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Persecuted Christians. Women victimized by Boko Haram: “Christians caged like animals in Nigeria”

To mark International Women's Day, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) invited to Italy two Nigerian Christian women, Maria Joseph (19) and Janada Marcus (22), survivors of Boko Haram terrorists' viciousness. The terrorist group is responsible for the death of more than 75,000 Nigerians killed in the past 13 years. "March 8, listen also to their cries," is the title of the initiative promoted by ACN to raise public awareness of their plight in Italy and its institutions. The two young women received the welcome of Pope Francis at the end of today's general audience

Nigeria: villaggio attaccato da Boko Haram (Foto: AFP/SIR)

“Nine years of slavery! Nine years of torture! Nine years of agony! Those cold-hearted, ruthless people inflicted enormous suffering on us. For nine years we watched them slaughter my innocent Christian brothers, killed by people who give no value to life. They killed without remorse, as if it were normal. There are no words to express what I went through.” This is a passage from the testimony of Maria Joseph, a 19-year-old Nigerian woman, to Aid to the Church in Need, the Pontifical Foundation that invited her to Italy, together with Janada Marcus, 22, also from Nigeria, to mark International Women’s Day in the framework of the initiative “March 8, listen also to their cries.”

“Shameful oblivion.” The purpose of the event is “to raise the awareness of Italian institutions and public opinion regarding their tragic vicissitudes, since their stories don’t normally surface in the public debate, and are relegated to a shameful oblivion that only adds the pain of indifference to the pain of the violence they were inflicted.” Maria Joseph and Janada were greeted by Pope Francis at the end of the General Audience on March 8. Meetings with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Tajani are also on the agenda. The two girls will be received tomorrow by House Speaker Lorenzo Fontana. On March 9 and 10 they are set to meet with Card. Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of His Holiness, and with numerous diplomatic representatives accredited to the Holy See. 

Their story. In the recent past, the two young women, of Christian faith, endured the cruelty of Boko Haram terrorists, responsible for the death of more than 75,000 Nigerians killed over the past 13 years. Maria Joseph managed to escape from the Boko Haram militiamen in August 2022, after having been held captive for nine years. She was abducted in 2013 along with 21 people following an attack by the terrorist group on her community in Bazzar. She was only 9 years old at the time. Two of her brothers were later brought to the same camp where she was imprisoned. One of them was killed, while the other is still held captive.  Janada and her family managed to survive two Boko Haram attacks unscathed, first in Baga, in Nigeria’s Lake Chad region, and then in Askira Uba, in southern Borno State, where their home was set on fire and several family members were killed by the Islamists. Unfortunately, while she was working with her family on a farm in Maiduguri, she was captured and tortured, and witnessed her father being beheaded with a machete. Both young women, they told ACN, were sheltered by priests and medical professionals at the Trauma Center in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State in northeastern Nigeria. The facility is run by the local diocese and was erected with the financial support of benefactors from Aid to the Church in Need. In the facility, survivors of terrorist violence receive medical care and attention by a team of trained health care professionals.

Caged Christians. “They forced Christians into cages, like animals,” Maria recalls. “The first thing they did was to forcibly convert us to Islam. They changed my name to Aisha, a Muslim name, and warned us not to say Christian prayers or we would be killed. When I was ten they wanted me to marry one of their leaders, but I refused. To punish me they locked me in a cage for a whole year. They would bring food once a day and shove it under the door without ever opening the cage. In November 2019 they kidnapped two of my brothers and brought them to the camp. They seized my brother and killed him right in front of me. They chopped off his head, then his hands, legs, and stomach,” she added. “It was October 20, 2018,” Janada recounts, “we were on the farm, we were busy working the land when suddenly we were surrounded by Boko Haram militiamen. They pointed a machete at my father and said they would release us if he had sex with me. My father bowed his head down as a sign of submission to be killed and replied, ‘I will not sleep with my daughter, my flesh and blood. I would rather die than commit this abomination,” at which point “one of the Boko Haram men pulled out a machete and cut off my father’s head, right in front of us. On that occasion the terrorists set Janada free, but on November 9, 2020, the young woman was captured, and violently tortured emotionally, physically, and mentally for six days, before being released. She too was admitted at the trauma center of the Diocese of Maiduguri.

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