Prayer must come first, but we must also support Nigeria’s government and keep focused on the country's crisis, says Archbishop of Canterbury in Radio 4 interview
Speaking to Radio 4 this morning about his prayer meeting this week with Nigeria's president, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said prayer is "the key thing we can do" when it comes to supporting the country, which he said is facing "a very major crisis".
The Archbishop, who flew to be with Nigeria's president and Anglican primate on Wednesday to express his personal pain and condolence at the ongoing terrorism the country faces, including the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls, said he felt "deep sorrow" for all those suffering in the country.
Archbishop Justin told the Today programme: "The key thing we can do is pray; prayer changes things, as a Christian I’m deeply, deeply convinced of that. We need to support the Nigerian government in every way we can, the British government is doing all that it possibly can, as are others. And I think we need to keep the visibility up."
Commenting on terror group Boko Haram, the Archbishop said: “[They]are a group of the utmost evil, the militants who are dealing out death right, left and centre, without hesitation and without mercy, concentrating a lot on Christian churches but also attacking Muslims in the local population in vast numbers. It’s an extraordinarily difficult situation to get on top of."
The full interview can be listened to at this link (starts 1hr9mins in): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b045c657
A transcript is below.
James Naughtie: You know Nigeria very well. What did you find on this visit?
Justin Welby: Well it was a very brief visit, and, yes, I have travelled there a huge number of times, particularly in the last 10 years working on conflict issues. I think a mixture of things: a deep sense of unease about the situation in the north-east of the country, and a sense that the country is facing a very major crisis indeed.
JN: What did the President say to you?
JW: We had a public meeting and a private meeting. In the public meeting he laid out a plan that is circulating in Abuja of a mixture of the use of military force – he said very clearly military force is not a solution but it’s a necessity – and then he laid out the other things about economic
regeneration, all the things you would expect when trying to deal with a massive insurgency from a terrorist group, which is terrorising a huge proportion of the population.
JN: There’s a great deal of unease in Nigeria, which we’ve been reporting for the last few weeks, about the way in which the government has handled this. And people point to the awful story of the kidnapped girls who went missing more than a month ago now; and they say that it was only when an international campaign began to crank up to try to do something about it that the government really got involved, and up to that point it was really regarded as another awful episode, but it didn’t seem to cause any alarm in government circles. Do you think they’re now fully engaged in trying to get to the root of the terrible violence that’s disfiguring their country?
JW: Yes. I think that there is no question that this is the dominant issue in the country at any moment with all the senior people you talk to or listen to; there’s absolutely no question about that. I’m not a security expert, so I’m not going to criticise what they do there, because I just don’t know enough; but you’ve got to realise this is an area about the size of Scotland, not far off that, of woods and forest and hills. It’s a massively difficult problem to deal with, and it’s been going on for quite a long time. The Boko Horam are a group of the utmost evil, the militants who are dealing out death right, left and centre, without hesitation and without mercy, concentrating a lot on Christian churches but also attacking Muslims in the local population in vast numbers. It’s an extraordinarily difficult situation to get on top of.
JN: Obviously there are many Christians in Nigeria who are affiliated to the Anglican Communion for whom you therefore feel a special responsibility. Are there many of them in danger?
JW: Well, it’s the largest Anglican church in the world in Nigeria, there’s about 17 million Anglicans there. I wouldn’t say I feel a special responsibility, I feel a deep sense of sorrow for all those who are suffering there. But, yes, they are [in danger]: a large number of dioceses have essentially been scattered, the bishops have had to leave their area, a very large number of Anglicans and others have been killed. They are being targeted, like everyone else, but they’re being targeted as Christians, not particularly as Anglicans, I think.
JN: People here, finally, will think, well, this is awful, what can we do? What would you say to them?
JW: Funnily enough, the main reason I went there on this trip was to pray with the President, in much the same way as the Pope – following his example, if I’m honest – in much the same way as in the Middle East he called for prayers, which are happening today in Rome, for the Middle East. The key thing we can do is pray; prayer changes things, as a Christian I’m deeply, deeply convinced of that. We need to support the Nigerian government in every way we can, the British government is doing all that it possibly can, as are others. And I think we need to keep the visibility up. The thing I’ve noticed is that conflicts, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa fade from the headlines and from the Today Programme pretty quickly.
JN:Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, thanks very much.