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After a priest was kidnapped Sunday afternoon in southeastern Nigeria, the Diocese of Enugu has urged that Catholics pray for his safe return — and for an end to kidnappings across the West African nation. 

Fr. Marcellinus Obioma Okide was returning to his parish Sunday afternoon when he was stopped by gunmen at about 5:00 pm along the region’s Eke-Egede-Affa Road, the Enugu diocese said Monday. 

He was taken into custody by an armed gang, along with three people who were traveling with him. 

Okide, ordained in 2010, is the pastor of St. Mary's Amofia-Agu Affa Parish. 

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In a Sept. 18 statement, diocesan chancellor Fr. Wilfred Chidi Agubuchie, invoked divine intervention for God ‘to free Fr. Okide from the clutches of his captors and to safeguard the nation of Nigeria.”

The diocese urged that Catholics pray “for a change of heart on the part of the kidnappers,” and that the priest and his companions will be released safely. 

Fr. Benjamin Achi, diocesan director of communications, told The Pillar that the diocese is “waiting for further developments,” and emphasized the call for prayer. 

“It is really sad,” the priest said. “[It happened] just when we thought this situation has abated.”

According to Daniel Ndukwe of the Enugu State Police Command, a team of operatives has been dispatched in the region to rescue the priest.

“The deployment is to aid the ongoing rescue operation of the victims, while the Commissioner of Police has assured that no stone will be left unturned in ensuring the rescue of the victims and fishing out of the perpetrators,” he told Nigeria’s Daily Post.

Southeastern Nigeria has seen a rise in commercial kidnapping in recent years. Violence in the region is also fueled by the Biafra separatist movement, a group which has pushed to see the area become an independent republic.

This summer, Biafra separatists announced a “sit-at-home” order for the region, in which locals were directed to remain in their homes at the threat of violence, as a sign of the movement’s political and military power.

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