Martyred Nigerian priest remembered as a 'dedicated priest of God'
A Nigerian diocese announced Tuesday the killing of a local priest who had been kidnapped Friday from a parish in northwestern Nigeria.
Fr. John Mark Cheitnum was a priest of the Diocese of Kafanchan, in the Kaduna state of northwestern Nigeria. He was 44 years old.
The priest was abducted alongside Fr. Donatus Cleopas, both taken from the rectory of Christ the King Parish, in the Lere region of Kaduna.
The diocese announced Tuesday that Cheitnum was “brutally killed on the same day” that he was abducted.
“His corpse was later discovered already decomposing on Tuesday 19, 2022,” the statement added.
Fr. Cleopas, the other abducted priest, “escaped from his abductors” and returned to his diocese, the statement said.
Cleopas told The Pillar Tuesday that Cheitnum was shot shortly after the abduction because the kidnappers, who forced the abducted priests to run with them from the rectory, were concerned that Cheitnum was not a fast enough runner, and might slow the group down enough to be caught.
His body was left in a field where it fell, The Pillar has confirmed.
Until his death, Fr. Cheitnum was chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria’s local chapter, and the coordinating chairman for its regional branch in southern Kaduna.
The slain priest was dean of a regional deanery, diocesan director of communications, and pastor of St. James Parish in Fori.
Ordained nine years, Cheitnum was remembered Tuesday night as a bosom friend whose company and immense work ethic were well-known and broadly enjoyed in Nigeria.
Local priests have remembered Cheitnum as a martyr.
In tributes Tuesday night, directors of communication in other Nigerian dioceses described Cheitnum’s murder as “tragic - another talent and a close colleague gone.”
“An ever smiling, humorous, and dedicated priest of God" one colleague remembered, "who took the ministry seriously.”
“He was a kind priest, a man of the people who was loved by all who came in contact with him,” another said.
Aside from his degrees in philosophy and theology, the 44-year old deceased priest held a professional diploma in education, a diploma in TV production from the Nigerian Television Authority College Jos, and a masters in philosophy and ethics from Nasarawa State University.
The priest’s friends told The Pillar that Fr. Cheitnum will be remembered for his bold voice in defense of the downtrodden, especially Christians in southern Kaduna, who are often killed by unknown gunmen without arrest or prosecution.
Others remembered the priest’s pastoral ministry.
A parishioner, Emmanuel Zakka, mourned his pastor on social media.
“Still You Will Arise,” Zakka wrote.
“I never knew our meeting last Wednesday was our last. We laughed when you talked about my wedding … and I ran away from your place to avoid the conversation, not knowing I should have stayed to have more time with you because it was going to be our last,” he added.
“Well, go towards the light, servant of God.”
Fr. Emmanuel Ojeifo, a doctoral student at Notre Dame University, lamented that Cheitnum is one of many priests and believers killed in Nigeria in recent months.
“At this point we are totally lost for words. How much longer shall we wait Lord for redemption to draw nigh?” Ojeifo asked.
“How many more shall be killed before we know peace, security, and freedom in our own land?”
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More than a dozen priests have been abducted in Nigeria in recent months, with at least four recently killed, and several others still missing. The spate of violence against priests comes in the context of escalating violence against Christians in Nigeria, in which hundreds of Nigerian Christians have been killed by Boko Haram Islamist militants and Fulani herdsman raiders this year, especially in Nigeria’s northern and central regions.
Catholic bishops have said that the Nigerian government is reluctant to prosecute terrorist leaders, even when they are open about their activity.
Bishops have also lamented that Nigerian Christians face employment discrimination in the country, and have lost billions in property illegally occupied or destroyed by Fulani raiders.
But on Tuesday evening, the Kafanchan diocese urged against retribution.
“As we wish solicit prayers for the repose of our dear brother priest, and God's consolation on his immediate family, we wish to humbly call on all and sundry to refrain from taking the laws into their hands,” the diocesan statement said.
The Kafanchan diocese also declared Tuesday a two-day prayer for the peaceful repose of Cheitnum’s soul and the souls of the faithful departed.
Cheitnum will be buried Thursday.