Early Sunday morning, Fr. Isaac Achi was shot dead in his parish rectory in the central Nigerian state of Niger.
According to local police reports, the Catholic priest was killed when armed bandits invaded and set fire to the parish residence. Another priest was also shot, but was able to escape and seek treatment at a local hospital.
Nigeria is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for Christians, with thousands of believers killed each year, according to the global persecution watchdog OpenDoors USA.
Fr. Ahmadu Michael Gadache is also a priest from Nigeria. He has spent the last four years in the United States, and serves currently at St. Pius X Parish in Omaha.
But before he came to the United States, Fr. Michael served worked at Fr. Isaac’s parish in Nigeria.
The two priests are relatives. In Nigerian culture, Fr. Michael says, Fr. Isaac would be considered his uncle.
The Pillar spoke with Fr. Michael about his response to Fr. Isaac’s death, the situation in Nigeria, and the call to forgive even in the face of horrific violence and loss.
That conversation is below. It has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you learn about Fr. Isaac’s death? How did you respond?
I got calls from back home in Nigeria, received messages via WhatsApp and the message sent out to all the priests of the Minna Diocese.
It was a big shock, like fiction, difficult to believe. The reality of his death is hurting and heartbreaking. I still live in denial.
Fr. Isaac survived an earlier terrorist attack back in 2011, and afterward urged the people of his parish to forgive the terrorists.
How have you been experiencing that call to forgive? How do you do that practically when you are grieving such a horrific crime?
Always, we need to forgive those who wrong us. Even now, it is my prayer that God will forgive these evil perpetrators and change their wicked hearts into hearts that love.
It's very tough. It's difficult. But obviously I have my Christian orientation, and being a priest, I know that is what I teach. That is what Christ has taught us, to forgive those who wrong us. So based on that, I forgive.
But it's difficult to forget. It's very difficult. It's very tough. But that is our Christian calling, to forgive.
It’s the same for all who believe in Jesus. We have to learn to forgive. We are believers in Jesus, and that is what Jesus went through in this life. He suffered, he was killed. And even at his dying moment, he cried out and forgave those who were killing him. So he calls on us to do the same.
So I would advise and encourage people who are hurt in this way to let go and allow God to be the judge. After all, this world is not our home. We're just passers-by… heaven [is] where we shall live forever.
Where do you see God in all of this?
Being a priest makes it a bit easier for me to see God at work in every situation of life. But it’s difficult to tell people who have lost their family members, their home, and everything else, that God is at work in such painful stories of their lives.
Our faith teaches us that in every situation, we should give thanks to God. And yes, we give thanks to him. But then we need humanity to be responsible with the gifts God has given us. We should be responsible and respectful of human life. We should show care and concern for one another.
All we have seen these past years is man’s inhumanity to fellow man. We need the government of Nigeria to rise to the occasion and protect the lives and property of Nigerians. We need the world to ask questions and ensure that human life is valued and respected in every way possible.
What do you want American Catholics to understand about what is going on in Nigeria?
Not just American Catholics - I want the whole world to know that the very many stories about terrorism and especially violence against Christians is real. The story of Fr. Isaac’s death is widespread because he is a priest. But very many people are being killed on a daily basis in the same or similar ways, in very brutal ways, which nobody talks about.
So this is an opportunity for us to cry out and let the world know…This is the reality. I know many times these stories fly around and people do not understand or believe that this is what fellow human beings are going through in many parts of the world. But this is the reality that people face.
You have served as a priest both in Nigeria and in the United States. Those are two very different environments for Catholics. How do people live differently in the face of persecution?
People still go to church. People do not stop being Christians because of persecution.
Another example is the bomb blast on Christmas Day [in 2011 at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, which killed dozens]. The very next day, that same church was packed with Catholics and non-Catholics who came to the church to mourn the passing of those that were killed.
That parish used to be one parish. The following year, it had already grown to three parishes from that one parish.
So persecution has not stopped Christianity. The Church is still growing.