this reason, the killings are seen by many Christians as part of a grand  plot to islamize Nigeria.  Muslims too are apprehensive that there is a plan to evangelize Nigeria. 

Surely, we may preach the tenets of our different religions.  Freedom of worship and freedom from persecution on the grounds of religion, these are what must be obtainable in a truly democratic polity.  Muslims have a right to want to islamise, just as Christians have a right to want to evangelize.  But no one has the right to infringe on anybody's civic and human rights in the name of islamization or evangelization.  Let us not use religion as pretext for lawlessness.

Let us also be reminded that there have been Muslims killed by Muslims in this country.  Many Nigerians may not know that there are indigenous Christians in Zamfara State.  But Zamfara State, a predominantly Muslim state, has also been visited by gun men leaving victims in their wake.  The dignity of every life must be respected.  The life of every human being, of every Nigerian, irrespective of religious or ethnic affiliation, is as important as the life of any other human being, on any other Nigerian.

We are a country of religious and ethnic differences.  We hold widely divergent political views.  That is to be expected in a land of breath-taking diversity such as ours.  But we have no excuse to kill.  We have no justification for demonizing each other simply because we are different.  Murder is conceived in the heart.  It is verbally expressed even before  it  becomes  an  act.   That  is  why each  of us must look into ourselves to ascertain that there are no murderous herdsmen in our hearts.

I have heard people call others names just because they do not share their opinions.  Southerners who voted for Buhari are labelled slaves of the Fulani.  Those who voted for Jonathan are labelled looters.  Name calling has prevented us from facing real issues, particularly the issue of politicians and violence in this country.

Government must be alive to its responsibility.  Those who murdered the martyrs of Mbalom must be apprehended, prosecuted, convicted and sanctioned.  But even more, politicians who sponsor murderers must be identified and made to face the law.

 


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