Vatican calls on Boko Haram to release kidnapped schoolgirls

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News)—In a May 8 statement, the Holy See condemned all gross violations of human rights, calling for an end to terrorism and a safe return for a group of more than 200 abducted Nigerian schoolgirls.

“The denial of any kind of respect for life and for the dignity of the human person, even the most innocent, vulnerable and defenseless, calls for the strongest condemnation,” said Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office.

Nearly 300 girls, most of them aged between 16 and 18, were kidnapped April 14 from their boarding school in Borno, Nigeria’s northeastern-most state. There are 276 girls still in captivity, while 53 escaped, the Associated Press reported.

Pope Francis urged prayer for the girls in a tweet that used the hashtag BringbackOurGirls.

“Let us all join in prayer for the immediate release of the schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria,” he wrote.

Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for the abductions and has threatened both to sell the girls into slavery, and to perform more attacks on schools. The group is strongly opposed to the education of girls.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” sparked an uprising in 2009 and seeks to impose sharia law on Nigeria. So far it has targeted security forces, politicians, Christian minorities, moderate Muslims in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north, and now schools.

Father Lombardi said that the abduction is just the latest in a series of “other horrible forms of violence” for which the group has become known.

He decried the act, expressing that it “arouses the most heartfelt feelings of compassion for the victims, and instills a sense of horror for the physical and spiritual suffering, and the incredible humiliation they have suffered.”

Adding the voice of the Holy See to the many pleas for the girls’ freedom, the spokesman voiced his desire that they would be able to return home and live a normal life.

“We hope and pray that Nigeria, thanks to the commitment of all who are in a position to help, may find the way to end the situation of conflict and hateful terrorism which is a source of incalculable suffering.”

In addition to the Vatican, the incident has drawn the attention of many other nations across the globe, provoking international outrage and bringing offers of support for rescue efforts from China, the United States, France and Britain.

Boko Haram’s attacks have killed thousands since 2009. So far this year, they have killed 1,500 people, according to the BBC. The United Nations estimates that the attacks have led to more than 470,000 internally displaced persons in Nigeria.

According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the group has attacked more than 40 churches since 2012. It attacked churches on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day three years in a row, from 2010 to 2012, and has ordered Christians to leave the country.

The United States recognized Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization in November 2013, after a lengthy advocacy effort from human rights and Christian groups asking for the designation.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s 2012 report ranked Boko Haram the second most deadly terrorist group in the world, surpassed only by the Taliban of Afghanistan.

The Denver Catholic Register contributed to this report.

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.