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.