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Nigerian cardinal: Christianity and Islam are engaged in ‘contest for souls’

July 28, 2017

The leading prelate in Africa’s most populous nation said that Christianity and Islam are engaged in a “contest for souls.”

“Our evangelizing mission does indeed entail our doing our best to propagate openly the Gospel of Jesus, and to welcome all who freely accept faith in Jesus,” Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, preached at the ordination of a bishop. “It is in this light that I do not hesitate to declare that it is my desire to ‘Christianize Nigeria’ by all means of peaceful persuasion and conviction.”

“But I am also aware that there are others who have a similar desire, in respect of their own faith,” he continued. “I therefore respect the right of those who claim that they want to ‘Islamize Nigeria.’”

Cardinal Onaiyekan added:

We are therefore engaged in a contest for the souls of Nigerians—a contest that is legitimate, but must be carried out strictly with the rules of nonviolence, justice, freedom and sincerity before God. This is not only possible, but also necessary, for peace to reign in our land …

Evangelization, spreading the good news, does entail, but goes beyond making converts and swelling the statistics of our Church membership. We must also endeavor to generate a critical mass of witnesses to truth, justice and love, who, in collaboration with other men and women of good will, can make a positive impact in our society.

Nigeria, a nation of 186 million, is 50% Muslim and 40% Christian, with 10% retaining indigenous beliefs.


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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Jul. 28, 2017 3:13 PM ET USA

    Certainly Dignitatis humanae emphasizes freedom "from coercion in civil society." However, it also emphasizes the "traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ." Given this important and necessary preamble to Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Freedom, I think that Cardinal Onaiyekan's message about respecting "the right of those who claim that they want to 'Islamize Nigeria'" is a statement a bit too strong.