Worried by the rising wave of insecurity occasioned by rounds of terrorists attacks in Nigeria, Pope Francis while celebrating Easter Sunday yesterday specially devoted a session of his prayers for peace to Nigeria, Syria and Ukraine.
He specifically prayed for an end to the terrorist attacks in Nigeria that have targeted so many Christians. More than 150,000 tourists — Romans and pilgrims, young and old — had turned out for the Mass he celebrated at an altar set up under a canopy on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica.
So many came that they overflowed the huge square, which was bedecked with row after row of potted daffodils, sprays of blue hyacinths and bunches of white roses.
According to the AFP, waving flags from the pope’s native Argentina as well as Brazil, Mexico, Britain, Poland and many other countries, they filled the broad boulevard leading from the square to the Tiber River.
Francis noted that this year the Catholic church’s celebration of Easter coincided with that of Orthodox churches, which have many followers in Ukraine.
Invoking God, he said, “We ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine, so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence.”
Tensions between pro-Russian supporters in Ukraine and those loyal to the interim government in Kyiv have sparked bloodshed in recent days.
Francis also prayed that all sides in Syria will be moved to “boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue.”
He also recalled those suffering in Africa from an epidemic of deadly Ebola and urged a halt to “brutal terrorist attacks” in parts of Nigeria.
But Francis’ Easter message also stressed that people pay attention to the needy close to home. Reflecting the priorities of his papacy, he said the “good news” of Easter’s joy and hope means “leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast.”
A rainstorm had lashed Rome on Saturday night, with thunder competing with the sound of hymns when Francis led a vigil service in the basilica. Dawn brought clear skies and warm temperatures for Easter, the culmination of Holy Week, the day which marks the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion.
And in Nigeria, top government functionaries, including budding politicians all prayed for peace, love and unity in Nigeria, especially so the challenge of insecurity will be surmounted.
For the Lagos State governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, the need for tolerance, vigilance and peaceful coexistence among the people is uppermost as that is the only panacea to the challenges currently facing the nation.
In his Easter message, Fashola said only the resolve to live and co-exist peacefully as well as tolerate one another in spite of ethnic and religious differences could solve the problem of communal conflicts among the people adding that there was need also to be vigilant in order to contain crime and lawlessness.
According to Fashola, “the significance of Easter, which we commemorate yearly, lies in the unselfish love that Jesus Christ demonstrated with his evangelism that seeks to draw all humanity to God and the ultimate sacrifice that He made for humanity irrespective of ethnic, tribal and religious differences. By so doing, He left a legacy of untiring commitment to love and sacrifice”.
On his part, Akwa Ibom State governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio called on Nigerians to pray for victory over the security challenges facing the country.
“Let us use this celebration to pray for our dear country Nigeria that God should help us to over-come the current security challenges that we are facing.
“We should pray particularly for the repose of the soul of all Nigerian children who have been murdered by insurgents in the recent past”, the governor urged; and prayed for quick find of all abducted students from Borno State. He noted that by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is liberation for mankind and victory over death.
“Easter is a time to reflect on Christ’s suffering and ultimate victory. It is a time to recollect how the anguish of the cross gave way to the triumph of resurrection. It is a time to remember that by His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ gave us victory over death, and liberated us from its fear”.
Towards winding down his administration, the governor said he was putting finishing touches to most of the projects he embarked upon and which are expected to be put to use this year.
The Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku also called on Christians and Muslims in the country to unite for the common purpose of defeating terrorists inflicting pains on Nigerians.
The minister expressed optimism that insurgents who seek to divide and set the Nigerian people against themselves would not succeed.
Maku said this during the Easter Sunday service at St. Patrick Catholic Church, Akwanga, Nasarawa State.
He emphasised the need for the people to unite against the ‘divisive and satanic’ forces.
“I have told the people to help the government. I gave them the example of Dadin Kowa in Jos. When there was crisis in Jos, the people of Dadin Kowa, Muslims and Christians came together to form a committee so that if there is any Christian that enters there, Christians will report to Muslims, if any Muslim enters the place with bad intention, Muslims will report to Christians and all of them will watch the person. That way, up to today Dadin Kowa and Miango Lowcost they have never had any crisis,” he said.
The minister added that federal government was doing everything possible to check the activities of terrorists in the country including deploying new technologies.
Similarly, the Director General of National Orientation Agency (NOA) Mr. Mike Omeri has appealed to Christians to exemplify the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ which the season symbolises.
Omeri in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Paul Odenyi, urged Nigerians to emulate Christ by tolerating and showing kindness to people around them both in this season and after.
Similarly, the call for prayers also formed the theme of the message by Senator Gbemisola Saraki, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain in Kwara State, when she urged Christians in Nigeria to pray for the country as they joined other Christian faithful in the rest of the world to celebrate Easter.
Senator Saraki said indeed this is a time that the country needs the prayer of not only the Christian faithful, but Nigerians of all faiths.
She said, “what the country is going through now requires that all religious groups, politicians and everybody that truly loves the country should come together and ensure that Nigeria survives this trying period”.
And the recently held security meeting by all stakeholders in Plateau State has been given the credit for the peaceful incident-free Easter celebration in the state.