A tabernacle hosting the Eucharist was stolen early Sunday morning from a parish church in Benin City, Nigeria, with local investigators now looking to find the thieves, and return both the tabernacle and the Eucharist to the parish.
Parish pastor Fr. Anthony Nkom, OSA, told The Pillar that a group of thieves broke into the St. Augustine’s Parish in Benin City, Nigeria at around 3 a.m. on Sept. 17, and left with the church’s tabernacle, containing consecrated hosts.
The pastor said he called the Edo State Security Vigilante Network, a semi-official civilian security network in the southern Nigerian Edo state, to look into the crime.
Nkom said the thieves broke into the church while privately contracted parish security guards had moved away from their posts during the early morning hours.
“Because it was raining, one of the security guatds moved to the parish hall, while the other one took cover in an adjoining building to evade the rain.”
“The brigands took advantage of the rain and entered the Church where they carted away the Blessed Sacrament,” the priest added.
But Nkom said he does not believe that the tabernacle’s theft had religious overtones.
“In fact, they wanted to remove the air conditioner [from the church building], but since it was becoming difficult to do so, and probably they were afraid of being caught, they left with the Blessed Sacrament," he told The Pillar.
“The vigilantees are combing the area to fish out the hoodlums. It's a pure act of criminality,” the priest said. “They removed the whole tabernacle.”
In a WhatsApp message, Nkom said he does not believe the thieves have likely had access to the Eucharist itself, contained in a ciborium inside the tabernacle, because it would be “very difficult for the tabernacle to be forced open.”
Still, the priest urged that Catholics in Nigeria pray for a safe return of the Church’s tabernacle — and said he had offered a reward in Benin City for its return.
Nkom said that Archbishop Augustine Akubeze had visited his church Sunday evening to view damage to the Church.
While Christianity is the predominant religion in Nigeria’s southern Edo state, Catholics comprise less than 10% of the population in the Archdiocese of Benin City, which also includes large evangelical and Anglican populations.
While religiously-based violence against Christians in Nigeria occurs most often in the countries northern and Middle Belt regions, crime is on the rise across the country, with Nigeria’s bishops lamenting that the federal government has done little deter to an increase in violent criminal gang activity, or the spiraling poverty which contributes to it.