A world of good: Part 2 - remaining faithful, even under persecution
Many Christians learn about religious persecution through media accounts from distant countries. Not Precious Ogiefa. She knows it first-hand. Having lived in Nigeria from birth up until 2017, she experienced it in both subtle and explicit ways.
Her parents worked their hardest to shield her and her three younger siblings from the ugly reality of persecution in her homeland.
Still, Ogiefa’s first exposure to it came early in life. “I was too young to know this, but my mom told me stories,” the St. Maria Goretti parishioner said of growing up in Taraba in northern Nigeria, with a predominantly Muslim population.
“When the crisis started, they [Islamic terrorists] started burning people’s houses, burning people alive, killing, and shooting people,” Ogiefa recalled. “As long as you’re a Christian, they’ll skip the Muslim’s house and destroy the Christian’s house.”
Her father, a surgeon, was well-liked and respected in the community, as he often served Muslim patients and leaders at the hospital he managed. That relationship with their Muslim neighbors may have saved their lives, Ogiefa explained.
Although their home was spared during the attacks, violence continued in Taraba, and the family decided to flee south.
“I would say that’s the first persecution I ever witnessed, even though I was not really old enough to understand what was going on,” she said.
As she grew older, Ogiefa started noticing more signs of Christian persecution. For her devout Catholic family, going to Mass weekly was a way of life. But being in the sacred space of the local Catholic church was at times frightening. Islamic terrorists would attack churches frequently – especially around major feast days.
“Going to church became so scary because you never knew where it’s going to be and who it’s going to be,” Ogiefa said.
“In our church, they tried to get metal detectors, get more security, but still, that peace of mind is not there. You’re just uneasy in your spirit because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“So many churches I know have been bombed with people inside …a lot of priests too have been kidnapped and killed, some kidnapped and really beaten just because [persecutors] didn’t agree with the way of our religion.”
Of course, religious persecution exists outside of Nigeria. In fact, Christian persecution continues to be one of the biggest human rights issues. According to Open Doors USA, in 2020 more than 340 million Christians live in countries where they experience high levels of discrimination or persecution, ranging from arrests and imprisonments without trial to physical retribution and murder.
Tension and the plight of persecution continues in Nigeria, she said, and lots of attacks don’t make the news. For instance, a few years ago, a terrorist attack in northern Nigeria left two young sisters orphaned after fleeing to the south. Ogiefa’s in-laws adopted them.
Even so, Nigeria’s Catholics maintain a strong faith. Ogiefa recalled a fellow Nigerian Catholic saying after a spate of persecution: “At the end of the day, it’s Jesus Christ. He died for us, and He already told us these things are going to happen, so consider it all joy when you’re being persecuted.”
Asked what a Catholic can do in the face of persecution, Ogiefa responded: First, pray and trust in God. Second, live out your Catholic faith as best and fully as you can, not taking it for granted. Third, give to nonprofit organizations aiding persecuted Christians.
Ogiefa has taken her advice to heart. Since becoming a member of St. Maria Goretti’s diverse parish, she’s been dedicated to giving back through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.