A Nigerian Roman Catholic priest was killed this month by Islamic terrorists who shot him then burned his rectory.
According to The Pillar, a Catholic news site based in the U.S., the Rev. Isaac Achi was killed shortly after 3 a.m. on Jan. 15. The website said police reports indicate “armed bandits invaded the parish residence of … Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church,” in Kafin Koro, in central Nigeria.
Achi’s body was “burnt beyond recognition,” according to The Pillar, which reviewed messages from a priest who survived the attack.
The Rev. Collins Omeh, the parish’s parochial vicar, had been held with Achi but escaped after being shot several times, The Pillar reported.
“The bandits, who were about 15 in number, came fully armed and shooting sporadically in the air shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is great],” he wrote, according to The Pillar.
Omeh’s messages said the terrorists broke into his living quarters first, then forced him at gunpoint to lead them to Achi’s quarters.
When they had trouble getting into Achi’s rooms, his messages said, the attackers began firing their weapons. Achi was hit in the leg. Omeh was hit in one of his hands.
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Omeh said that during a time when the two priests were being held, they prayed together and offered each other the sacrament of confession. It turned out to be a final act for Achi, but one that would, through Omeh, survive the flames that charred Achi’s body.
After they prayed, according to The Pillar, Omeh said Achi urged him to escape.
Omeh said he was shot in the shoulder as he fled, while Achi was shot in the chest as the attackers shouted Islamic slogans.
The government’s account of the incident differed from Omeh’s in some aspects.
Vatican News reported an account that cited police Police Public Relations Officer Wasiu Abiodun stating that “the bandits attempted to enter the residence, but failed, and set fire to the house, while the Reverend Father died charred.”
That account made no mention of the two priests being held together.
Also, according to The Pillar, a police statement claimed that “tactical teams attached to the Kafin-Koro Div. were immediately drafted to the scene, but the hoodlums had escaped before the arrival of the teams.” But Omeh said it took hours for police to respond.
In a piece published Sunday by the Nigeria-based website This Day, Pastor Raphael Opawoye, secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Niger State, mourned the slain priest as a brave man of faith.
Opawoye quoted a parishioner at Sts. Peter and Paul, David Bulus, as saying he wept when he saw Achi’s body.
“My Father was roasted by those people. You cannot imagine what he went through. To have died just like that,” Bulus said, according to Opawoye. “Now, who would I run to when I need advice? He has always been there, he always had time for us. Now, our Father is gone.”
Opawoye described how Achi had been a kidnapping victim who had to be ransomed by his parishioners and had survived the 2011 Christmas Day suicide bombing at a Nigerian Catholic church that “caught global attention.”
Opawoye wrote that a year after that attack, Achi “stood before the congregation and appealed to them to learn to forgive all those who deliberately hurt them. He said those who perpetrate evil against the state and innocent citizens require prayers. In his homily, the priest appealed to Christians ‘to learn to forgive all those who deliberately hurt them.’”
Achi’s death comes as violence against Christians remains high in Nigeria.
“Nigeria continues to experience what has often been described as a ‘silent slaughter,’” Lela Gilbert, a senior fellow for international religious freeedom for the Family Research Council wrote in a commentary piece published in December by the FRC publication The Washington Stand. “In recent years, tens of thousands of Christian believers have been killed in relentless assaults on their villages, homes, churches, and families.”
Islamic jihadist groups are blamed for killing at least 4,000 Christians and kidnapping another 2,300 Christians through the first 10 months of 2022, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law has said, according to The Christian Post.
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