The continuing battle with Satan

On Monday Pope Francis had Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the secretary of state of the Holy See (the Vatican), sent a telegram to Bishop Hilary Paul Odili Okeke of Nnewi, Nigeria, which said, “Deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and injury following the violent attack in St. Philip’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu. His Holiness Pope Francis extends heartfelt condolences to you and to all the faithful of the Diocese of Nnewi, in particular the families of the deceased and all those affected by this tragedy. Upon the entire diocese, His Holiness willingly invokes the Divine blessings of consolation and strength.”

According to the BBC, 11 people were killed and 18 were wounded at the church, while it was still difficult to determine if one or several people committed the murders.

The Vanguard (a Nigerian newspaper) reported Monday that “no fewer than 35 worshippers” were killed. The massacre happened during the 6 a.m. Sunday Mass, when around “6:45 a.m., the gunmen rode into the church in a Lexus SUV, as one of them entered the church and shot at close range an elderly man, later identified as Pa Ikegwuonu, while others remained in the vehicle outside.”

“An eyewitness told The Vanguard that after killing the old man, the gunman opened fire on other worshippers, as those who tried to flee were cut down by the gunmen outside the church.”

According to the BBC, the Nigerian police claimed that the killings were not an Islamist attack by Boko Haram, but rather either “the result of a feud between Nigerians from Ozubulu who were living abroad” and/or due to conflicts amongst drug traffickers.

The BBC quoted the pastor, Father Jude Onwuaso, who said, “After the first round [of shots], there was second round and I guess it was during the second round that people were shot dead. When I came back I discovered that some of my parishioners were dead, about five or six I saw shot dead bleeding.”

One of the worshippers, Stephen Ohamadike, told The Vanguard that the killers entered as the prayer of the faithful was about to begin. He said, “Those of us who were to say the prayers of the faithful had just assembled at the altar and I had number two which meant that I was to say the prayer for Nigeria. Suddenly, I saw someone who was putting on a cap shooting indiscriminately inside the church. There was pandemonium and in the midst of the confusion, I just lay down on the floor.”

Turaki Hassan, a Nigerian official spokesman, asked, “Have we lost our humanity? Where is the place of sanctity of life and Sacredness of worship places in our society? What offence did the worshippers commit to warrant their massacre in cold blood by wicked souls and heartless men?” 

The Vanguard reported that Father Hygi Aghaulor, a Catholic Church spokesman, asked. “What on earth would make people open fire on innocent unarmed worshippers including children and women on a Sunday morning?”

These are good questions. The simple answer is Satan, who rejoices in all acts of evil. On the feast of the Archangels, Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael (September 29), in 2014 Pope Francis spoke about “the great dragon, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” The Holy Father said, “Satan always seeks to destroy man: that man whom Daniel saw there, in glory.”

Pope Francis said that Satan is envious of humanity, since God raises us up higher than the angels (Psalm 8) and the devil “could not bear this humiliation on his shoulders, that an inferior creature could be made superior; and he sought to destroy man.”

The pope then got to our duty: “The task of the people of God is to guard the Man Himself: the Man Jesus. Guard Him, because He is the Man Who gives life to all men, to all humanity.” Of course, in saying this, the pope was in part reminding us that any action done to another human being is being done to Christ. So, that blatant disregard for humanity in the Sunday Mass in Nigeria was being done to Our Lord.

Pope Francis explained that the devil has “so many projects for the dehumanization of man,  simply because he hates man. He is subtle, he presents things as if they were good. But his intention is destruction.”

“The battle is a daily reality in Christian life, in our family, in our people, in our churches, such that unless we fight, we will be defeated.” 

Someone who fought that battle and won with God’s help was Blessed Oscar Romero. Last Saturday Pope Francis sent a letter to a Chilean archbishop who was going to represent him at the 100th birthday celebrations for Romero in San Salvador on August 15 (he truly was born on the Solemnity of the Assumption and was martyred on the eve of the Solemnity of the Annunciation, so the Blessed Mother had a special role in his earthly and in his eternal life, as she helped him to love her Son in the Eucharist and in the people he served).

Pope Francis described Romero as a “bishop and martyr, a prominent shepherd and witness of the Gospel, a renowned defender of the Church and human dignity, a beloved son of El Salvador” and “his love for all, especially the poor, the neglected, and those rejected by society.” He noted that Romero “promoted justice, Reconciliation and peace.” These are not values which Satan wants us to embrace.

In American society today, we often want to view an evil massacre as either gun violence (so as to blame Republicans) or terrorism (so as to blame Democrats). We seem to forget that there is an evil force, much stronger than any political party (although every member of every political party ever has collaborated to some extent with this force, at least in a venial way, since only Jesus and Mary were without sin). We pray for victims of violence, locally and internationally, and we ask God to give us the grace to “let peace begin with me” by embracing His will (which is always full of love — which also means sacrifice) and no longer our own selfishness.

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