Dozens of people have been killed in an attack on a Catholic church in southwestern Nigeria, today, Pentecost Sunday.
Gunmen opened fire and also detonated explosives as worshippers gathered at St Francis Catholic Church in Ondo State, for Mass.
Local doctors told Reuters that around 50 bodies had been moved to the Federal Medical Centre in Owo and to St Louis Catholic Hospital. Dozens of other injured people, including children have been taken to hospitals in Owo. Doctors have appealed for blood donations on social media.
Fr Augustine Ikwu, Communications Director for Owo diocese, said in a statement that the attack has “left the community devastated”. “We turn to God to console the families of those whose lives were lost,” he said. Fr Ikwu said Bishop Jude Ayodeji Arogundade, of the Diocese of Ondo, expressed his closeness to the victims and their families.
Fr Ikwu said fears are rising that many more people may die from their injuries. But he denied initial news reports that the attackers had kidnapped the priest and other members of the congregation. “The priests are safe,” he told Vatican News. “and the bishop of the diocese is with them at this difficult time.” He said the bishop is appealing Catholics to “remain calm, respect the law, and pray for peace and normalcy to return.”
On hearing the news, Pope Francis has expressed his solidarity with the victims. Matteo Bruni, Director of the Holy See Press Office, said: “The Pope prays for the victims and for the country, painfully attacked at a time of celebration, and he entrusts everyone to the Lord, that God might send His Spirit to console them.”
The Governor of Ondo State, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu said in a statement: “We shall commit every available resource to hunt down these assailants and make them pay.” He said the attack was “vile and satanic”.
Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, condemned the “heinous killing of worshippers.” “No matter what, this country shall never give in to evil and wicked people and darkness will never overcome light,” he said.
While many parts of of Nigeria have struggled with security issues, until now, Ondo was widely known as one of the country’s most peaceful states.
Exactly a week ago the head of the Methodist Church in Nigeria was abducted along with two other pastors in the south-east of the country. They have now been freed.
Two weeks ago, two Catholic priests were kidnapped in Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state in the north of the country. They have not been released yet.