YOU MAY REMEMBER the case of a Kenyan priest, Father Guyo Waqo Malley, who plotted the assassination of his bishop, Bishop Luigi Locati, or that of twenty-on- year-old Dylan Roof who, on 17 June 2015, entered Emanuel AME Church Charleston, South Carolina, USA during a Bible class. He did not leave until he had shot and killed nine parishioners.

If the US and Kenya are a bit far from us, what about the case of St Theresa’s Catholic Church at Madalla, Niger State in which attackers killed about 44 persons and wounded 75 others on Christmas Day in 2011, or that of St Peter’s Catholic Church, Gidan-Waya in Jama’a Local Government of Kaduna State where six persons attending Mass were killed by soldiers protesting a barricade put up in defence of the Church, and of the men and women of the faithful.

Horrific acts targeting religious persons are not new. Alfa Bisiriyu Apalara, Islamic preacher, was murdered in Lagos in 1953. In December 1980, three nuns and a lay missioner were brutally murdered in San Salvador, El Salvador. That was only nine months after Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador was assassinated Ad Alteri Dei (at the Altar of God) while saying Mass.

In March 2016, four nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity were among sixteen persons killed in a raid by an Islamic group on an Old People’s Home in Aden, Yemen. Indian priest Tom Ozhonaniel was also kidnapped from Aden.  Janani Luwum, Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire, was murdered in 1977 following his arrest by the government of Uganda on trumped up charges of plotting to overthrow the government. Last week, Islamic militant group, Abu Sayyaf, beheaded 70-year-old German captive Jürgen Kantner.

And the near-assassinations: Pope John Paul II was shot four times at St Peter’s square on 13 May 1981 by Mehmet Ali Agca. A year later at Fatima in Portugal, in  a little-publicised incident, The Holy Father was reportedly at the receiving end of a bayonet attack by a  Spanish priest, Juan Maria Fernandezy Krohn on 12 May 1982.

Many others have been killed, persecuted, unjustly prosecuted and convicted, maligned and defamed, all because they see things differently. Considering all these sadistic acts, one is likely to conclude that man is intrinsically evil. That man’s inhumanity to man has no limit and that it seems that the ultimate goal of man is to destroy his fellow being. In almost all cases, man sought and secured the end of another’s life – life that was God-given. What is good in man, you may ask?  Plenty.

Man is equally capable of good deeds in the service of fellowmen. God-made-man died for us on the cross, His example beckoning man to live above the bile in his heart and to rise up to the goodness for which his maker has set him apart.  Many men have heeded this call and have made great sacrifices for the good of others. Some have made the supreme sacrifice. For the sake of the many, they have lived according to the belief embedded in the Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Martin Luther King Jr gave their lives for their beliefs, for the society they lived in. Nelson Mandela suffered humiliating deprivations for most of his adult life as sacrifice for the improvement of the lot of his people. Pope John Paul II recovered from his wounds after being shot by Mehmet Ali Agca, and reached out to his attacker. The late Pope visited Agca in prison two years later and remained in contact with Agca and members of his family.  Agca, on his part, visited the tomb of Pope John Paul II where he laid flowers. The families of those killed at Emanuel AME Church voiced unequivocal forgiveness for the man who murdered their family members.

More importantly, contrary to the more prevalent attitude of caring for one’s group to the detriment of others, an attitude that is responsible for the negative acts, many have come out strongly in favour of, and support for groups or individuals with whom they do not agree.

In 2002, a nursing mother accused of adultery was tried by a Sharia Court, found guilty, and sentenced to death by stoning. Cardinal Anthony Okogie, then Archbishop of Lagos, volunteered to die in place of the nursing mother, not minding that he is Catholic and the woman Muslim.

Recent incidents featuring attacks on Jewish community centres across the United States of America, though sad, have brought people together in ways previously unthought-of. In Philadelphia, more than one hundred graves were desecrated and vandalised in a Jewish cemetery. It was not long before the Philadelphia Building and Construction Council announced they would replace the headstones at no cost, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 98 offered to install additional lighting and security cameras at the cemetery. Muslims have offered a reward for information on the vandals.

Christians and Muslims have joined Jewish communities in working towards an end to targeted attacks on people whose only sin is that they are different. Such cooperation is possible following Jewish support for Muslims earlier on when the American president imposed travel bans on certain Muslim countries. Rabbis protested against the ban leading to the arrest of some of them.

When people come together, good things happen; so why can’t we all come together for the good of all.


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