Fr Andrew Adeniyi Abayomi is the associate pastor at St Francis Xavier's Church in Owo, Ondo state, Nigeria, which was attacked by terrorists in June, leaving at least 40 people dead. As Aid to the Church in Need's new report about the oppression of Christians worldwide on account of their faith is published, he calls us not to forget the suffering of persecuted Christians.
The world has turned away from Nigeria. In my view a genocide is taking place, but no one cares. I have experienced first-hand horrors the world has turned its back upon.
I was still saying Mass when I heard the explosions on Pentecost Sunday, and was on the sanctuary, putting incense in the thurible, preparing for the procession outside the church, when I heard two loud noises and saw my panicked parishioners running in different directions. Someone ran to me and shouted: "Father, unknown gunmen!"
I don't know how many of them there were – some say six, others say four – but I do know they were organised. Some of the attackers disguised themselves as parishioners and worshipped with us during Mass, knowing the whole time they intended to kill us.
As bullets filled the air, I thought only of how to save my parishioners. Some of them managed to lock the entrance door and I urged people to move into the sacristy. Once in the inner part of the sacristy, I could not move: children surrounded me, and adults clung to me. I shielded them just as a hen shields her chicks.
My flock, especially the children, cried out: "Father, please save us – Father, pray!" I told them not to worry, as God would do something. There were three or four more explosions, one after the other inside the Church and there was sporadic shooting of guns by the attackers. It was a well-planned attack that lasted about 20-25 minutes.
Once the message came that the attackers had gone, we left the sacristy. Dead bodies were strewn across the church and there were many injured. My spirit was deeply troubled. With the help of parishioners who could drive, we immediately began to take our injured brothers and sisters to St Louis Hospital and the Federal Medical Centre.
Since then, I have visited the wounded, praying with them, administering the Sacrament of the Sick and encouraging them to keep hope alive. Nearby security personnel and police failed to come to our rescue, even though the attack lasted at least 20 minutes.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)'s publication of Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2020–22 is vitally important as it highlights the dire threats facing believers. It is not just Christians in Nigeria who suffer, but those in Pakistan, China, India and many other places.
Christians are killed all across Africa, their churches attacked and villages razed to the ground. In Pakistan, they are unjustly detained on spurious charges of blasphemy. Underage Christian girls are kidnapped, raped, forced to convert and marry middle-aged men in countries such as Egypt, Mozambique and Pakistan.
In China and North Korea, totalitarian governments crush the faithful underfoot, monitoring their every move. And, as this report shows, the list of abuses goes on.
The suffering Church needs people to speak out for us. For the killing to stop, more organisations like ACN need to proclaim the truth of what is happening to Christians all over the world. If not, we will always remain persecuted and forgotten.