More than 5,000 Catholics in north-east Nigeria have been killed and at least 100,000 have been displaced, according to a fresh report which highlights the scale of atrocities against Christians in the heartland of Islamist terror group Boko Haram.
The 'Situation Report on the activities of Boko Haram in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri' states that more than 350 churches in the diocese have been badly attacked, "a good number of them destroyed more than once."
With more than three-quarters of the diocese under Boko Haram control, the report records that 22 of the diocese's 40 parish centres and chaplaincies have been deserted and occupied by the terrorists. The report, a copy of which diocesan authorities sent to Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, records a total of 7,000 widows and 10,000 orphans.
Commenting on the report, Father Gideon Obasogie, the Diocese of Maiduguri's director of social communications, said: "People are very scared and those who are able to return home find there is nothing left."
He stressed the extent of the suffering in the diocese which covers the whole of Borno, Yobe and part of Adamawa state: "A life lived with much fear is terrible."
But, commenting on the people's faith in the face of adversity. Fr Obasogie added: "The good Lord has always been on our side. He has seen us through thick and thin. "Our faith has been purified through persecution."
With reports on Friday (8th May), of an Islamist attack on a business college in Potiskum, in Yobe state, schools in Maiduguri diocese are at particular risk and the diocesan report records that 32 of the 40 primary schools have been deserted. Displacement of people has been very widespread in the Diocese of Maiduguri and the reports states that 26 of the region's 46 priests were currently displaced as well as 200 catechists and 30 Sisters. Four of the diocese's five convents were closed.
Aid to the Church in Need is providing emergency aid for people from Maiduguri seeking sanctuary outside the diocese. ACN has given £33,000, providing food, shelter and medicine for displaced people and also Mass stipends for Maiduguri priests taking refuge in nearby Yola diocese. The charity is also providing security for Catholic schools under threat from Islamists. St Peter's Church School near Kaduna received £10,000 from ACN, providing security lights and a sound-proof generator.