Lagos, Nigeria — A delegation representing Catholic organizations in Nigeria offered words of comfort and pledged help for Nigerian refugees who fled to neighboring Cameroon because of a violent insurgency.
Led by Bishop Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji of Umuahia, chairman of Caritas Nigeria, the fact-finding delegation visited Minawao Camp in Maroua, Cameroon, in mid-March to meet with some of the estimated 36,000 Nigerians who have sought safety in recent weeks.
The visit was arranged after the Cameroonian bishops' conference approached the Nigerian bishops about the plight of the refugees.
"We are here to facilitate your going back to Nigeria. We will ensure that your plight here will get an immediate attention of the federal government of Nigeria who, too, are aware of our visit," Ugorji told the refugees, according to a statement issued Sunday by the Nigerian bishops' conference.
"Christ was a refugee in Egypt. And it is only a refugee who understands better the feelings and emotions of a fellow refugee. Christ is, therefore, here in many ways to guide and console you," he said.
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"Today, this camp has become your Egypt. But we want to reassure you that just as God led the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, He will lead you all back to your homes," the bishop added.
The refugees were forced to flee violence by Boko Haram, a Muslim militant group based in northeast Nigeria in recent months.
The delegation included Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri; Bishop Stephen Dami Manza of Yola; Fr. Evaristus Bassey, executive secretary of Caritas Nigeria; and Fr. Christian Anyanwu, director of the communications office of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, the administrative headquarters of the Nigerian bishops' conference.
The press statement said Bishop Bruno Ateba of Maroua-Mokolo, speaking at the camp, expressed concern that providing pastoral care to 36,000 refugees posed a tremendous challenge for his diocese.
He recalled that the dioceses of Maiduguri and Maroua-Mokolo had cooperated on several ministries until the insurgency forced them to break ties because people could no longer move freely across the border, the statement said.
Ugorji thanked officials of the diocese of Maroua-Mokolo and the Cameroonian bishops' conference for welcoming and assisting the refugees.
"Their action demonstrates the ecclesial unity of the church in responding to human needs irrespective of tribe, nation or even religion," he said.
Doeme, whose diocese has been the most adversely affected by the insurgency, described the visit as a chance to reunite with some of his displaced flock, according to the statement. He described the visit as giving the refugees a "moral boost."
"Boko Haram is evil and we must use every resource at our disposal to get it out," he said in the statement. "We don't have [a] gun. Our gun is our prayer. We urge all Christians to pray, especially in this period of Lent, for a lasting peace and final resolution of the crisis in Nigeria so that our people can live."