Priest abducted in Nigeria released

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Fr. Joe Keke, 75, who was released after spending two weeks in captivity, June 3, 2021. Credit: Fr. Chris Omotosho.

Sokoto, Nigeria, (CNA) – Fr. Joe Keke, who was kidnapped along with slain Fr. Alphonsus Bello when a parish of the Diocese of Sokoto was attacked last month, has been released, the diocese said on Thursday.

Fr. Chris Omotosho, communications director for the Sokoto diocese, said June 3 that Fr. Keke, 75, is receiving medical treatment.

St. Vincent Ferrer parish was attacked by armed bandits May 20. The corpse of Fr. Bello, who was 33, was found the following day.

Fr. Bello was buried June 1.

“We are here to pray for the repentance and conversion of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes,” Archbishop Matthew Ndagoso of Kaduna said in his homily at the burial ceremony.

He added: “Pray that God will give the victims of these criminal activities and their loved ones the grace to forgive so that they do not become victims twice.”

The archbishop also called on members of the congregation to forgive the perpetrators.

“Painful as it is, if we are not to remain victims forever, we have to take the right step moving forward, namely, forgive those who have done this to us even if we do not know them,” he said.

Those who practice forgiveness become “true disciples of our Master who did not only pray for the forgiveness of his executioners but also made excuses for them,” he said.

“He prayed: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,’” Archbishop Ndagoso said. “The murderer of Fr. Alphonsus and many others like them do not know what they do.”

He continued: “We cannot talk about genuine forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace without first of all working for justice and fair play for all.”

“A situation where equal citizens are treated unequally because of ethnic, religious, political and social affiliation does not augur well for peace and peaceful co-existence.”

The 61-year-old archbishop said that priests in the country “live in challenging and even frightening times.”

“We pastoral agents are subjected to all kinds of hardship but never distressed. We see no way out but never despair. We are pursued but never cut off. We are knocked down but still have some life in us,” he commented.

“We carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus too may be visible in our body.”

He called on Nigeria’s security forces to “wake up from their slumbers” and go after “religious fanatics, bandits, kidnappers, terrorists, AK-47-wielding herders and opportunists who are criminals in every sense of the word, killing and maiming innocent Nigerians regardless of religion, ethnicity and political leanings.”

But he also expressed appreciation for security officers who often put their lives on the line to defend Nigeria’s citizens, saying that “without them, the situation would have been worse.”

“There is always room for improvement. Our security agents need to work harder especially in the area of intelligence gathering, sharing, and surveillance,” he said, urging the government to invest in the country’s security personnel.

“Government should of necessity invest more in this area by adequately equipping them and take good care of their essential needs to motivate them,” he said, noting that citizens required better security to take advantage of the country’s infrastructure.

“These infrastructures can only be useful when there is peace and security enabling free and secure movements,” he said.

“The protection of human life and security of property are of paramount importance to the country today more than anything else.”

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