While his country “bleeds and burns” from terrorist-driven violence and chaos caused by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, one Nigerian priest continues doing good with a passionate commitment to life.
Father Simeon Omale, 40, is a parish pastor, university professor and health director for the Diocese of Idah in rural Nigeria. He was in Denver last week seeking support for Magnificat Maternal Health Program, a nonprofit striving to reduce one of the world’s worst maternal and infant mortality rates, and to ask for prayer for his ravaged nation.
“The maternal mortality rate in Nigeria is 1-in-13,” Father Omale told the Denver Catholic Register explaining a woman’s great chance of dying in childbirth in his homeland due to a lack of medical resources. “Magnificat Maternal Health Program is committed to life and to saving mothers.”
The organization is fostering life in a nation suffering the death and displacement of thousands by Boko Haram since 2009. The Islamic extremists’ recent announcement that the 200-plus schoolgirls they kidnapped from a boarding school in April were converted to Islam and married reminded Father Omale of a group of Augustinian nuns who found safety in his diocese, the Diocese of Idah, after their convent in the Diocese of Maiduguri—which covers the part of the country hardest hit by Boko Haram—was attacked in September. A seminary in Maiduguri was also attacked, churches looted and a hospital burned down.
“That is the heart of this crisis,” Father Omale said.
Father Omale and the Diocese of Idah uphold the dignity of human life by partnering with Magnificat Maternal Health Program, which trains midwives and offers services at a hospital and seven clinics where women can be treated for a variety of pregnancy issues and bring their babies to safe delivery.
Just $15 covers the cost of a birth in Idah. Magnificat Maternal is raising money to improve its training institute, medical facilities and equipment.
“We call on Catholics who believe in a culture of life to help support the program,” Father Omale said. “When you save the life of a mother and her child, you never know what that child could be when they grow up—they could be a priest.”
This week Father Omale is in California visiting the three-year-old organization’s founder and medical director, Dr. Mary Davenport, an obstetrician-gynecologist in El Sobrante.
“Last year we trained 25 midwives,” Father Omale said, adding that Magnificat Maternal plans to expand its educational facility so it can train 50 midwives a year.
In addition to directly supporting the healthcare of women, the Diocese of Maiduguri is doing what it can to alleviate the misery of residents displaced by violence.
“(There is) a camp for displaced persons,” Father Omale said. “The Church is providing food and health care to them. The camp is open to all, Christians and Muslims.”
But people throughout Nigeria live in fear and poverty and parishes are often forced to suspend liturgies, he said. Liturgies are only held with the help of security.
The tragedy led the Catholic bishops of Nigeria to write a statement, “While Nigeria Bleeds and Burns,” and organize days of prayer for the nation Nov. 13-14.
“We are looking for people who share our vision to join us (in prayer),” Father Omale said. “It is one world and one family. Together, we are the body of Christ. This crisis is not an African problem. Let everyone see what they can do to help.”